a flowery wedding canopy at sunset by the beach
A huppah awaits the wedding couple at a site on the Mediterranean Sea in central Israel. (Photo/JTA-Mendy Hechtman-Flash90)

Can I have an Orthodox conversion with a non-Jewish husband?

Dear Dawn: I’ve been reading the Torah and I want to convert to Judaism. I understand that only an Orthodox conversion is recognized by the entire Jewish people. I want to have such a conversion so that I will be totally accepted. My husband is not Jewish and has no interest in any religion. I can’t find the words to persuade him to convert with me. What can I say to him to convince him? I’ve been told that I can’t have an Orthodox conversion without him doing the same. Am I stuck not being a Jew? — Wondering about conversion

Dear Wondering: How to begin? First, reading the Torah is not particularly helpful in determining whether you want to be a Jew. It is the most familiar part of Jewish scripture because Christianity uses it as the foundation for their teachings.

However, it is like reading the table of contents for a book on biology — you gain only a sketchy idea of what the book covers.

I suggest that you read a book that speaks broadly of Jewish tradition, practice and history. You can see a long list of books on my Becoming Jewish website, or check out My Jewish Learning’s suggestions of the best introduction-to-Judaism books.

If you are still interested, take a basic Judaism class. There are many online, and you can see a list of current Bay Area offerings on the Building Jewish Bridges website.

At this point in time, you won’t get the wonderful experience of being in the same room with your teacher and fellow students, but you will be guided through a logical process of learning. You will have someone to ask questions to, and a circle of fellow learners.

As for finding the words to convince your husband, no, I don’t know of any such words.

Additionally, I don’t believe in convincing anyone to become Jewish.

This is a personal decision that only the individual should make about their life and identity. If your husband doesn’t want to be Jewish, please accept him for who he is.

Can you have an Orthodox conversion without him? No, you can’t.

An Orthodox rabbi will not “create” an interfaith couple by converting one member of a non-Jewish couple.

But, Wondering, are you sure you want to be Orthodox?

Many people tell me just what you have said: “I want an Orthodox conversion so that all Jews will accept me.” But do you want to live an Orthodox life? Do you understand that you would have to make huge changes?

It isn’t just eating only kosher food and attending an Orthodox synagogue. Living as a Torah Jew means things like moving your residence to within walking distance of the synagogue, altering your dress to be appropriately modest and, of course, keeping Shabbat. During Shabbat (Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown) you may not use electricity, handle money, cook or bake, write, or undertake many other tasks that you would have to learn about.

I suggest you read “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg; you can get it at the library, or order it online. This book will give you a full picture of what living as a traditional Jewish woman involves.

If you read this book and want to embrace this lifestyle, then you can participate in an Orthodox community, pray there and socialize with them, without converting. I have a friend who is doing this. It will allow you to live and be a part of a Jewish community while remaining married to your husband.

If you decide that Orthodoxy is not for you, and you would prefer to have a Conservative or a Reform conversion, a new path will open to you. In these streams of Judaism, you will be able to convert even if your husband does not.

Yes, you may face people questioning your Jewish status, but it is your life and you must learn what choices you have. Then it will be your decision as to what identity you want to pursue. Best of luck.

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].