Reprinted with permission from the February 10, 2006 issue of the New York Jewish Week.
In January 2006, The New York Jewish Week published an op-ed by Steven Bayme and Jack Wertheimer, Revisiting and Promoting Conversion. This letter to the editor was published in response.
An interfaith couple is married by a rabbi and joins a synagogue. The young woman has no present intention to convert, but has agreed to raise her children as Jews. Her non-Jewish boss, after reading recent articles in the secular press, says to her at work, “I hear the synagogues want people like you to convert.” She is very upset and asks her mother-in-law, who told me the story, if it is true.
Steven Bayme and Jack Wertheimer apparently don’t care that promoting conversion aggressively, as they propose (“Revisiting and Promoting Conversion,” Jan. 13), distresses and pushes away people like this young woman–not to mention her Jewish husband and in-laws. Do they think telling her that her family can’t be called a Jewish family, or her home holy, will encourage her Jewish involvement?
Whether intentional or not, their message is that unconverted non-Jews raising their children as Jews should not be included in the Jewish community, that such people and their Jewish behaviors just aren’t good enough.
Bayme and Wertheimer seek to ally themselves with Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s statement at the Reform biennial that the movement should sensitively encourage conversion. But their mean-spirited message is not Rabbi Yoffie’s. He also said at the biennial that non-Jewish spouses who commit to raising Jewish children are “heroes of Jewish life” who deserve “our profound thanks” and “a full embrace” with formal ceremonies of recognition. That attitude, not Bayme and Wertheimer’s, will result in more Jewish families.