Big Tent Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

Thank you, Aliza!

Because Aliza commented recently on my latest post on conversion, I discovered her blog, Memoir of a Jewminicana. As she tells, she’s a first generation of Dominican descent, and an Orthodox convert to Judaism. She writes softly and powerfully about that experience, and I wish a lot of people born as Jews were reading her.

Much of what she blogs is about the dissonance of converting: She loves the faith. The Jews, however, can be terribly unwelcoming. She’s not talking about the kind of Israeli ultra-Orthodox rabbinic court judge who’s already ready to reverse your conversion. She’s talking about everyday Jews who can’t get straight that not everyone who’s Jewish grew up in their neighborhood, with their grandmothers’ accents, with their mothers’ advice (what a polite understated word) on what can be talked about at the dinner table, and with their skin color.

Here’s a piece from one recent post, called The Worst Guest in the World:

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Rabbis v. Jewish Tradition: More on the Conversion Crisis

Gershom Gorenberg

My latest piece on the conversion crisis is on-line, a bit late, at the Hadassah Magazine site. Crisis is too nice a word. What’s really happening is that part of the Israeli state rabbinate has adopted a radical ultra-Orthodox innovation: regarding conversion to Judaism as something that can be annulled.

Yes, folks, I said, radical ultra-Orthodox innovation. That’s not a contradiction in terms; it may be a redundancy. Like other contemporary religious communities that claim to represent old-time religion – salafist Muslims, fundamentalist Christians – ultra-Orthodox Judaism is a creation of modernity. The ultra-Orthodox assault on conversion is just the latest bit of evidence.

So here’s the article:

Nearly two years ago, a Danish-born Israeli woman named Yael and her husband appeared before the rabbinical court in Ashdod to end their marriage. Since the couple had agreed on an amicable divorce, they anticipated a pro forma procedure.

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Jane Austen Explains Conversion to Judaism

Gershom Gorenberg

The Book of Ruth could have been written by Jane Austen, a friend said in her warm voice at our table on Shavuot night. She was right. The books of Esther and Ruth are the two biblical stories that feel closest to modern novels – books with clear plot lines, crafted to be read on their own, but packed with allusions to other literature. Esther is a wild, bawdy farce. If it was written by someone named Mordechai, I suspect that it was actually Mordechai Richler. In Ruth, the wars and dynastic struggles, the wrestling brothers and earthshaking revelations are somewhere over the horizon. Women are talking to women about their relationships, with each other and with men. But Jane Austen never managed to write anything this concise, this essential .

Ruth is also the Bible’s description of how someone comes to Judaism individually, and it has to do with those relationships between people.

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