Due to globalization, the free movement of people has made it easy for different cultures to interact with each other. As a result, there are a lot of marriages now between people of different cultures and religions. Most of the time, the spouses will maintain their religious beliefs like Judaism, but other times one of them will opt to convert to their spouse’s religion.
So, can Jews marry converts? A Jew can marry a spouse from a different religion who has decided to convert to Judaism. Most Judaism movements allow people to convert to Judaism; hence, the Jewish people are free to marry anyone who has converted to Judaism. A person who has converted to Judaism, actively practiced Jewish traditions, and follows its laws, is considered a true Jew. A rabbi is free to officiate a wedding between a Jew and a recently converted Jew. As long as the conversion was in accordance with the Jewish laws, it is okay to marry a convert.
In the past, interfaith marriages would result in stigmatization, isolation, discrimination, and even violence on the interfaith couple, causing many to hide their marriage from their families and friends in fear of being victimized. Some spouses decided to convert to avoid being harassed, discriminated against, or even physically harmed by those that opposed interfaith marriages. Read on to find more information about Jewish people marrying converts and the process of conversion to Judaism.
What You Need to Know about Jews Marrying Converts
Historically, Jewish leaders have disliked interfaith marriages. There were laws that prohibited a Jewish person from marrying a spouse from a different faith. The leaders were not fond of conversions, too, until new movements of Judaism began to form. New Jewish movements have introduced laws that allow non-Jewish people to convert to Judaism. The traditional movements have also relaxed some of their rules on conversion to Judaism.
One of the reasons why people convert to Judaism is marriage. The non-Jewish spouse will want to have the same religious beliefs as their Jewish spouse. A rabbi will officiate an interfaith wedding between a Jew and a non-Jewish spouse. One of the requirements most rabbis ask is that the non-Jewish person takes some classes on Judaism.
These classes are mostly to educate the non-Jewish person on some basic Jewish traditions. The spouse might find the classes interesting and decide to convert to Judaism. Before the wedding ceremony, the non-Jewish spouse will be introduced to many aspects of Judaism. It could be the first step to them agreeing to practice Judaism.
The Jewish spouse should not influence the decision of the non-Jewish spouse to convert to Judaism. The non-Jewish person needs to come to the conclusion that they want to convert to Judaism on their own. It is considered rude for a person to tell another one to convert to their religion.
In an interfaith marriage, most of the time, the couples practice their own religious beliefs. They raise the children in the religion they agreed before they became married. Before and during the marriage, it is important to keep this agreement. Trying to convince the spouse to convert is disrespectful to their religious beliefs and shows that the spouse does not consider that religion as useful.
Spouses will want to show their love to their spouses in different ways. Converting to their religion is one of them. A non-Jewish spouse converting to Judaism demonstrates loyalty and love to the Jewish spouse. It shows that they want to have a marriage anchored in one religion and their willingness to forego their own beliefs to make that happen.
In the past, converting to Judaism because of love was strongly forbidden by Jewish leaders. According to the Talmud, any man or woman who converts to Judaism because of a woman or man is not Jewish. The traditional or conservative Jewish movements still try to observe this law. Reform Judaism does not restrict people from converting to Judaism because of love.
In traditional Judaism, a conversion must not be undertaken for the sake of any personal advantage or reward. Conversion should be strictly out of belief in the truth about Judaism. Therefore, it will be difficult for a non-Jewish person to convince a conservative rabbi to guide them in their conversion to Judaism if their main reason is to marry a Jewish person. Most conservative rabbis will help in the conversion if they promise to practice Jewish traditions for the rest of their life.
Reasons to Convert to Judaism
There are several reasons for a non-Jewish person to convert to Judaism. One of them is genealogy. After deciding to marry a Jewish person, the spouses might decide to look into their families’ history to rule out if they are related. The non-Jewish spouse might find a Jewish person or people in their family history. If they confirm they have Jewish ancestry, they can convert to reconnect with their family’s religion.
One of the questions that interfaith spouses need to answer before they get married is the religion under which they will raise their children. Different religions have different teachings; hence, it might be confusing for the children to follow two different religions at once. Most rabbis, before officiating an interfaith marriage, will request that the Jewish person promise they will raise the children in Judaism. The non-Jewish might decide to convert to Judaism, making it easier for them to raise their children Jewish.
Another reason to convert to Judaism is by marrying a Jewish spouse. Old conservative rabbis do not like this reason. The converting spouse might be converting only for the marriage; they will not be attending service or any other Jewish traditions. Modern rabbis, especially in the reform movement, will help conversion even if it is for marriage purposes.
The most important reason for converting to Judaism is to practice Judaism. After conversion, the person will go to service whenever possible, observe all Jewish traditions and holidays and, most importantly, obey all Jewish laws. If a non-Jewish spouse uses this reason to convert, rarely will their request be denied. It shows that they want to establish their marriage under Jewish law, raise their children Jewish, and observe all Jewish traditions as a couple.
Before a person decides to convert to Judaism, they should know the movement their spouse belongs to. The difficulty of converting depends on the Jewish movement. The orthodox and conservative movements are very strict when it comes to conversions. They follow the Jewish laws strictly; hence, it may be difficult for a non-Jewish person to commit to an orthodox lifestyle. Reform Judaism believes that there is no need for rituals or rules as to consideration for conversion to Judaism.
The orthodox Jewish movement follows a strict rule when it comes to marriage. An orthodox Jewish has to marry another orthodox Jewish. The rabbis will not officiate an interfaith wedding. Some people have argued that their reluctance to accept conversion increases the number of interfaith marriages. If a spouse is denied a chance to convert to Judaism, then the couple will go ahead and marry. Hence, the argument that they should accept conversions and reduce the number of orthodox Jewish in interfaith marriages.
Conversion can take a very long time to complete, usually a minimum of a year, regardless of the movement. Hence, if time is of the essence, the couple can get married while the conversion process is still going on. All the requirements have to be fulfilled before you can convert to Judaism, and it will take as long as possible. So, if it takes more than a year and you want to get married, it is best that you go ahead with the wedding as your spouse continues with the process of conversion.
Converting to Judaism
The process of converting to Judaism varies slightly from movement to movement. In the past, conversion to Judaism was prohibited, but the laws have gone through many changes to allow people to convert to Judaism. Nowadays, rabbis are urged to help non-Jewish people in the quest to convert to Judaism. There are several steps to converting to Judaism.
The first step is contacting a rabbi. It is important for a non-Jewish person to contact a rabbi near them and inform them of their desire to convert to Judaism. You can find a rabbi at the nearest synagogue or Jewish community center. After introducing yourself to the rabbi, he might ask you a few questions regarding your decision to convert to Judaism.
The next step is taking classes on Jewish traditions. Most rabbis will recommend starting with Jewish 101 as a way of introducing you to the Jewish traditions. These classes are mostly held in the Jewish community centers and are taught by various Jewish leaders. The non-Jewish person will have to attend several classes depending on their knowledge of Jewish laws and traditions.
Another step towards conversion is circumcision. This step is for male candidates only. Circumcision is a requirement for male Jews; hence, if a non-Jewish person wants to convert to Judaism, they have to be circumcised. The circumcision ceremony is known as a brit milah. If the male candidate is already circumcised, they will have to go through another ritual that requires the extraction of a single drop of blood from the site of the circumcision. This ritual is known as the hatafat dam brit. This ritual is performed by a circumciser known as a mohel.
For adult male candidates that are not circumcised, only an experienced urologist or general surgeon should undertake an adult circumcision or a qualified mohel. Most of the time, a Jewish surgeon will be used during this stage. If none is available, then the rabbi will refer the male candidate to a physician or set up a kosher alternative.
The next step is the beit din. This refers to a rabbinical court with legal powers over a number of religious matters, including conversions. For male candidates, once the circumcision has healed, they will have a meeting with the beit din. Female candidates will face the beit din immediately after finishing their classes.
Beit din consists of three men, usually one rabbi and two observant Jews with the necessary knowledge of the conversion laws. The three men will explore the candidate’s sincerity to convert to Judaism by evaluating their knowledge, intent, and motivation to live as a Jew. Beit din is the final authority for conversion; the decision they make after meeting the candidate is final. Once the beit din finds a candidate acceptable for conversion, they will arrange for the formal conversion.
The next step is the mikveh ritual. A mikveh is a bath ritual in Judaism to achieve ritual purity. The successful candidate is immersed in a pool filled with water known as a mikveh. Most synagogues and temples have one; if one is not available, the ritual bath can be done in a lake or swimming pool. Most conservative rabbis will not use a swimming pool.
The immersion is known as tevilah, which symbolizes the cleansing of the convert’s past misdeeds and prepares the convert for a better future and destiny. After the immersion, the convert is now considered a Jew and can legitimately recite the blessing for immersion. It is a requirement under Jewish law for every convert to be immersed in the mikveh.
After the mikveh ritual, the convert will be given a Hebrew name. The convert will be given a chance to choose their Jewish name, a name by which they will be called to the Torah for an Aliyah. The name will be present in all their future documents, such as the Ketubah. When the convert is called up to the Torah, their parents’ names will be appended to their Hebrew name to locate them in Jewish spiritual space.
The conversion process is usually free, but during the conversion process, the issue of money may arise. Sometimes the rabbi may ask for some fees or request the candidate to donate to the synagogue. But the fees or donations are not that high, but if the fees or donation request is very high, you should ask why and where the money will end up.
After conversion, the convert has a long journey as a Jew. They have to re-establish the relationship they had with their family members and friends. Before they converted, they had relationships based on their previous religion. After becoming Jewish, they need to re-establish their relationship with the same people but taking into account their new religion. It may be a difficult task, and it may take some time for some of their family members and friends to adjust.
Converts can now develop new relationships. The convert can now marry and start a family under the Jewish religion. The convert will attend services in the temple and mingle with other Jewish people and make new friends. If the convert had children before conversion, they can attend classes together and learn more Jewish traditions as a family.
Conversion to Judaism is not an easy task. There are a lot of laws and rituals one has to follow before they can convert. The most difficult movement to convert to is the orthodox movement. The rabbi has to decline the request to convert three times in a row. If a candidate is weak, they might not come back after the second rejection. The orthodox movement also lives a different lifestyle from the other movements, for example, using electronics during Shabbat. A candidate has to be sure that this is the life they will live after conversion before they request to convert.
Most religions do not place restrictions on whom their members can marry. As long as the marriage does not compromise the faith of the individual, religions are willing to allow the interfaith marriage. A spouse can choose to convert to their spouse’s religion. In Judaism, a Jew can marry a convert and have a lawful marriage under Jewish laws. The key component of marrying a convert is that their conversion was done voluntarily. Their decision to convert need not be influenced or coerced by the spouse or the spouse’s family members.
The most common reason people convert to Judaism in the modern world is that they want to marry a Jewish spouse. These conversions are many, and we can see them even in celebrity marriages. But it is not a reason that some rabbis are fond of, some even declining to help because of it. It all depends on the Jewish movement you want to convert to and the rabbi that you approach.
The conversion to Judaism is a long process that can take years to be complete. The conservative and orthodox Jews prefer the conversion process with rituals and rules for the candidate to observe. The reform Jews see the rules and rituals as unnecessary; hence, if one shows interests in Judaism, classes are enough to convert them to Judaism. The choice is for the candidate to pick which Jewish movement they want to convert into; consultation with various Jewish leaders is necessary for an individual to make the correct decision.