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Kabbalah facts and fantasies

FAQ: Converts & Conversion

FAQ: Converts & Conversion

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FAQ: Converts & Conversion
Kabbalah facts and fantasies

QUESTION: "I know that ultra-Orthodox Jews do not think of converts as fully Jewish, although I did go to mikvah as well as do all the other things for my conversion." 

ANSWER: Where could you have possibly gotten this idea from??? I'm shocked to hear someone is saying such things. If you had a conversion according to Jewish law, then everyone accepts that you are 100% Jewish. If your conversion was not according to halacha, then every possible type of Orthodox Jew doesn't believe that you are even partially Jewish.

The problem in your case may be that if you didn't have a rabbi that believes in the absolute binding nature of Torah law upon every Jew, then he cannot bind you to the Torah either. That is part of Jewish law, and at least as important as mikvah.

QUESTION: "How can you know for certain if you are supposed to convert? Is it a sin to delay the conversion if your heart desires it and you are constantly without peace of mind?"

ANSWER: CLEARLY there is no sin involved, especially since you seem to still have lingering doubts about whether conversion is the correct step for you. Have you spoken about it with a rabbi who is qualified to answer the process?

QUESTION: "Shalom! I am a 43 year old male with Jewish wife and 2 Jewish children. I feel very strong for the Jewish people and I like very much to read the Torah. We have thought of maybe moving to Israel in the future and I feel that I want to be a part of the Jewish people. I am born Christian, and I wonder if and how much it takes to convert to Judaism, or if I can live as a Christian with Jewish values?"

ANSWER: My personal opinion is that for yourself, as an individual, there is no necessity to convert if you don't feel a strong inner desire to do so. You can, as you say, "Live as a Christian with Jewish values," and the Al‑mighty will be pleased with you.

However, as the father of Jewish children and the husband of a Jewess, you may wish to consider conversion anyway.

QUESTION: "I am a Chinese and I came to US from China 4 years ago. Somehow I was fascinated by Kabbalah, and I have been studying it for three years. I am married to an American Jew but I did not convert. Kabbalah is mystical and my life is mystical. Somehow I realize I am Jewish (past life). And people tell me I am insane.

I am looking for some help, maybe a Kabbalist to help me find out my identity. If I am really a Jew I do not need to convert. I also want to move to Israel to continue studying Kabbalah. Could you give me some advice?"

ANSWER: What an interesting letter! Your problem is based on a simple but 180 degree misunderstanding.

You say: "If I am really a Jew I do not need to convert." The exact opposite is true. If by "am really a Jew" you mean that you have a Jewish soul, nevertheless it is still contained within a non-Jewish body. So according to Jewish law, you are 100% non-Jewish, no matter what your past lives or status of your soul.

The only rectification is conversion, if you sincerely desire and feel the need to be Jewish. On the other hand, if you are comfortable as a non-Jew then there is no need to convert. Except, of course, for the problem that you are married to a Jew, yet his children with you will be non-Jewish too, because the Jewish soul is transferred through the mother.

You report that "people" think you insane. "People" are irrelevant; what does your Jewish husband say?

QUESTION: "What do our sages make of a person who comes from a 100% Jewish lineage on the father's side, and none on the mother's side? Outside of the biological logistics of verifying bloodline that are indisputable if you reckon through the mother, are there spiritual or other reasons why we reckon the child's Jewishness that way?"

ANSWER: We understand that the Jewish soul is transmitted through the mother, and that this is a spiritual matter. Let us remember that blood and DNA are not the same thing as soul, a spiritual essence. Kabbalah gives some explanation of why it is through the mother, which is too technical for this forum of brief answers. Also it is clear that Kabbalah endeavors to explain an existing fact, rather than the reason upon which a decision is based.

One basis for the mystical understanding of the status of a convert is the basic Talmudic ruling on conversion which begins, "When a convert comes to convert..." Shouldn't it say "when a non-Jew comes to convert"? He can't be called a convert till after he converts right?

From this statement we understand that the reason he is coming to convert is that he already has the Jewish soul
(although it hovers above him until it enters his body at the actual conversion), and it is this soul which is drawing him to Judaism, whether consciously or not. That is one reason why we are told to discourage conversion candidates initially and make it difficult for them. Those with the Jewish soul will persist no matter what.

QUESTION: "I've read various interpretations on conversion. Some say that the convert was a product of Abraham and Sarah's marital unions that didn't result in a child, other suggest that the converts are souls of those non-Jews that wanted the Torah, but their leaders rejected it. Since the Zohar stresses the concept of measure for measure so much, I've always thought that converts were Jews in previous lifetimes that made some grave religious transgression like becoming an apostate. Could you help sort out the legitimate Kabbalistic approach?"

ANSWER: In most cases it is probably a trapped Jewish soul, as you posited, but not necessarily for the reason that you speculated. Please note that the other theories you raised are not incompatible with this. For a lot more on this subject, keep abreast with our "Gate of Reincarnations" translation.

Yerachmiel Tilles is the co-founder of Ascent-of-Safed, and was its educational director for 18 years. He is the creator of and and currently the director of both sites. He is also a well-known storyteller, a columnist for numerous chassidic publications, and a staff rabbi on, as well as and the author of "Saturday Night, Full Moon": Intriguing Stories of Kabbalah Sages, Chasidic Masters and other Jewish Heroes.
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Denise Botko USA -Michigan September 16, 2016

I am an American. However, my mother's father, my grandfather (Asa Wallace) used to say that our family was originally from Germany and that is why they had coal black hair (and all had rather large noses). My dad told me that my mom's family were from a group known as the Black haired Germans. I always thought that was weird as I did not think Germans had jet black hair and brown eyes. However, I did not pay much attention back then. Since I have grown up and become interested I became very interested and studying Kabbalah. I then became curious in what my father told me. Now I am wondering if we were actually from the German Jews. I do see from 'some' sources that the last name could be from the German Jews and that they came to the USA. How does one find a credible source to explore this? Reply

j martinez September 8, 2016

@ Anonymous from Nevarre, Thanks for your encouragement! Reply

Anonymous Navarre August 24, 2016

j martinez I sympathize with what you are saying. My dad was a cohen and a Jew my mom converted conservative in 1978 and had a Brit for myself even signed by orthodox rabbis in 1985 who had no issue that a conservative rabbi converted my mom. My wife is also sephardic Jewish and bnai anusim. We feel quite isolated but will never give up my Jewish identity. Reply

Anonymous Thornhill,Ontario June 5, 2016

I am Jewish, a friend of two years has just completed her Kosher conversion.
I said that she has been my friend for two years but actually I have not see her ( both of us are busy with work; our husbands and I have,so far, B"H, 6 children, etc. ) for about six months. We are getting together after Shavuos, please help by guiding me on what is cool to talk about, ask . . . during the last six months. Reply

J. Martinez Texas April 20, 2016

Converts and Conversions...Anusim @ Yerachmiel Tilles Tzefat, Israel
Thanks for your reply. At least you are offering sort of an option, my now-ex Rabbi didn't even bothered to do that, not even a suggestion, just coldly shut the door on me, and that has made this entire ordeal PAINFUL. When you mention "convert back" perhaps you mean a ceremony of return? Reason I say that, we have to bear in mind, as in my case, we never ceased to practice our faith, Judaism as I mentioned in my post. I guess there is a difference of opinions on the matter by the different interpretations. Can you shed more light, please? I am in a lot of PAIN over this, to a point of strugle. Thanks! Reply

Yerachmiel Tilles Tzefat, Israel via April 20, 2016

Re: for J. Martinez I can understand that you feel betrayed and I feel badly for you about that.
AS I understand it, the issue is that the anusim are called anusim because they were "forced" to officially convert to Catholicism. That opens the question of whether an anus has to "convert back" before being considered 100%. The official status as cristians and the necessity to behave as cristians outweighs the "we didn't really mean it" justification of the conversion.

Or maybe not. Maybe the insincerity of the conversion does cast a doubt upon it. As I said, it is a question. That is why if an anus opts to convert back, when he goes to immerse in a mikveh he does not say the blessing a regular convert says, because maybe he does not really have to convert back and if so then it would be taking G-d's name in vain. Reply

J Martinez Texas April 5, 2016

Put on a bind by my now ex-Chabad Rabbi. I’m Anusim. My mother and her parents spoke Ladino, prayed in Ladino, kept Shabbat at their dwelling. I even inherited my grandfather’s tefillin back in 1995 when he passed away. I daven at a local Chabad house for a few years and was always welcome. Few weeks ago, after a time of absence due to professional commitments, I went back to shul and was treated coldly; the Rabbi I used to love so much even ignored me. A week later he sent me a text saying that he recently met the Chabad Rabbi from the land I come from and told him that we were not 100% halachaich Jews so he could not count me for minyan, aliyot etc. Nice. Do these guys understand the concept of Anusims who for generations had to SECRETLY practice Judaism in a predominantly Catholic society in order to get bye (jobs, buy property, fit in, and not be shunned?) He wants more proof, a graveside, pictures, documents etc. What part of SECRETLY practicing Judaism he doesn’t get? I felt insulted and dishonored, as if Anusim are not good enough. What is it? Unless you are from Eastern European descent you are not a Jew? I felt compelled to insult him in Ladino as proof, or how about throw my grandfather’s tefillin at the doors of the shul as proof. Shall I remind them that not until the gathering of ALL Jews Moshiach will not come? All the Jews include us, Anusims too. So sit and wait as long as we are treated this way, pushed away without even offering any ideas on how to help. I do not need to pose as a Jew, I am a Jew, like it or not. Any ideas or shall I take the Reform street? Reply

Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles via February 24, 2016

Martina For your conversion to be fully recognized in Israel, it needs to be Orthodox.
It is wisest to do it in USA before going to Israel, in order to reduce considerably the red tape. Reply

Angel Diaz April 27, 2017
in response to Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles:

I'm an Anuism who converted through the Badatz of HaRav Nissim Karelitz, however due to existing politics, the Rabbanut does not wish to recognise his giyur even though its 101% halachially kosher and this creates considerable problems for those he converted. Some Chabad Rabbis recognize Rav Karelitz's giyur while some others from elsewhere don't. How do you propose a solution to this persisting issue? Do you yourselves recognize Rav Karelitz's giyur? Reply

Martina Rieffer Arizona, USA February 13, 2016

I have a dilemma as well. I come from Jewish Ancestry, but due to the Holocaust have absolutely no proof. I live like a Jew, observe Shabbat,High Holy Days and Festivals, am Kosher, study Torah and Talmud, and feel like a 100% Jew. Never anything but. My question, why do I have to "convert" if I am already a Jew. Event, I would like to live in Israel, though no hurry since I visit a lot. It just seems unfair how I have to deal with all this Red Tape, while nearly 80% of Israelis are secular and I am the total opposite, but am not recognized as one of MY people.
Though already signed up with your organization online, yet belonging to a Reform Synagogue, would it be wiser for me to frequent a Chabad Center vs. the Reform to do my Conversion?! I am deeply devout, either location is an hour away from community and I would feel comfortable at either place, thus is would be more for the possibility of eventual Aliyah.
Your honest advice would be greatly appreciated. Reply

Sarah Lin Berkeley, CA via December 24, 2015

Non-Jew past Jew So what if you are deemed out of your mind. In order to become a Jew especially being born into a Chinese body in a secular, Communist trained culture, don't we have to be out of my minds to do this? Congrats to you that you know how to be out of your mind! Keep it going and let me know your progress. You know you were at Mount Sinai.

From another Chinese convert (in progress) and I didn't marry Jewish. Reply

Anonymous June 10, 2013

To the Chinese person in the Q & A List You are not out of your mind, there are the Kaifeng Jews in China, they look completely Chinese but are of Jewish descent.
From what I have read, the last Rabbi passed away about 100 years ago in the small community , no one can read Hebrew any more, but they still have Mezuzahs on their door posts. You could probably look it up.
I , just like you, was also concerned about my sanity, and keep quiet about it but reading the Q & A moderator's answer gave me some comfort.
I know how puzzling it is. Reply

Anonymous Phx via June 3, 2013

Being accepted as a Jew after conversion. I think for the most part you are accepted especially in a shul you have been going too for awhile. But a big issue is Atleast for singles or someone who is divorced is marriage. From a male perspective frum women really don't want a man who converted from what I have experienced. I know a few frum from birth male chareidim and chassidim who married a woman convert and are very happy. I think the biggest reason is the obvious that the man is suppose to be the "spiritual leader" in the home while the woman is the foundation. But I think ffb women don't want a man they have to train"so to speak". Obviously this is from a male perspective and if I offended anyone this was not my intent and I apologize. One last thing no matter what you will always have people who don't "really accept" you until they get to know you, no matter what the Torah says. Reply

Anonymous via May 21, 2013

Jewish Soul Are you saying that it is possible for a Kabbalist Rabbi to actually tell you if you have a Jewish soul trapped inside of you? That possible at one time in your past you WERE a Jew? Does he have to be Orthodox Jew? Reply

Jeremiah Arment Lancaster, PA January 27, 2013

I've been thinking about Judaism alot off and on since I was 4, maybe 5 years old. Had a childhood friend who was Jewish, which may have ignited the interest in Judaism, ultimately, it was my own genuine desire to learn & know more. Nonetheless, I have a sincere desire to convert to Orthodox Judaism. What does the process include (so I know what to expect for the most part and can possibly start studying early)? Any help greatly appreciated. Reply

jill anglin December 26, 2012

I am interested in posts of this nature Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via December 26, 2012

For Lorraine Yes. At least three times. Reply

Lorraine Newyork December 4, 2012

Conversion I was advised to speak with an orthodox Rabbi about my desire/need to convertto Judism however I have read several times that initially I will be rejected as a test my true desire to become A Jew by choice am I supposed to return to the same Rabbi to ask again? Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via November 15, 2012

RE: to Lorraine It is less complicated in New York City than in more rural areas. You need to speak to an ORTHODOX JEWISH rabbi and if he is convinced of your sincerity he can help you begin the process. Reply

Lorraine New York City November 15, 2012

I am seeking to convert to Judism I am an African American female. I have always been facinated with the Jewish way of life and have longed to be a Jew. Recently a female freind of mine informed me that I can convert and will be accepted as a full Jewish person. I need know where and how to start. I do not have any doubt about my choice to convert. Does anyone have any advise for me? Reply

R. Yerachmiel Tilles, via January 25, 2011

Alliance, OH Children conceived (not just born) after conversion all have 100% Jewish souls. Reply

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