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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Becoming Religious, Tshuva and Kiruv

Today a neighbor gave the "shiur nashim," Women's Torah Class.  It was his first time.  No, he's not young.  He told us a bit about his life and how he became religious.  He had never spoken to a group before about it.  It seemed like a pretty suitable topic for after Shavuot, since it goes with the Ruth and Naomi story.

Yes, Ruth and Naomi, because it's pretty possible that when Naomi and family left Israel for Moab, they also left the Jewish Life they had once lived.  Only after Naomi and her daughters-in-law were all widowed did she return to G-d and Jewish Life.

How else could it have been that Naomi had two non-Jewish daughters-in-law who hadn't converted, pledged to live as Jews?  If they had been living as Jews, Naomi wouldn't have been able to send them back to their families.  Once someone converts to Judaism, they are Jews and it's forbidden to remind them of their past, forbidden to stigmatize or discriminate against them in any way.  If at some point, they cease to live Torah lives, they are still Jewish.

So the story of Ruth is as much Naomi's story of Tshuva, repentance as it's Ruth's conversion.

I think that in many ways it's probably harder to return to a Jewish Life one has rejected, abandoned, like Naomi did, than discover one's Judaism as a new way of living or converting.

Comments are invited.  I'm curiious if others feel the same way.


rickismom said...

Today that may be true. But Ruth had no way of knowing that the law of a Moabite not being allowed to marry did not include women. She converted, not knowing if she could ever get remarried.

Also, most rejoiners to Judaism will be reconnecting with their families, while most converts will be more distant from theirs.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree.
Because, at first, people don't see them the same way.
A jew trying to came back to tshuva will be greeted and helped all the way.
A non-jew trying to convert will be confronted to the rabbanim would refuse to convert someone the few first time he ask to learn.
Baalei tshuva won't have to prove anything.
Converts have problems all the time : at the exmination, because of some questions almost no religious know, for the communty life, because they'll have to do everything to prove their conversion is true, people who reject them, and so on.

Batya said...

Boaz accepted Ruth as part of the family.

Sometimes, it gets very complicated in non-religious Jewish families when someone becomes Torah observant:
"We're Jewish and we don't do that." or "My uncle was religious and he would eat in my house." etc

Batya said...

a, I didn't see your comment last night. You must have posted when I was writing mine.

It's official halachik procedure for the rabbis to give potential converts a hard time, but in most Jewish circles, they're supported by ordinary Jews and communities, and at a certain part in their studies it's actually required. Mentoring by frum families is part of the learning.

Most Jewish communities and families are very welcoming to converts. It's the nasty ones which get the big publicity.

in the vanguard said...

You write," it's pretty possible that when Naomi and family left Israel for Moab, they also left the Jewish Life they had once lived." Why assume "they" all became unreligious? The boys married out of their religion. Therefore their mother agreed, you think? Do you think that Ruth could take on her mother-in-law's religion if Naomi's worship was so easily shifting? Do you think that Naomi and Ruth were meant to be the female leaders of Davidic dynasty for their flimsy support of Judaic values? I think not. The men were to blame for their own downfalls, and were aptly recompensed. The women stood out as pristine, righteous women. When Ruth said to Naomi, "Your religion is mine, your G-d is mine, etc." she meant it profoundly. As her conduct in Boaz's fields demonstrates, as his conduct to her demonstartes. She is a maternal bearer of the seed of King David and of the Moshiach.

Do not assume anything less in stature. As to why it might just "look like" things seem somewhat "unkosher", you can read:

Keli Ata said...

It's an intersting question.

From my perspective converts have a bit of an easier time. Yes, rabbanim do question but it's never mean-spirited. In fact, my first contact with a shul (which I was petrified to do since I heard and read so much online about rabbis giving people a hard time) was with the gabbai.

He invited me to attend a service, gave a little tip on what women typically wear--very tactful btw--and told me which door to use. The gabbai provided the rabbi's phone number.

I was so nervous when the gabbai sent me the email that I forwarded it to a friend and had him read it first to see what the gabbai said.

If he had said, 'no, you can't come, we don't welcome outsiders and non-Jews' I would have been devastated. Thankfully, he was very warm and welcoming.

I had also contacted another shul before this. The email address for the rabbi was on their website. He had moved to another state but gave me a contact name for the shul.

The person didn't respond at all despite repeated emails. In fairness though, the shul didn't have a rabbi anymore, so who would convert me? That's when I contacted the other shul.

Discussing why I wanted to convert was the easy part. In fact it has been a longing for almost all my life. So it was sort of like returning home, to where Hashem wanted me to be in the first place.

Accordingly, my family was extremely supportive, which has made things easier.

My employer and co-workers? Ah, another story entirely. Sometimes supportive, often not. But the good thing is, nobody converts to Judaism because they're sadistic.

"Hey, thousands of years of persecution. Where do I sign up for this?" lol. No, it does come from love of Hashem, love of Torah, and love of the Jewish people.

That's why it's relatively easy to ignore the negative stuff.

Would a BT have an easier time returning to Judaism? Religously, yes. But they could be at square one regarding halacha, davening using a siddur and feeling lost in some services. Just standing there watching what everyone else is doing and mimicking them lol.

I would imagine the congregation would be supportive and the families delighted.

Still, I have heard of some people returning to Judaism and their non-observant relatives being resentful and accusing the person of being "too religious" or "too Jewish."

Finally, my most hurtful experience--online, not off, was when a Jew told me my soul was corrupted because of my secular education and Catholic background.

That single comment has stayed with me.

Batya said...

Keli, thanks for sharing. Remember you shouldn't expect approval from everyone; some people just aren't nice.

Hadassa said...

a, I know BT's who've been totally rejected by their families and converts whose families help them more than most Jewish families help their children. Some BT's are constantly hassled by their family and friends whereas some converts are completely supported by their families and welcomed with open arms into their new community.

at the edge, a few points. Na'omi, not just the men, transgressed when she left Beit Lehem. The sons waited until their father died to marry "foreign women" because they weren't able to stand up to him. Na'omi evidently wasn't strong enough to keep her sons from taking their wives. I've read in Me'am Lo'ez and other commentaries that there's dispute among the Sages as to when Ruth converted. But how could she be eligible for yibum (levirite - help me with the spelling - marriage) if she wasn't Jewish while being married to Mahlon? Was it not precisely a yibum? And also Na'omi wasn't strong enough to leave Mo'av until her sons died so perhaps her religiosity suffered at least a slight lapse. I know that the text says that she decided to return because the hard times had passed in Israel, but was it just a coincidence that it happened after the death of her sons?

Keli, he or she is probably jealous that you have a new, completely non-corrupted soul. BTW that comment was a HUGE transgression.

Batya said...

Hadassa, interesting points. The narrative of Megilat Rut is so minimal, so many "guesses" about what isn't written.
It's an amazing story. If Rut and Orpah had converted on marriage, then Nomi wouldn't have been able to send them back. Nomi used Rut as a "surrogate" mother.