This article is devoted to educating Jews about comments that are hurtful to converts – comments that no convert should hear. We recognize that not all Jewish communities are the same, but mistreatment of converts is a widespread problem. It will not disappear unless the problem is made known. We must take action to stop this desecration of the Name. Denial is not a solution.
Dor Deah is committed to establishing communities where attitudes of superiority will be disdained and new members embraced.
COMMENTS MADE EVEN AFTER CONVERSION:
“You shall love the convert.” (Deut. 10,19)
“An everlasting law: as you are, so is the convert be before the LORD.” (Num. 15,15)
“You shall not treat the convert wrongly, nor oppress him;” (Ex. 22,20)
The following comments, though made by Jews, are antithetical to the Jewish faith. A Jew who prides himself in his Jewishness will abstain from them.
“You think you know Torah? You converted only a year ago. I was raised Jewish.”
“If you don’t like Jewish culture, maybe you’re not Jewish.”
“OOoh. You converted!? Now that’s why you don’t look so Jewish.”
You’re in a synagogue, dressed like everyone else, and someone asks: “Kohen?” You reply “No.” They continue, “Levi?” You reply “No.” Then they ask, “Yisroel?” …Apparently you don’t look Jewish enough in their eyes. If you’re not a Kohen or Levi, it’s a given that you’re “Israel,” unless they’re wanting to express that they’re doubting whether you’re Jewish.
When a convert mentions a halakha his acquaintance is unaware of, he’s told “You can’t invent your own religion!” In other words, it’s unimaginable that a convert might know a point of Jewish law that someone raised Jewish is unaware of. Right…
“We care about you. We don’t want to see you become a fanatic like other converts we know.”
“We don’t want to see you get burned out. You know, most converts leave Judaism.” — That’s a sure way to make a convert feel not under the magnifying glass.
Someone who just learned you’re a convert says, “But Jews don’t missionize. You don’t need to be Jewish.” — Um, but I want to be Jewish and…I already converted.
Someone who doesn’t even know your name asks, “I heard you converted. Who did your conversion? Were they Orthodox?”
“Do you still believe in Jesus?”
After a few years of living Jewish you over hear someone say in shock “OMG! He knows the asher yatzar blessing by heart!” — They’re surprised a convert could have it memorized after saying it several times a day for two years?
You and a friend named Akiva, both of you converts, are guests at an Israeli’s Shabbos table. When the host asks your friend’s name and learns that it’s Akiva, he comments in Hebrew, “He might have chosen the name Akiva, but he’s far from it.” You then observe the smirks on the faces of the family members while trying not react and embarras them all. I guess it’s a given that converts can’t learn Hebrew. I never told my friend what I heard.
Someone over hears you make a blessing in Hebrew and says “You’ll get it with time,” when the critic himself can’t speak Hebrew and you’re already fluent.
You overhear a friend say to someone over the phone, “Her husband’s Jewish, but she’s a convert.” — Hello? I’m right beside you, you know…your friend the convert. Am I also not Jewish?
“You’re Jewish?! OMG! I never met a black convert before!”
“Why do you speak Hebrew like an Arab?” Reply: “That’s Middle Eastern Hebrew. I pray with Sefaradim” or “Yemenites.” Response: “But you’re white. Can’t you just be normal?”
“You’re Arabic? Arabs can’t convert. They’re ‘Amalek.'”
“Arabs can’t be Jewish. They believe in Muhammad.”
When a liberal Jew finds out you’re pro-life, you are told, “Can’t you let go of your Christian beliefs?”
When you comment that a new ring-tone is of Christian origin you are asked, “Can’t you get over your past?”
“Why do you have so many convert-friends?”
“Why are you creating a new convert-club?”
Someone knows you converted a decade ago and yet they say, “You know the Ari’zal? He was a major kabbalist; You know the parasha? It’s the weekly Torah portion;” or the like.
An older friend tells a convert, “You’re a great guy, but I understand the girl’s family. I don’t want you to be hurt in the future so I’ll just tell you, I wouldn’t let you marry my children either.” — That’ll make him feel better.
After a convert refers to a family member, someone responds: “You know, they’re not really your family anymore.”
When asked why you look sad and you respond that a family member passed away, they reply: “Goyim don’t pass away (niftarim), they just die (metim).”
“Converts are usually a little unstable. Maybe it’s best you wait a few years before getting married.”
When complaining to a shadkhanit (matchmaker) that the people you’re matched with don’t match any of your criteria, you’re told: “You have to realize that you’re a convert. You can’t be so picky.”
“You’re in luck. Converts can marry mamzerim.”
“Converts should just marry converts.”
“If you don`t like what is commonly accepted as Torah by the majority of Judaism then you must have converted to the wrong religion.”
“You can’t be a rabbi. You converted.”
An outwardly very pious Jew asks a convert, “Why would you choose to be Jewish? Are you insane?”
“Why did you convert? Do you have a Jewish soul?”
Someone who knows you converted says, “Converts are half a spark.”
After explaining all the rational reasons he chose to convert, he is told, “You must have been a Jew in your past life. Why else would you keep Torah?”
“If my words offended you, you must not accept the Gemarah [*He meant kabbalah]. It teachess that goyim aren`t benei adam and don`t have a neshama. You should re-think your conversion, cause if you have a problem with this teaching then you don`t belong to ‘am Israel. Seriously, reconsider the Noahide laws.” — someone should report this guy to the JDL.
“If you wouldn’t tell people you converted you wouldn’t get mistreated.” — Besides that this advice encourages the convert to feel as though it is a shame he converted, it also does not take into consideration the following or similar scenarios:
Someone introduces a convert by saying, “Meet Bob. He’s a convert.”
Even if the guy introducing the convert doesn’t give it away, the new person asks, “Hi. My name’s Yosi. I’m from Flatbush. Where are you from?”
Response: “Oh… I’m from Jerusalem. My name’s Moshe.” — Moshe tries to avoid giving away his childhood home.
Yosi: “Wow! Your English is really good. Where are your parents from?
Moshe tries to avoid a conversation about his parents: “Well… Actually, I’ve lived in Jerusalem for many years, but I grew up in the U.S.”
Yosi: “Ah. Where ’bouts?”
Moshe: “Well, I’m originally from the southern U.S.”
Yosi: “Oh really? I have an aunt in Florida. Are you from Miami? Boca Raton? Hollywood?”
Moshe: “Actually… How was it growing up in New York?”
Yosi: “You know… everyone’s from New York. It’s nothing special, but I like it. All my friends are there. So where did you grow up? You might know my cousins in Miami.”
Moshe: “Well, I’m originally from Mississippi.”
Yosi: “Wow! Mississippi? I thought that’s a southern draw I was hearing. That’s so cool. Were your parents secular?”
Moshe: “Not really. They had a lot of morals in common with the Orthodoxy.”
Yosi: “So what were they doing in Mississippi?”
Moshe: “You know, there are Jews everywhere.”
Yosi: “Yeah, but secular Jews. I don’t even think there’s a Conservative shul in Mississippi. Did you have a bar mitzva?”
Moshe: “Emm, well… I didn’t have a party; but, you know, a bar mitzva is really something that automatically happens when a Jewish boy turns 13.”
Yosi: “Man. Isn’t Mississippi like the buckle of the Bible-Belt? I bet Christians drove you nuts growing up. Did you at least get out of school for the Hagim (Jewish Holy Days)?
Moshe: “Well, to be honest…” (Moshe gets tired of beating around the bush) “…I didn’t really know about the Hagim growing up.”
Yosi: “Did you at least get to celebrate Hanukka or Purim?”
Moshe: “Not really…”
Yosi: “What?! Even the Reform celebrate Hanukka and Purim! Where your parents Christian or something?
Moshe: “Actually yeah…”
Yosi: “But you’re mother was Jewish, right?”
Moshe: “Well, she taught me a lot of Jewish principles…”
Yosi: “Ah. So, she wasn’t Jewish?”
Moshe: “Um, yeah… I converted.”
Yosi: “Oh. That’s so unusual. Did you have a Jewish girlfriend or something?”
Moshe: “No… I was just a serious Christian and studied the Bible in depth. It eventually lead me to want to be Jewish.”
Yosi: “That’s amazing. You had to have been a Jew in your past life. I’m just curious… What was your name before you converted?”
Moshe: “It was Tom Dupree.”
Yosi: “You know what Tom? My sister has a friend who converted. You should get to know each other.”
The fact that people are not supposed to remind converts that they didn’t always keep Torah does not mean that converts should be made to feel like they need to keep the fact that they converted top secret. Converts should not feel compelled to dodge questions when meeting people in order to maintain a sense of respect in the community. Anyone who suggests that the solution to mistreatment of converts is for converts to proactively hide the fact that they converted actually gives strength to the very ignorance that produces such mistreatment.
R’ Yosef Eliyah
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