Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Tree or the Ham? A Conversion Question

The NY Times featured this article about converts struggling with the celebration of Christmas. The article certainly addresses an element of truth. Although halachically, halachah considers a convert כקטן שנולד דמי - "like a newborn child," and it was assumed that the convert had completely segregated herself from her previous life, today that just is not the case. People maintain cordial, loving relationships with their families, creating challenging demands, especially around Christmas Time.
“I am fully committed to becoming Jewish, so it’s been hard to know what I am supposed to do,” said Ms. Jett, who is in graduate school, studying to become a nutritionist. “There’s a piece of me that really feels the need to preserve something I had when I grew up.”
I can appreciate her struggle - her desire to balance her yearning for a Christmas tree and her reluctance to alienate her mother, a devout Methodist who supports her conversion. She settles on the blue and white festooned tree pictured. What saddens me so is that while she struggles so valiantly with Christmas, she gives mainstream Judaism not a second thought. The article continues,
Though Ms. Jett usually goes to her mother’s house for Christmas, this year, her mother came to New York instead, and Ms. Jett and Mr. Silver decided to invite several friends — they affectionately called them “Jewish orphans” — over for dinner. They planned a traditional Christmas menu of bourbon-glazed ham, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans and yams, cooked by Mr. Silver, who works for a real estate investment firm and is the designated chef in the relationship.
What did they teach her in her conversion classes? What does it mean to be Jewish? Why is a Christmas tree bad, but bourbon-glazed ham raises not an eyebrow? If she would have asked me (or any other rabbi that I know), I would have told her that if she had to choose, she should keep the tree and dump the ham. The tree is a nice custom with no real connection to Christianity at all. The ham, on the other hand? A Torah prohibition.
That, to me, is the true tragedy: a generation of converts with not only little to no knowledge of Judaism, but with spouses who lack the same, calling themselves and their children Jewish.