Ruth, the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name, was the first convert to Judaism. Painting by James Tissot, ca. 1900
Ruth, the heroine of the biblical book that bears her name, was the first convert to Judaism. Painting by James Tissot, ca. 1900

I haven’t converted yet, but I’m raring to practice Judaism right now

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Dear Dawn: During the conversion process, how observant can or should one be? What kind of mitzvot can someone do? I can only find Orthodox information and that’s not very helpful in my case. My rabbi is advising me not to wear tallit or hang a mezuzah until after I finish, but why? What are the guidelines for other things? Can I kasher all of my dishes? Can I cover my head when I pray or study? (I have found it helpful to do so before.) Can I say blessings? I’m only a month into the process, but I know a lot and I’m feeling ready to take on some mitzvot. — Ready to Go

Dear Ready: Part of becoming a Jew is becoming a member of a community with communal rules. Within every synagogue is a micro-Jewish community that lives by the rules of that group of people and their rabbi and their understanding of Jewish law.

If you have found a rabbi with whom you are comfortable, then trust him/her. Your rabbi is thinking about how you will fit into the community. If you wear a tallit or hang a mezuzah you are signaling other Jews that you are already Jewish. That can be seen as deceptive.

At one month into your study you are gaining a number of facts about Jewish life, i.e., the trappings of Judaism, clothing and home accoutrements, but you do not yet know the mentality of Jewish life, which includes theology, history and culture. Being a Jew is often referred to as being “a member of the tribe.” That is, you are becoming a part of a whole, dedicating yourself to a greater good a bigger family.

You ask about kashering your dishes and also say that you can only find Orthodox information and it is not helpful in your case. I am guessing from that that you are not studying for an Orthodox conversion.

The point of having kosher dishes is to permit traditionally observant Jews to eat in your home. Right now you are eating there just fine, and as a not-yet-Jewish person you do not require kosher dishes. A traditional Jew would not eat in your home now because there is no assurance that you know what you are doing in terms of food buying, handling and preparation.

Either you plan to observe kashrut, in which case you still have a lot to learn before you will be able to maintain your dishes’ kosher status, or you just want to have kosher dishes. If you just want kosher dishes, why? Is it to make you feel more Jewish?

You are at the very beginning of your journey. Slow down and let this precious study time sink in. Right now you are meeting with your rabbi regularly, learning something new each week. Once you become a Jew, it will last for the rest of your life. Embrace this liminal time.

Can you cover your head to pray? Many faiths have this practice. I see no reason you could not do that, but ask your rabbi. It may be that your shul expects men to cover their heads; others expect both men and women to do so.

Can you say blessings? I am guessing that your rabbi is teaching you blessings. You have to say them to learn and practice. If you are asking whether you can say blessings on behalf of the community as the shaliach tzibur (messenger of the community), the answer is usually no. Only a Jew can do that. (This may differ in nontraditional Jewish environments.) But one month of studying has not prepared you for such a responsibility.

In the Mishnah, the rabbis list and discuss the mitzvot. They mention honoring parents, visiting the sick, welcoming guests, comforting mourners and observing Shabbat and the holidays, among many others. There are so many mitzvot you can do that are simply a part of living a decent life.

Judaism focuses on our daily lives; focus on yours. Be cognizant of what you are doing and why. Do you call your mother to see how she is doing? Do you send a note to someone who has lost a loved one? Do you attend services? Do you got to Torah study or find a place to study with others?

The actions you are raising are primarily ones that happen “outside” of yourself — what you wear, what is on your house, the status of your dishes.

Turn your thinking inside. Are you careful to make your actions in keeping with Jewish tradition? Don’t lie, but don’t needlessly blurt out a hurtful truth. Avoid gossip. Look for ways to help those less fortunate than yourself. Do these things mindfully. It will be rewarding and begin connecting you to your Jewish practice and emerging identity.

Dawn Kepler
Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to [email protected].