Backs Tolerant Conversion Approach
Wed, 03/06/2013

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove’s exploration of the idea of offering to convert someone prior to a marriage to a Jewish partner, and before a year-long course of study, is both commonsensical and profoundly Jewish (“Time to Rethink Conversion Policy,” Editorial, March 1).

Conversionary marriages result in a far greater likelihood that the children will be raised exclusively as Jewish and that the family will be active participants in Jewish communal life. Abraham and Sarah didn’t study for a year before becoming Jewish. Ruth didn’t study for a year. They did all right as Jews.

Hillel’s tolerant view offers a crucial insight as well: someone already part of the community will study harder and with more purpose than a student without formal membership in the Jewish people. It may seem that delaying formal study makes it easy for would-be converts. But no one has to convert in order to get married. Following Rabbi Cosgrove’s suggestion would not make conversion easy, for the choice to convert is still difficult. Additionally, there is a hidden benefit in any effort to welcome converts. Judaism is not a commodity, but consider an analogy: an advertiser praises a product not only to attract new customers, but also to convince current customers that they should continue consuming the product. Born Jews, including the Jewish partner of a new convert, see in converts important emotional evidence that Judaism is attractive, that their choice to remain Jews is a good one.

I urge Jewish leaders to examine this option and then to embrace it.

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