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March 22, 1985 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-03-22

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

14

Friday, March 22, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

JEWS 13'1CHOICE

Left: Rabbi Max Weine lectures
to a class of potential "Jews by
Choice"about Jewish practice _ 40
and belief.

Right: Rabbi Norman Roman
instructs his "Introduction to
Judaism" students about Jewish
history and Hebrew.

T

hey are day school parents,
B'nai B'rith presidents,
Hadassah, sisterhood and
ORT members. They sit on
synagogue and temple
boards, study for adult bar and bat
mitzvah, raise funds for Israel and
travel to Russia on behalf of Soviet
Jewry. They are committed, informed,
educated and involved; they are Jews
by choice. Shedding the religion and
teaching of their childhood, they are
converts, choosing to link their life and
their children's lives to the Jewish
people.
While there are few available
statistics that describe the current
state of intermarriage, all demog-
raphic experts agree that the rate is
spiraling. According to the 1971 Na-
tional Jewish Population Study, con-
ducted by the Council of Jewish Fed-
erations and ,Welfare Funds, the rate
of intermarriage rose rapidly from the
1960s on. In 1961-1965, the rate was
17.4 percent. From 1966-1972, it
climbed to 31.7 per6ent. A 1982 study
by the American Jewish Committee
estimates the rate at 40 percent.
Most experts agree that conver-
sion is one way to reduce the vast
numbers of Jews lost to Judaigm
through intermarriage. In the 1983
American Jewish Committee's publi-
cation, Children of Intermarriage, Dr.
Egon Mayer sounds the alarm: "Un-
less the non-Jewish partner converts,
our data indicate the Jewish commu-
nity could lose most of the mixed-

Numerous hurdles,
both religious and
personal, are faced
by those seeking
conversion to Judaism.

BY ELLYCE FIELD

Special to The Jewish News

-

marriage 'families in the span of two
generations."
Why then the reluctance in tradi-
tional Judaism to encourage or seek
converts? Judaism does not seek con-
verts. In fact, Judaism traditionally
discourages conversion.
Rabbi James I. Gordon of Young
Israel of Oak-Woods explains the Or-
thodox view: "Judaism accepts the
premise that all nations have their
share in the world to come. A Gentile
can observe the seven mitzvot of Noah
(a modified Ten Commandments) to be
a humane, civilized individual. It's not

necessary to be a Jew to gain salva-
tion."
Rabbi Gordon explains to poten-
tial converts how rigorous and difficult
it is to be Jewish. "Orthodox Judaism
requires meticulous observance and
creates difficulties in one's social life.
Historically speaking, becoming a Jew
opens a person up to discrimination
and persecution."
Potential applicants are carefully
screened and their motives examined.
Rabbi Gordon explains, "A person
whose ulterior motive is "marriage is
almost universally rejected."

Sara was single and in her early
20s when she approached the Or-
thodox establishment about conver-
sion. She met with severe discourage-
ment. One rabbi told her she ought to
see a psychiatrist. ,Close Jewish
friends refused to see her for six
months so they wouldn't influence her
decision.
For two months, Sara waited for
acceptance to begin conversion study.
"It was an ordeal. No argument was
good enough for the rabbis. If I brought
up Ruth as an example of a convert, I
was told I shouldn't compare myself to 4 1
her. I decided even if they felt I wasn't
good enough to become a Jew, I was
still going to try."
The wait took its toll; Sara lost 35
pounds in two months due to
psychological and emotional stress. 4
Yet she finds merit in the strict screen-
ing procedure. "The wrong kind of Or-
thodox convert can be a disaster. The
right kind must have humility and be
willing to accept every mitzvot, like a
blank check. Generally, people do not
know what they are getting into. You
must be very, very sure."

Conservative rabbis also screen
potential applicants, looking for those
with a sincere desire to convert. Rabbi
Max Weine has conducted conversion
classes under the auspices of the Con-
servative Rabbis of Metropolitan De-
troit for 12 years. He explains, "Even if
the applicant seeks conversion prior to
a marriage with a Jew, we will accept

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