Thoughts of one Conservative kallah

After The Boy and I discussed marriage, I mustered the courage to show him a ring I really wanted him to purchase. This, of course, was after I had consulted with my rabbi to ensure it fulfilled the halachic requirements. And when he proposed, it was with the ring I fell in love with on Etsy while helping another friend search for her own engagement ring. Yay!

In one of our earliest conversations with our rabbi, he suggested that I stop wearing the ring about a month prior to the wedding. This was to ensure that The Boy could buy the ring back from me and thus own it outright on the day of the wedding (yes, the poor guy had to pay for it twice because I didn’t want an engagement and wedding ring!)

But more importantly, Rabbi wanted me to truly appreciate the distinction and “set apartness” of kedusha, of to borrow horribly from our Christian friends, holy matrimony. So last night, I handed over my ring and got paid in quarters. And my finger feels amazingly, weirdly bare right now. Exactly the opposite of the “heavy” feeling I had for a while back in December after the proposal.

In other news, I called up my local mikvah lady yesterday, the rebbetzin of the local MO shul. I was really nervous and blurted out “Hi, I’m MikvahBound, and I’m a Conservative convert and getting married in November and wanted to see if I could immerse in your mikvah?” She kinda chuckled, and then said yes, we don’t turn anyone away but tell me more about you and where you’re coming from. I blabbed on for a while more, I’m sure rather incoherently.

I think she was waiting to see if I’d taken a kallah course (just about typed challah, which would also be an amazing idea…) and when I didn’t mention it, she suggested Nishmat and reaching out to a local Conservative rebbetzin for other course recommendations that are specifically Conservative in nature. I really appreciated that – she might have been doing it because I’m not a Jew in her eyes and thus can’t really learn Torah from her – but the compassion in her voice was such that she still wanted me work within my own community. Did I mention that this is also the MO community that allows local non-Ortho to complete their dunks in their mikvah, all while having a sign that more or less indicates just because you dunk here doesn’t mean you count here. Well, in nicer words than that.

So I set about finding these Conservative kallah course materials and couldn’t find anything. Sure there are mentions of them in Observant Life and Klein’s Guide but not much else besides the responsa. So now I’m kinda stuck. I emailed my rabbi, and I tweeted at some rabbis (local and not) that I respect, but now I’m waiting. I’m not opposed to taking the Nishmat course, but I also know that it won’t always agree with modern, egal, Conservative worldview either. Like the section on shalom bayis in Nishmat, for example, said that I should never speak against his parents, even if he complains about them, because it will sound different coming from me. I get that, I do, but if they treat her poorly and treat him fine, what then? Never bring that up to him because it would be complaining about them? Or are complaints about their behavior okay? Wish they had included more than one sentence on this subject.

Of course, my favorite part so far has been the example of a husband’s mother walking into the home without knocking. They recommend saying to the husband something like, “Perhaps we could ask your mother to knock before entering the home?” Yeah, fat chance of that happening. A woman with those kinds of boundary issues is not going to listen to polite “suggestions.” G-d forbid you assertively demand respect! “Your mother enters our home without knocking. That is rude and disrespectful and needs to stop. Will you speak to her about this or should I?” Why are healthy boundaries and assertiveness vilified? Ugh.

So yeah. Any ideas from Conservative sources? Or like, really Modern MO sources?

Ketubah Language

My introduction to Judaism as a burgeoning adult began in ninth grade. We were assigned to read Romeo and Juliet and to research a different culture’s wedding traditions. I, of course, used this project as an excuse to watch Fiddler on the Roof. And I loved the customs I read about: the simple band, the chuppah-as-home, and, of course, the ketubah.

Now, years later, as an adult, as an adult who finally converted, as an adult who finally converted and is engaged to a Jewish man, I was so, so excited to finally be able to participate in these rituals myself. And I set out with gusto. I found my ring with ease, I know exactly what my chuppah is going to look like (thanks Mom!) and I know what pretty pictures will decorate my ketubah.

One of the hardest decisions to date has been the ketubah language.

I started with the Conservative movement’s language. It is the language the Orthodox also use, as has been done for thousands of years by our tribe, with the addition of the Lieberman Clause added to address the issue of agunot.

I really wanted to embrace this ketubah language as a dedicated, proud Conservative Jew. But I hated it.

In the Conservative text, it refers to me as a title that is no longer applicable to me – or to him, for that matter. Accepting this document from him, where “all is valid and binding” would render me a liar and a hypocrite. He is not put into that position, of course, because society has never attempted to control male sexuality to the extent it has controlled female. But I don’t want to start my married life off with a lie.

I hated that I had absolutely no obligations to him. I understand that he acquires me and I appreciate that the woman’s agency, through her willing acceptance, has always been clearly indicated. It’s a one way transaction. That bothers me fundamentally. I don’t need our responsibilities and obligations to be EXACTLY identical given Judaism’s traditional beliefs on gender roles, but I am somewhat disappointed that the Conservative movement hasn’t dealt with this in light of other modern topics the Rabbinical Assembly has addressed – like can you read a Kindle on Shabbat? (The answer is no.) Or “gay marriage,” where Conservative movement stops short of calling it kiddushin, because it does not view it as kiddushin.

But I could probably have dealt with those previous two things like many of us do as adults: okay, some things just aren’t fair, just don’t work out the way you want, and just don’t get to change to suit your way, so suck it up, put on your big girl panties, and move on.

What bothered me the most is that I, as a convert not previously married, was “worth” 200 zuzim, while a born-Jew, not previously married, was worth 400 zuzim.

My rabbi tried to “appease me” by saying that the groom has traditionally been able to add an additional amount of his choosing, bringing me up to the 400 zuzim of a born-Jew. I know he was trying to mollify my desire to work within halakah and still be feminist and egalitarian. But this was one method that just didn’t sit right with me. It’s a slap in the face from Jewish tradition.

A never-been-married born-Jewish bride is paid 400 zuzim. A previously-married born-Jewish bride is paid 200 zuzim. A never-been married converted-Jewish bride is paid 200 zuzim.

Why the discrepancy? The purpose of this money is to help protect her in case of divorce – make sure she’s not out on the streets, that she has time to get her life back together. I can appreciate the intent given the economic reality back then, and in many families, even today.

But, the difference in values cannot help but raise two questions for me. A previously-married woman, in the eyes of Judaism, needs less money because she is more established in her trade, in the community, and in her wealth; she might even have children upon whom to rely. I can get her receiving less money than a first-time bride.

But between the convert getting married for the first time, and the born-Jew getting married for the first time… I can’t see any possible reason for the differing amounts. What reason that does not shame, humiliate, or treat her differently, could there possibly be to justify this difference?
Is it because converts don’t need as much support in the case of divorce? The community is more willing to help her? Her birth family is more willing to help her than the parents of born-Jewish brides? Doubtful, especially to the second point given the wide range of historic times this text has been used and the ramifications of converting to any faith.

Is it because we can’t be sure she’s really never been married before? Is it because we can’t be sure she’s really a virgin? We can’t trust her to be honest about her history and past (the same reason we prohibit her from marrying a Cohen?)?

This is the reason I could not use the Conservative text.

The Boy and I also disliked the use of the Lieberman Clause. This document basically states he promises to take on all of these responsibilities – and then says, but in case he’s a jerkface who runs away and isn’t an honorable fellow who will do the right thing as required by Jewish law – and then we’re going to take out an insurance policy in case he’s a bad person.

He didn’t like what it said about his character, and I could understand where he was coming from.

So…what was left at this point? Reform.

This is the reason I spent weeks pouring through “Reform” ketubot. I liked a lot of the stated sentiments, but still felt supremely DISSATISFIED. There are no “vows” in our ceremony, so we don’t break them in case of divorce. We have a contract, which we can break. And as great as these “Reform” ketubot were in espousing ideals that we’d like to uphold in our home and marriage, they fundamentally removed the structure and purpose of a ketubah for me. It *IS* a legal document. It’s about the bank accounts and the grocery bills and in the inherited home from Aunt Miriam and how to split the car you’re buying when you end up divorced. That’s the purpose of a ketubah.

So Reform didn’t work for us either.

We were stuck.

Enter said magnificent rabbi that sponsored my conversion and is our m’sader kiddushin and who originally said “just increase the amount because our tradition’s always allowed that” said two magical words: Aryeh Cohen. Aryeh Cohen teaches at AJU and as soon as I read his ketubah wording, I knew we had found the solution to our problems.

I cannot WAIT to get our ketubah. I cannot wait to hang it on our walls.

But most of all, I feel really, really blessed that one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make so far in the five months of wedding planning is how to live an authentic (to us), meaningful Jewish life. I don’t want our hardest decision to be what dress to get or what napkin fold to use.

I recognize that my Orthodox brethren would probably just good-naturedly shake their heads, tsking “Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound…just what are we going to do with you, you crazy gal?” because we’d both know this isn’t a ketubah in their eyes.

And I realize that my Reform brethren would probably just good-naturedly shake their heads, tsking “Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound…just what are we going to do with you, you crazy gal?” because we’d both know this wording would lack the “soul” or “spirit” that is so important to their ketubot.

But when I look at the language that has been used for ever, and then look at this modern translation that acknowledges the reality of our time, I know this is the perfect balance for us. This is conserving our tradition, struggling to find that narrow path that is right for you. It’s perfect.

Oh. P.S. I start a Biblical Hebrew ulpan on Monday and I’m so beyond excited!

I’m a big kid now (dun dun)

The Boy and I have moved into an apartment. That alone makes me feel like a big kid.

But, in addition to that, in the last week, we had a Shabbat dinner at home with candles and wine. Nevermind the fact that I forgot to buy a way to LIGHT the candles at the store. I guess that’s the benefit of living in an apartment–plenty of neighbors to (frantically) ask to borrow matches from as we approached lighting time. We hung two mezuzot, as well. I might need one more. Polling the audience: if your home had a walk in closet, with doors on either end, between the master bedroom and the restroom, would you hang one on the door between the bedroom and the closet? I’m thinking yes? It’s almost like I should ask a rabbi or something.

But, what makes me feel REALLY, FINALLY like a true Jewish gal is that there are challot in the oven. Yes, you read that right, Mikvah Bound managed to commune with microscopic organisms called yeast in such a way that instead of flour soup being produced, dough was formed. Dough that is being baked in the oven. As we speak.

It’s early, but Shabbat Shalom y’all.

Training Wheels Off

I have this thing about selling back books. Some (admittedly ridiculous) part of me feels like selling them somehow removes the deposited knowledge from my brain. And yet, as an avid reader, I always forced myself to go through a biannual purge of my bookshelf. I don’t want to think about the results if I didn’t. The TV show Hoarders comes to mind.

As you might imagine, over the course of ten years, I have managed to acquire quite a few books about Judaism. I’d estimate around 100. Many of them were various authors’ attempts at a Judaism 101 text, and thus redundant after the second or third purchase. But there were also texts on Jewish prayers. Jewish history. Jewish philosophy. And even after my tenth Judaism 101 purchase, I was always amazed to see how this author’s presentation of the Jewish calendar, or this one’s explanation of a ritual object just made so much more sense.

These were always too precious for me to consider as candidates for the purge. They represented some sense of Jewish authenticity and Jewish identity for me, I suppose. I may not know an answer to a question, but chances are I could locate one shortly! I’m dedicated, can’t you see? I’m taking this process seriously! I love books!

I’m moving soon. In an effort to make that task as easy as possible, I’ve set myself tasks for each weekend. Today’s was one of many looming purges. When I looked at my bookcase though, I knew I felt differently about my Jewish library today.

I knew it was time to take off my training wheels. I’ve been coasting confidently for a year now. I am a Jew. I don’t need to prove that to anyone, but especially not to myself. I’ve marked Jewish time and kept Jewish space. It was a bittersweet realization and recognition of how far I’ve come.

I’ve culled my library. What remains are reference books, siddurim, and a few favorites I couldn’t bear to part with. The rest were toted off to Half-Priced books. And I didn’t even hesitate when dropping them off.

Today I learned that a decade of Jewish education is worth $42.

It’s probably time to clean the cobwebs off

So, something like 2 months ago, I said I was going to update soon. And I lied. Not intentionally, of course. More like life happened.

My dad was suddenly unemployed. My parents were four months away from losing their home as a result. The home I grew up in. The home my parents will probably live in until their deaths. The one “assett” they had. They were angry at each other. Stressed. Afraid. It was miserable.

My employer for the last two years had finally received permission to open my position for permanent hire. And two days after I was told I was selected, the position was put on budget hold. Indefinitely. I had 2 months left on my contract before I was also facing unemployment.

Now, either one of these could probably be dealt with minimal stress using family, friends, and community for support. But receiving both bits of news within a week was really hard for my family.

And now, so many weeks later, we have received two good pieces of news within seven days as well: we’re both employed permanently again.

This means I get to move in with the Boy.
This means my parents are not going to be homeless.
This means we can sleep without worry.

Modah ani.

Not in my back yard

Yesterday morning, as parishioners gathered to celebrate Ash Wednesday, it was discovered that a Catholic Church in my hometown was defaced and vandalized.  They broke a wood cross, spray-painted on the sides of the building, and defaced statues of Mary and Joseph.

The media coverage has been swift and thorough.  They report that clergy from other faiths have reached out to the community on one of their most important days and that the police are investigating this crime. 

Hate crimes are tools of intimidation that have no place in a democratic society.  Cowardly vandalism is not the appropriate method of dealing with any issues a person might have with the Catholic Church, or a member of this congregation.

I don’t know what kind of society we live in anymore.  Sure, my hometown has its racial tensions, but we’ve always been pretty tight knit given our size.  I can’t believe people would do this here.  Or that people break into mosques and urinate on prayer mats.  Or that  last winter, the Jewish community back east witnessed a string of vandalism.  It’s unacceptable.

A Jewish Home

This weekend, The Boy and I went to his hometown. We’re staying with his parents for a few days and he’s showing me around places important to him and meeting his friends.

We got in late last night, around 11 by the time we pulled into the driveway. There’s a mezuzah on the door to the garage. And one on the laundry room. And one on the bedroom. There’s Hebrew spoken by his parents and brother. There are Jewish paintings and artwork. There are Jewish and Israeli magnets on the fridge. The dining room curio cabinet has a seder plate and candlesticks. Kippot spread across the dining room table. The family room’s bookcase and cd organizer is peppered with English and Hebrew alphabets.

It’s just enough to know this is a home of a Jewish family that takes their Judaism seriously. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to create the same home environment…without my convert’s enthusiasm putting me in the awkwardly loud’n’proud rah rah group or the analysis paralysis preventing there from being any at all.

Shabbat shalom y’all.