Is Conversion Necessary for Acceptance? Choosing to Participate in an Interfaith Havurah

As a committed Christian, I knew that conversion was not going to be my choice. I celebrated with my friends as they completed their conversions, and I listened carefully when they repeated their vows before the congregation. “Of my own free will, I choose to enter the eternal Covenant between God and the people of Israel and to become a Jew. I accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religious faiths and practices. Under all circumstances I will be loyal to the Jewish people and to Judaism. I promise to establish a Jewish home and to participate actively in the life of the synagogue and of the Jewish community. I commit myself to the pursuit of Torah and Jewish knowledge. If I should be blessed with children, I promise to raise them as Jews.”

I spent a lot of time contemplating these vows when fellow havurah member Susan celebrated her conversion. Susan and I had grown particularly close after we learned that we had grown up in rural Southern Illinois towns less than twenty miles from each other. We talked often about our families, our similar upbringings, and the progress of her journey toward conversion. Susan was the last woman in our group to convert, and it was disappointing to both of us that because I wasn’t Jewish I couldn’t participate in her conversion by joining her at the mikvah. But I knew that my journey could not be the same as hers as I thought about the conversion vows–I could willingly make many of the promises, but I could not promise to accept Judaism to the exclusion of all other religious faiths and practices. Although I could not be there physically, Susan knew when she went to the mikvah that I joined her in spirit.

I really liked this author’s description of life in her interfaith havurah (a small independent Jewish community, which seems to be very similar to the phenomenon of house churches in Christianity) but was also torn by how that the practice of Jewish conversion was one that required adherence to one faith and only one faith.

Why should it be that way? I realize that it might seem like heresy to some, but why can’t a person practice more than one faith at the same time? I’ll leave that question where is for tonight, but it is a question I will be thinking and talking about more in the future.