When people fall in love, the perceived barriers disappear and the couple sees nothing but a joyful life ahead of them. The problems they may face will not be due to their religion, but due to non-acceptance of the otherness of other. You are who you are and I am who I am, and together we have chosen to live together, and let religion be not a hurdle, and indeed, no religion is a barrier, but its guardians are. Each individual is different, this couple is happy converting one spouse to other’s faith. If that works for them, let it be. But it not necessary to convert, the marriage is between two people and not religions.
Kylie and Danny Lobell. Photo by Josh Lobell
Last July, I converted to Judaism after five years of studying and undergoing major lifestyle changes: I moved to a Jewish neighborhood, started keeping kosher, took off for Shabbat and the holidays, joined an Orthodox synagogue and learned with a chavrusa.
Today, my observance has grown, and I keep taking on more and moremitzvot. I feel closer to Hashem than ever.
None of that has stopped the outside world, however, from questioning just how legitimate my conversion actually was. At times throughout the process, and even after, I’ve been asked, “Did you convert for your husband?” and then was told — yes, told — that I only converted because I was in love.
As if that’s a bad thing.
As a writer, I’ve covered conversion a lot, profiling the spiritual journeys of others and offering my own personal essays. I know how tough it can be to go through the process, and I want to show support to my fellow gerim. When I’ve told my own story, though, I’ve gotten my fair share of negative feedback, which ranged from passive-aggressive to downright venomous.
On a recent piece I published, one of the comments posted online read, “So you fell in love with some guy and decided to start living your life by his club’s rules and regs. Not exactly a shocker. Lots of women do this.” Another lovely commenter stated, “I would’ve appreciated this more if she had just admitted that she was doing it pretty much entirely for her husband.”
Internet trolling aside, there is a huge stigma in Jewish culture and society at large surrounding the concept of converting for love. But, given the right circumstances and right person, I think it’s entirely OK.
With Shavuot approaching, I found myself thinking about the story of Ruth, perhaps the Torah’s most famous Jew by choice. She converted to Judaism after following her widowed, impoverished mother-in-law, Naomi, to a strange new land — Bethlehem.
According to Dina Coopersmith, a writer for Aish.com, Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah “must have really loved Naomi who — over the ten years of marriage — must have inculcated in them a spiritual value system and Jewish lifestyle to the point where they were willing to start anew with their old widowed mother-in-law.”
It was Naomi’s love for Ruth and Ruth’s love for Naomi that ultimately persuaded Ruth to throw her lot in with the Jewish people and convert. The great-grandmother of King David loved her mother-in-law so much that she completely changed her identity and her life path.
When I fell in love with my now-husband, Danny, he introduced me to Judaism by taking me to a local Chabad synagogue for Friday night dinner. (I wasn’t raised with any religion, and decided I was an atheist when I was a teenager.)
He was uncomfortable with me eating bacon; I loved him, so I gave it up. He wanted to go home for the holidays, so I went with him to show support. He wanted to marry a Jew, so I started exploring Judaism.
I had Danny at my side when we met with rabbis, took classes, attended different synagogues and observed Shabbat. I was uncomfortable many times, mostly because in my own head I felt like people knew I wasn’t really Jewish. Even when I began making big adjustments in my life to adhere to halacha, I still had imposter syndrome.
Because Danny was there for me, and he loved me, I was able to get through my issues. The process was so difficult that I couldn’t imagine doing it alone.
I’m going to guess that an overwhelming majority of converts decide to become Jews because they’re with a Jewish partner. And what’s so wrong with that?
For many couples, conversion is a practical consideration that comes when a Jew falls in love with someone outside the tribe: Some Jews don’t want to be in interfaith marriages, but they also never find someone within the Jewish community with whom they connect. Others may want to ensure that their kids are considered Jewish by even the most stringent sects and that there’s no question of them identifying as something other than Jewish. Jews may also just want to satisfy their families, and not give up their heritage.
Whatever the situation, I believe that love is enough of a reason tostart the conversion process. Of course, I don’t think that someone should convert if they don’t believe. If your catalyst for conversion is your partner, then through the process, you need to gain a love of Judaism, as well — its teachings, its values, its laws — and follow through with the pledges you made with your beit din.
When it comes to Judaism, love is a means to an end. If I hadn’t fallen in love, today I think I would be spiritually barren. For me, love was what woke up my soul, and showed me who I was meant to become.