Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Your People Is My People"

Ruth is perhaps the most famous convert in Jewish history. Her most famous descendant is King David. She wasn't even supposed to have been allowed to marry within the Jewish community because she was of Moab. But she did marry and the megillah of Ruth is read on Shavuot.

Shavuot is when all Jews stood at Sinai and the Torah was given and said "We accept and we will":

Even though the Jews' election was merited through the dedication of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and through another choice -- that of their descendants, at Sinai, to accept the laws and teachings of the Torah; and even though the exclusive Jewish club is open to any sincere convert willing to undertake to observe the Torah, the idea of Jewish chosenness has perturbed some non-Jews since, well, since Sinai.

In just a few weeks, it is Shavuot. This is what makes a rabbinical courts decision to nullify thousands of conversions doubly painful.

Treppenwitz brings it up in his post If This Evil is Allowed to Stand.... I left the following comment:

When the issue came up last year, just months before my conversion, I asked the rabbis who made up my bet din about it. It was explained that once a person converted, it was wrong to question them. Once a person accepted the 613 mitzvot and went to the mikveh: a convert was a Jew(there were other things, such as promising that I would do everything in my power to help other Jews in need, etc).

This wiping away the status of thousands of people tears at my heart. I'm still learning but it seems to me that a person's observance is not something that can be quantified by the number of mitzvot performed.

How can strangers, like those in the lower rabbinical court know what is in a woman's heart when she lights the Shabbat candles and accepts the peace and gift of Shabbat?

How can strangers know the uplifting a person feels as the kitchen is prepared for that first Pesach and a feeling of liberation is felt and makes the tedious labor seem like nothing?

How can strangers know what it feels like to bake Challah for the first time?

How can strangers know it is like trying to keep kosher when it is a three hour trip to buy kosher meats?

How can strangers possibly know what it feels like to prepare to build a sukkot for the first time? Or to fast for the first time on Yom Kippur?

Or to really, really feel for the first time when singing V'Shamru, that you are a part of b'nei Yisrael?

I feel as though I can understand the pain of those thousands of converts who have awoken and basically told they are no longer Jews. There are some who will not accept my conversion because it was a Conservative one.

Shavuot is fast approaching. It is said, every Jew stood at Sinai, including future generations, and said "We accept and we will do".

Pictures of Israel and of a bimah led me to say like those at Sinai, "I accept and will do".

Each of the thousands of converts who have been told they are no longer Jews had to say "I accept and will do". The stranger who nullified their conversions cannot possibly know what is in each heart and soul.

My soul cries out from the depths of what this rabbinical court has ruled.

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