Joining the Tribe

By now you’ve learned that we have done a lot of research into Jewish wedding traditions throughout the planning process, but my education process hasn’t stopped there. I was not raised Jewish, and I am currently in the process of becoming a “Jew-by-choice.” Many people prefer this term to “convert” because it implies a conscious decision and active participation in the conversion process.

jewish-peeptoe

Mr. and Mrs. Peep Toe kiss under their chuppah. / Photo by Blueberry Photography

Before I go further, I just want to add a small disclaimer. My decision to convert to Judaism was a deeply personal one, one that involved years of contemplation, discussion, learning, research, and education. Along the way, I found that reading the stories of people in interfaith relationships, including many written here on Weddingbee, was incomparably helpful in guiding my journey. This was one of the major reasons I wanted to become a blogger here on Weddingbee—to add my personal story to this archive, and hopefully to have it discovered by someone, or multiple someones, who are looking to learn. This decision, as well as countless other decisions related to weddings and marriage, is a personal one. My rabbi says, “The two things people cannot speak rationally about are religion and love,” and, of course, weddings often involve both. I respect everyone’s personal journeys, whether or not they are different from my own.


Phew! Now that the serious business is out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about the conversion process.

“Conversion to Judaism is largely a process of study, which is directed by a rabbi. The curriculum for conversion is set by individual rabbis and can take anywhere from six months to two years. In addition to study, Jewish law requires mikvah (ritual immersion) for men and women, and ritual circumcision for men. Converts also meet with a bet din, a rabbinical court, which usually consists of three rabbis who question the candidate about his/her sincerity and knowledge of Judaism.”

~ Anita Diamant, from The New Jewish Wedding

I know what you’re thinking. I’m glad I don’t have to do that whole “ritual circumcision” thing, right? 😉

jewish-spaniel

Mrs. and Mr. Spaniel sign their ketubah. / Photo by Meg Perotti

I have always been familiar with Judaism; having grown up in a fairly diverse area with many Jewish friends, I attended many bar and bat mitzvahs during my formative years. But my true introduction to the faith began when Mr. Tractor and I moved in together in 2010. We lived very close to his family, and I began to learn much more about his upbringing and the traditions and teachings that guided it. It was with him and his family that I participated in my first Passover seder, attended services for the high holidays, and learned more about what it means to be Jewish.

After all of the contemplation, discussion, research, etc., mentioned above, my formal journey toward Judaism started with searching for a sponsoring rabbi and an educational program that spoke to me. Traditionally, a rabbi is supposed to turn away a candidate three times before agreeing to sponsor him or her, to be sure of the person’s sincerity and commitment (remember Charlotte on Sex and the City?). Luckily, my rabbi didn’t put me through all that, but he did meet with me to get to know me, explain the process, and teach me the differences among various conversion programs.

jewish-trailmix

Mrs. Trail Mix’s grandfather says a blessing over the challah. / Photo by Closed Circle Photography

Mr. Tractor was raised in a Conservative Jewish household, which means that his family is somewhere between Orthodox and the Reform Movement in terms of their observance of traditions and customs. I was raised in what I have come to refer to as a “consciously secular” household. In other words, my parents decided to raise my brother and me with morals and discipline, but without formal religious education, in order to allow us to make that decision on our own when we were old enough to form our opinions and beliefs.

Now that I am old enough to understand, I am so thankful to my parents for this. For me, I identify wholeheartedly with the term Jew-by-choice. Because of my somewhat unconventional upbringing, I do not see conversion as giving up or changing anything about myself, only that I am learning and embracing something new.

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Mrs. and Mr. Hermit Crab enjoy their horah. / Photo by Joel Greenberg and Wendy Stewart Photography

After more contemplation, discussion, and research, I decided that conversion through the Reform Movement was that which suited me best. The program I attend is called Introduction to Judaism, which is offered through Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. One thing that I really appreciate about this program in particular is that though maybe people use it as a stepping stone in the conversion process, there is absolutely no pressure, obligation, or expectation to do so. Interfaith couples are encouraged to attend the course together, so Mr. Tractor and I have been attending our weekly sessions together for several months now. Our classmates come from so many different backgrounds; there are Jews and non-Jews; couples who are dating, engaged, or married; single people; young people; and older people.

The whole process of attending class together, meeting new people together, and learning new things together has been a really great bonding experience for us as a couple. Even though class feels like a long and sometimes tedious process, we leave each week having an energized conversation about that night’s material. Before the course began, Mr. Tractor would joke that he had already “done his time” growing up going to Hebrew school, but he has really enjoyed watching and helping me learn along the way. I’m not sure, however, that he would say the same about helping me with my Hebrew reading practice every night! 😉

I am more than happy to answer any questions any of you have, either here on the blog or via private message, as I understand that this discussion can be deeply personal.

Did you participate in any rituals or rites of passage prior to your wedding?

BLOGGER

Mrs. Tractor

Location:
Boston, MA
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  1. walrus Bee
    Mrs. Walrus 187 posts, Blushing bee @ 7:50 am

    Charlotte’s experience always makes me think that’s how the conversion process really starts. It was pretty funny. But that is really exciting that you guys are building relationships with other couple that are like yourselves. Do your friends or family members have any concerns about you going through the whole conversion process?

  2. msnarwhalbee Bee
    Mrs. Narwhal 87 posts, Worker bee @ 7:53 am

    I really like how you’re being so intentional about the process and the decision to call yourself a Jew-by-choice since you’re not converting from another practice.

    How has your family been with your decision? I’m curious what happens in terms of holidays with your family and how that is affected by the decision to become Jewish.

    Also happy to hear that you have both been enjoying the classes together and that it has been such a wonderful bonding experience!

  3. tractor Bee
    Mrs. Tractor 32 posts, Newbee @ 8:43 am

    @walrus @msnarwhalbee My family’s concerns have always been with my happiness, so I believe they are glad that I have found something that makes me happy. As I said, my parents have always intended for me to choose what I believe when I got old enough to understand, so I think they are happy to see that intention realized. Before my formal education began, I learned a lot from Mr. T and his family and began to share it with my family, so this topic has been a part of our conversation for a LONG time – no one was particularly surprised when I began to pursue the process more formally. Even my observant Catholic grandmother told me she was glad that I found a religion that speaks to me, since she knew it was not a part of my upbringing. I’ll be honest that Christmas is something we’re still figuring out how to navigate, especially since, for me, Christmas has always been a secular holiday, not a religious one. We spend Christmas with my extended family and that is what we will continue to do. When we have our own family, we anticipate that our children will “help” their grandma and grandpa to celebrate their holiday.

  4. msbordercollie Bee
    Mrs. Border Collie 102 posts, Blushing bee @ 8:49 am

    This is so interesting. I was raised in a church, but don’t really identify with any type of religion. I love hearing about other peoples journeys.

  5. mscrab Bee
    Mrs. Crab 60 posts, Worker bee @ 8:50 am

    Thanks for sharing this @tractor!

  6. mssquid Bee
    Mrs. Squid 49 posts, Newbee @ 9:20 am

    I’ve never been privy to the thought process of someone who converts or actively chooses a different religion than the one they grew up with, so your story is very interesting to me and great insight into what I’m sure many others are going through.

    That’s really awesome that you and Mr. T get to do the classes together – I think it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss things that might not be formally discussed. I know when Mr. S and I did Pre-Cana (Catholic church’s pre marital class), we were largely in sync with our responses or positions on certain issues, but it was nice to validate our agreement formally and out loud.

  7. msbarn Bee
    Mrs. Barn 45 posts, Newbee @ 9:22 am

    I am always so intrigued by these types of posts. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey with us.

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Nikki, Guest @ 11:03 am

    Love this! I’m a Jew by Choice as well and it was hard but so worth it!

  9. tractor Bee
    Mrs. Tractor 32 posts, Newbee @ 11:44 am

    @msbordercollie @mscrab @mssquid @msbarn Thanks for your comments, I’m glad you enjoyed reading 🙂 Hearing people’s different stories is part of what make the ‘Bee great!

    @Nikki Thanks for reading, it’s always nice to find new friends to relate to. 😉

  10. pyramid Bee
    Mrs. Pyramid 104 posts, Blushing bee @ 5:45 am

    “learning and embracing something new” is a beautiful way to phrase what you’re going through! Glad you were able to take the time and really make a change that is meaningful for you and Mr. T! Sphinx finished his confirmation into Catholicism before we were engaged (but with the wedding in mind) and I would have loved to attend his sessions together! Unfortunately, I was away at school at the time, but I think it’s really cool to learn those things together and be able to discuss your thoughts and feelings as a couple.

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