Dr. Fishman writes a nice introductory text to those lacking insight into the evolution of Judaism’s many modern flavors. If you’ve read another introduction, however, I don’t know how much additional insight this book could provide. I mean, it is only 225 pages long. You can’t throw in the whole megillah.
That said, I found one section in particular that particularly interested me. Entitled Three Types of Converts, one section in the eighth chapter details a tripartite model of Jews by Choice. I wrote to the author asking for more information about how this model was developed, because it is so unlike anything other book on conversion I’ve read.
It basically says there are three “types” of JBCs: activists (30%), accommodating (40%), and ambivalent (30%).
Activists “start on the road to conversion before they meet the Jew to whom they will become engaged or married,” “disproportionately” join Conservative and Orthodox congregations, are overwhelmingly women, and become intensely involved in Jewish life by taking on leadership roles in organizations.
Accommodating converts do not think about conversion until asked by their spouse/partner. follow the observance level modeled by said partner, and grounds their Jewish life in the home instead of leadership positions in Jewish organizations.
Ambivalent converts don’t “care” about organized religion and therefore tend to convert for the sake of the children. They have warm feelings toward Jewish social and intellectual endeavors, but don’t want their homes to become “too ritual-oriented”. They disapprove of the “Chosen” status and feel “passively” Jewish.
I don’t know what to think of this model. What beit din worth its salt would approve the conversion of an ambivalent convert? They clearly have deep reservations to becoming Jewish, and I think it does them a great disservice to have them take the plunge.
I clearly identify with the activist label (to be honest, it fits me almost perfectly), but I would really like to see the studies that say they overwhelmingly join Conservative and Orthodox affiliated synagogues. I’ve known plenty of committed Reform Jews for whom Reform ideology best fits their worldview and the form of Judaism that brings the most amount of meaning to their lives.
I also have to wonder why most converts are women. I know men have the additional hurdle of circumcision to overcome, but the vast majority of American men are still circumcised at birth (I think it’s around 60% today?), with even higher levels in the past. While I would not be eager by any means to stick a needle into the analogous portion of my body, I don’t think a prick is as daunting as the entire procedure.
Do men search for meaning and encounter the holy in significantly different ways than women? Are these ways not typically Jewish? Are they not in the synagogue, but out in society or in the home? Is there a way Judaism could better serve the needs of men, Jewish or those considering Judaism?
I hope Dr. Fishman writes me back. This section leaves me with more questions than answers. I really would like to learn more about us gerim from an academic POV.