Spiritual Citizenship: A Reflection on Conversion

Spiritual Citizenship: A Reflection on Conversion

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

As intermarriage becomes an increasingly common aspect of Jewish life, the Conservative movement has decided to allow their affiliated rabbis to attend intermarriage ceremonies. Not to officiate at these ceremonies, mind you — perhaps that decision will follow — but for now they will at least be able to attend the simcha. In a recent article in the Forward, Ari Feldman gives further details (“Conservative Movement Gives Rabbis Green Light to Attend Intermarriages,” Oct. 22, 2018). It is a long-awaited, welcoming gesture. Until now, conservative rabbis could not even hover in the back row if they wished to remain in the conservative movement.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky offers his own thoughtful and lengthy article, although written a decade ago still insightfully relevant, also written from a conservative point of view, on the subject of conversion. “At a given moment,” he writes, “a non-Jew is transformed from ‘outsider’ to ‘one of us.’ What changed that person?” What is the transformative moment?

Kalmanofsky suggests that the prospective convert may have passed through one or more “doors”:

  1. “What doorway did s/he pass through, so that the s/he now counts in the minyan?
  2. Was it a religious doorway?
  3. An ethnic one?
  4. An intellectual affirmation. 
  5. A faith act? 
  6. A mark on the body?
  7. An orientation of the spirit?
  8. Does conversion depend on one’s self-definition?
  9. Or upon decisions by others, like rabbinic courts?
  10. Or perhaps upon the informal willingness of Jews to recognize someone as family?”

What doorways do those of us who are born Jews pass through in the various stages of our lives? Do we find enriching moments — our own transformative doorways — along the way? Do we continue to grow spiritually? Or do we take the fact of Jewish birth — our spiritual citizenship — for granted?

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.