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March 22, 1985 - Image 15

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

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Friday, March 22, 1985


Bob McKeown

him if his interest and desire are vol-
untary and sincere."
Bill approached a Hillel rabbi on a
college campus when he and his
Jewish girlfriend began discussing
marriage. He met with mild discour-
agement. He explains, "The rabbi
seemed aloof. He told me he couldn't
say how long the instruction would
take. He basically gave me a list of
books and told me to come back if I was
still interested."
Bill remained interested. He
found Jewish thought, history and lit-
erature intellectually stimulating. He
also recognized that his girlfriend's
parents would not accept him if he re-
mained anon-Jew. It was as if I had to
knock on the rabbi's door three times.
After the third time, I was acknowl-
edged as a serious candidate."
Rabbi Norman T. Roman, associ-
ate rabbi of Temple Beth El, explains
how applicants are received in Reform
Judaism. "The door is always open. We
look for a sincere desire but do not
make value judgments on a person's
motivation. If a candidate is interested
because his future spouse is Jewish, he
is not better or worse than someone
who has been studying Judaism for 20
years and then decides to convert."
To help candidates explore their
desire, Rabbi Roman always asks,
"What would happen if your relation-
ship ends? Would you still convert?"
Both Rabbi Roman and Rabbi Weine
have seen candidates break
engagements, continue their instruc-

tion and convert to Judaism.
This points out a common misun-
derstanding about those seeking con-
version. "Jews-by-Choice" do not al-
ways convert in order to please their
future spouse and in-laws. Disil-
lusioned with the religion of their
childhood, many are drawn to Jewish
friends and identify with Jewish
thought prior to meeting their future
spouse. For some, a future engage-
ment to a Jewish partner becomes the
final motivation to seek conversion.
Susan was raised a strict
Presbyterian. She says, "My mother
chose her church when she was 13. She
attended regularly. But she left my
choice up to me."
Susan began questioning her
faith when she went away to college.
She made many Jewish friends but the
turning point was when she met her
future husband. She adds, "Judaism
has given my life a lot of meaning. It
fills up my life, everyday. I didn't have
that as a child."
Others seek conversion as single
individuals looking for personal ful-
Sara received a solid Christian
education and was involved in her
church. She began • having religious
doubts while taking religion classes at
a Catholic college. Moving to Detroit .
for a job, she came into contact with
Jews for the first time. She explains, "I
was interested in languages, so I
began studying Hebrew. I became
close to an observant Jewish family

and started sharing Shabbat with
them. At this point I was reading as
much as I could about Judaism.
Judaism seemed to hold the key to a
greater truth than I had previously
The length, amount and type of
conversion instruction varies between
each branch of Judaism, depending
greatly on individual rabbis and can-
didates' individual needs. Each person
begins in the same manner by ap-
proaching a rabbi he trusts. A dialogue
is initiated that usually continues on a
regular basis either as the exclusive
means for instruction or as a regular
counseling session in conjunction with
formal classes.
Since Orthodox Judaism demands
strict adherence and in-depth under-
standing of commandments, a candi-
date is assigned to an instructor on a
one-to-one basis. For approximately
one year, through readings, discussion
and questioning, the candidate is
trained in observances, life style, be-
lief system and the creed of accepting
mitzvot. When the instructor feels a
candidate is ready, his understanding
is examined in an interview. If the end
result is satisfactory, a date is set for
the conversion ceremony.
Sara comments on her Orthodox
conversion training: "It offered me as
much as possible. I studied with two
different rabbis for over seven months,
then met with rabbis of the Beth Din
(rabbinical court) for three months."
Detroit's Conservative rabbis

offer potential converts and their fu-
ture spouses a one-semester course
that runs twice a year, from Sep-
tember through June. Each semester
is 18 two-hour sessions and meets
every Thursday night. Rabbi Weine
covers topics such as Jewish history,
basic beliefs, practices, customs and
holidays. The last half-hour of each
class is Hebrew instruction.
Attendance at Shabbat services is also
required. The course culminates with
a final examination given to candi-
dates and their future spouses.
Rabbi Weine acknowledges the
ambitious nature of the 18-week ses-
sion. "Very often in the final examina-
tion I ask for remarks. Many people
Wish the course was longer and more
extensive. I tell them that the study of
Judaism is a life-long challenge and
urge them to continue with their read-
ing and study."
Conservative conversion candi-
dates also meet often with their spon-
soring rabbi for counseling and guid-
Susan met with a rabbi and then
an instructor for two-hour weekly ses-
sions that lasted over a year. She feels
quite strongly that, for her, one-to-one
counseling was the fest form of in-
struction. "I used my teacher as a re-
source, to get my feelings straightened
out. We discussed the principles of
Judaism and. Jewish lifestyle, always
exploring what decisions were right
for me. The emphasis was on the

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