Reviews and Feedback
Becoming Jewish is the proverbial treasure trove of information about converting to Judaism, with facts, fables, and foibles all rolled into one well-written, well-conceived book. The two authors, one a rabbi, one a convert, write smoothly together, blending their viewpoints and deftly piggybacking on each other’s thoughts and feelings. A wealth of material covers everything from shopping for a rabbi, understanding Jewish values, learning about Jewish ideas on believing vs. belonging, studying Hebrew, honoring Shabbat, and celebrating the holidays at home to facing the Mikvah and the Bet Din. It also touches on issues related to raising Jewish children and brings to life the great love of the Jewish people for Israel and, especially, Jerusalem.
Meaningful anecdotes about Hanin’s conversion process and the new ways she learned to relate not only to Judaism but to a world that now looked different to her are sprinkled throughout the book and add a grace note of personal warmth to an already welcoming set of concepts. The book is well-organized and easy to follow. Reuben, a Reconstructionist rabbi, artfully explains the differences among the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements and his own, honoring each in its own right and also mentioning trans-denominational Jewish organizations.
Appendices explain the syllabi of typical conversion courses, and a glossary provides definitions of common Jewish terms, including tzedakah, Talmud, and sufganiyot. A resources section helps encourage Jewish activism by listing online Jewish magazines, such as Jewcy, museums of Jewish history and Israel-centered think tanks. Appendices, glossary, index, resources.
Review by Linda F. Burghardt
—Jewish Book World Magazine (Jewish Book Council) December, 2011
Jennifer S. Hanin was raised Catholic and converted to Judaism after marrying a Jewish man. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben is the distinguished spiritual leader of Kehillat Israel, the largest Reconstructionist congregation in the world and a landmark on Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades. Together, they are the authors of “Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards, and Paths to Conversion” (Rowman & Littlefield, $22.95), which they describe as a “gutsy guide to entering the tribe.”
An insistent lightheartedness and more than a few comic moments enliven “Becoming Jewish,” starting with a jokey preface by comedian Bob Saget: “I was circumcised. Thank God by a professional. That is not something you want done by a novice.” The authors, too, are full of banter. “Conversion is a serious business,” writes Hanin, “but it doesn’t mean you need to down two pots of coffee to wade through it.”
The authors assume they are addressing a prospective convert to Judaism. “While achieving your conversion isn’t as a gut wrenching as auditioning for “American Idol” (though the bimah may feel every bit like a stage), it does require discipline and dedication.” But I suspect that a good many Jewish spouses and partners will be reading the book over the shoulders of their beloveds, if only because, as the authors point out, the motivation for conversion is often the prospect of marriage or the responsibilities of raising children in a mixed marriage.
Indeed, Jewish readers will be surprised and enlightened by some of the details of the conversion process. They point out, for example, that the process of conversion begins with the rabbi who instructs and prepares the convert, but it ends with a ruling by a bet din. Even here, however, the authors offer a joke to lighten the moment: “You would have to present a deep conflict for them to have reservations about rubberstamping your conversion,” they write about the bet din, “like wearing a kaffiyeh, crossing yourself, or whipping out a BLT.”
Reuben and Hanin describe the conversion process with both sweep and precision. It begins with the selection of a rabbi who will conduct the conversion and ends with a dip in the mikveh. Along the way, they discuss the implications of adult circumcision, the choice of a Jewish name, the study of Hebrew, the celebration of Shabbat and the holy days, the keeping of kashrut, the challenges and responsibilities of raising Jewish children and the other rituals and observances of Jewish life.
The authors also invite us to ponder what Judaism is, what it demands of us, and what makes someone a Jew. They sum up Judaism as a matter of “believing, belonging, and behaving.” But they point out that belief is probably the least crucial element in contemporary Judaism outside the highly observant denominations.
“[B]eing part of an ancient and extended spiritual family of Jews…forms our primary sense of religious identity,” they explain. “This is why so many nonobservant Jews are still passionate about being Jewish.” And, for that reason, “believing takes a backseat to belonging and behaving when it comes to Jewish identity.”
They also deal with the unique issues of conversion with sensitivity and compassion. “Becoming Jewish doesn’t mean amputating your past,” they write. “You can be secure enough in your own Jewish identity to experience sacred, moving moments that other religious traditions evoke. This is definitely a case in which you can go home again, and if you want to share your parents’ holiday or any other relatives’ celebration, feel free.”
I expect that more than a few copies of “Becoming Jewish” will be purchased by Jews and handed to non-Jews in order to open a conversation about conversion. Indeed, it seems that the authors expected and intended the book to serve that function. But I am also convinced that the Jewish men and women who open and read the book will connect with traditions that they have forgotten or perhaps never knew at all. In that sense, the book offers a path into Judaism for both the Jew by birth and the Jew by choice.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal.
—JewishJournal.com October, 20, 2011
There is a long-standing tradition that, given the oppression that Jews have often faced, rabbis should make every effort to discourage would-be converts. Reuben (senior rabbi, Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation) and freelance writer Hanin, a convert to Judaism, by contrast, explain to the curious what conversion is apt to be like and address questions and issues that are likely to arise (Hebrew, Shabbat, kosher, Kabbalah, Israel, differing denominations). They instruct the reader on Judaism’s this-world focus and its status as a religion that emphasizes belonging over belief and the value of every person. VERDICT Short chapters and a simple style make this an excellent choice for interested readers and perhaps the first book any rabbi ought to hand a would-be convert. With a foreword by actor and comedian Bob Saget.
—Library Journal October 1, 2011
Conversion to Judaism usually occurs when a non-Jewish person falls in love with a Jew and the two determine that a common religious faith will make for a happier marriage. Co-author Hanin took a different route. She was already married to a Jew and was the mother of three-year old twins when she became friendly with a Jewish woman, attended her synagogue, and found there a sense of warmth that led to her conversion. Deciding to write about her experience, Hanin met Reuben, a Reconstructionist rabbi, who shared her views. The result of their collaboration is this wise and edifying guidebook to the process by which someone chooses to become a Jew. The authors spell out not only the steps to be taken, but also provide a wealth of information about Jewish traditions, practices, and customs. Their topics include: choosing a rabbi and a Jewish denomination; dealing with family and friends; observing the holidays; facing the religious court (Bet Din); raising children; anti-Semitism; and more. This second aspect of the presentation is so enlightening that all readers — non-Jews and Jews, who can learn some unfamiliar aspects of their own religion – will find the book highly instructive.
—Publishers Weekly September 9, 2011
Today, there’s general agreement at least that conversion to Judaism is possible, even if there’s still plenty of disagreement among authorities across the religious spectrum about what constitutes an acceptable conversion. Reconstructionist Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and Jennifer S. Hanin don’t want anyone to let that get them down on their way to joining the tribe, so their cheery guidebook, Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards, and Paths to Conversion (Rowman & Littlefield, September) shepherds eager aspirants onward with sections like “Facing the Bet Din: Don’t Sweat It.” Most remarkably, this has got to be the only book ever co-written by an ordained rabbi published with a foreword by the incomparable Bob Saget.
—Tablet October 15, 2011
Converting to Judaism is a long, involved process. This guide by a Reconstructionist rabbi and a freelance writer, who converted herself, is a welcome resource. The authors explain details such as finding the right denomination, choosing a rabbi, selecting a Hebrew name, and the need to learn Hebrew. They also discuss Jewish culture and beliefs, holidays, and traditions. Chapters on telling family and friends about the decision to convert, raising Jewish children, Kabbalah, anti-Semitism, and Israel help those converting understand important issues. There is also more doctrinaire information about facing the Bet Din (rabbinic court) and going to the Mikvah (ritual bath). Written in a casual, friendly style with good humor and warmth, this accessible guide will help anyone considering conversion to Judaism.
—Booklist October 01, 2011
“Becoming Jewish is a must read for anyone who is considering adopting the Jewish faith. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben and Jennifer Hanin, herself a Jew by choice, have created a spectacular work that provides a clear, accessible and reader-friendly approach to those seeking to choose Judaism as their way of life. Becoming Jewish offers a path full of wisdom that will be invaluable to anyone setting out on a Jewish journey.”
—Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of To Begin Again and Hope Will Find You
“We learn in Becoming Jewish that converts to Judaism are to be treated as though they were at Mount Sinai with all of Israel when Moses received God’s laws. But, becoming a ‘Jew by Choice’ is not as simple an undertaking as imagining oneself in the desert sprinting away from Pharaoh. Becoming Jewish masterfully guides the interested would-be convert through the myriad of complicated issues and choices that they will confront.”
—William C. Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office, Jewish Federations of North America
“Throughout history, many Jews have pondered what it means to be Jewish, an identity that combines religion, ethnicity, culture, history, language and other complex factors. In considering what it means to become Jewish, and why one would make that choice, the authors shed insight not only into the conversion process, but Jewish identity itself. I highly recommend Becoming Jewish for both reasons.”
—Aaron Eitan Meyer, research diretor of the Lawfare Project; legal correspondent for the Terror Finance Blog; board member, Act for Israel
“With the growing debate about the connection between Jewish identity and Israel, Becoming Jewish serves as a useful reminder to all those who question the two and why it is so critical to see Judaism and Israel in tandem through the lens of conversation.”
—Asaf Romirowsky, Middle East Analyst
“In a world filled with spiritual seekers, Becoming Jewish is an easy-going, accessible and warm hearted guide that offers insider tips while giving converts a license to laugh along the way. The authors’ witty approach helps converts synthesize a religion shrouded in secrecy with expressions, gestures, practices, customs, rituals and a language that dates back over 4,000 years.”
—Matt Miller, author of The Tyranny of Dead Ideas; host of NPR’s Left, Right and Center
“At a time when outreach has never mattered more, a sensitive, thoughtful and eminently practical guide for those seeking to join the Jewish people.”
—Rabbi Steven Z. Leder, Senior Rabbi, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, author of The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things and More Money Than God; Living a Rich life Without Losing Your Soul
“Written with clarity, wisdom, sunshine and heart, Becoming Jewish is an essential mentor for anyone embracing the Jewish family or exploring meaning and faith. A treasure trove for the soul.”
—Rabbi Zoë Klein
“I highly recommend Becoming Jewish. It is a clear and concise discussion for anyone considering becoming part of the Jewish people. This is the book to consult and it will answer many questions for the spiritual journey.”
—Rabbi Denise L. Eger, President, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
“Easily accessible, hip and funny, Becoming Jewish is an excellent introduction and a warm welcome to Judaism. Highly recommended!”
—Ron Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education, American Jewish University and author of God’s To-Do List: 103 Ways to Be an Angel and Do God’s Work on Earth
“Reading this book is like having a relaxed conversation with a great friend who is willing to explain the real truth of what it means to become Jewish and to walk you through it with calmness and clarity. What a gift to be able to take such a complicated topic and make it accessible and manageable not only for new Jews but also for longtime members of the tribe.”
—Leonard Felder, author of Here I Am: Using Jewish Wisdom to Become More Present, Centered, and Available for Life
“Becoming Jewish deeply enriches the journey of anyone converting to Judaism but does so in a gutsy and refreshing way. I highly recommend it to those exploring paths to Judaism, those who are simply curious about the meaning of Judaism, those close to anyone becoming Jewish or those concerned with the future of the Jewish State: Israel.”
—Noa Tishby, Actor/Producer; Founder, Act for Israel