Progressively Speaking: Should there be different expectations for converts compared to those born Jewish?

Progressively Speaking: Should there be different expectations for converts compared to those born Jewish?

Rabbi Charley Baginsky gives a Progressive Jewish view on a topical issue

The principle that those who convert to Judaism are treated exactly the same as those born into our faith is one that has held since Torah times.

Shavuot has just passed, on which we read from the Book of Ruth – the story of the Bible’s most famous convert and progenitor of the family line that would give us King David.

Yet, in today’s ever increasingly polarised world, even this sacred principle is now under threat.

There have been calls from some quarters that recent converts should keep their heads down, especially when it comes to discussion on Israel and anti-Semitism.

The argument is that those who weren’t born Jewish simply don’t have the experience to comment.

The recent targeting of the young activist Charlotte Nichols is a case in point. She attended the controversial Jewdas Seder with Jeremy Corbyn, and then spoke about it positively in interviews, including with ITV, The Guardian and New York Times.

I, like many, disagreed with some of Charlotte’s views.

However, where things got ugly was that for some taking her on in debate wasn’t enough. She had her social media trawled to prove that she wasn’t a ‘real Jew’, and the fact that she had converted from Catholicism used against her.

The campaign jumped from social media to the printed press with an article in The Spectator, which opined that: “One might consider it polite for a relative newcomer to Judaism to refrain from publicly criticising elected Jewish leaders.”

It shouldn’t need saying, but any Jewish person’s views on any topic, no matter if right or wrong, have nothing to do with whether they converted.

Indeed those who imply that a conversion gives someone a lesser status to comment are ironically the ones who seem to have forgotten the key tenets of our faith.

As Liberal Judaism simply states on our website: “A non-Jew who converts to Judaism is Jewish for all purposes.”

Since it’s founding more than 115 years ago, our movement has done so much on egalitarianism. This does not just mean equality between men and women, or equality for LGBTQI+ people – but equality between all people.

There should be no hierarchy in Judaism and that is something everyone needs to remember, even when we don’t agree.

Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships


read more: