Roman Catholic looking at Converting to Judaism.

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by gel_pens, May 21, 2018.

  1. gel_pens

    gel_pens Semi-pro Worrier

    So this is an awkward question, of sorts. I've been raised Roman Catholic, went to Catholic school, even got confirmed, but I don't feel like I'm... actually Catholic.

    What's really ridiculous is that I don't feel like I'm even particularly religious. I don't even regularly attend church! The most frequent religious actions I undertake are making the sign of the cross when I hear sirens or some bad shit on the news, and saying a prayer to Saint Anthony or Saint Jude when I can't find something or when something seems hopeless. (I wrote that out and see how it could be seen as ridiculous but I'm also still possibly not a very Good Catholic. I don't believe in Hell because if God is all loving and all forgiving, he wouldn't condemn people to suffer for eternity. I don't think being gay is a sin, either, what with my two very loving lesbian grandmothers being some of the kindest people I know. And the whole abortion and birth control issue is... messy.)

    But I feel like if I leave, I'm letting the base values of what catholicism is supposed to be slip further away into bigotry and selfish greed because a person who was saying 'no' has left. And there are aspects of my religion I do agree with! Some of the rituals like the stations of the cross, the rosary, the whole beatitudes are incredible. The humanization of God/Jesus has actually made me emotional and want to cry.

    I just also feel like I don't have a community, let alone a community that is open to change. Or questions. I feel like it's an echo chamber.

    Further complication: the more I learn about the Jewish community and beliefs, the more it seems like a community I want to be involved in. I also feel like if I convert it might be... insincere in some way? Because what I'm especially drawn to is the culture of kindness instead of performative words of support and the idea of questioning things and debate, instead of the feeling of monolith I have in a catholic setting. What's my next move supposed to be, even? Am I just some insincere idiot? Is that just impostor syndrome trying to convince me that I should have thought about this before I got confirmed 5 years ago?
  2. Vierran

    Vierran small and sharp

    I think it's great that you're wanting to find a religion that fits better for you! I have ... very complicated and mixed feelings about people converting to Judaism. First off, it's important to note that because Judaism is not purely a religion in the modern sense of the word, converting means understanding it as a culture/religion/ethnicity/thing, and being comfortable with where you plan to fit into that.

    You talk about the things you love about the Jewish community, and I interpret that as being interested in Jewish culture more so than Judaism the religion. I get that! Jewish culture has some pretty nice things going for it! But I'm sure you know, converting to a culture is a complex and delicate idea/process. I do know quite a few people I would consider almost culturally Jewish despite not being originally from that background, but they all got there by growing up surrounded by Jews, and by consciously seeking out Jewish communities to be part of.

    Based on what you have said about your attachment to Catholic ritual, I am not sure how you would do with the religious side of Judaism. It's not a belief system that really ... facilitates sharing. The whole "God is One" thing. So if you go the formal conversion route, that is something you will end up thinking a lot about, and talking to your rabbi a lot about. That said, there's no rule that says you have to believe to convert -- as far as I know, conversion is mostly about 1) knowing what you're getting in to and 2) being sure you want to do that. I think Judaism has some pretty beautiful and powerful rituals, too, if that's something you're looking for.

    Moving on to some reassurance about your fears. First off, you are not responsible for the entirety of Catholicism! Staying because you want Catholicism to be better is not something you owe the religion. It sounds like it is not working for you, and imo religions are supposed to be there to help the people involved in them. As far as being confirmed, is that something that happened when you were not yet an adult? I feel like it usually is. What pressures were you under to go through confirmation, what information did you have or not have when you did it? Would you do it again now, and if not, why not? I don't think what you're feeling is imposter syndrome about being a catholic. Also, in case you haven't noticed, the current global sociopolitical climate is not a great one for being Jewish in. If you're aware of that and still want to go forward, I think that says a lot about the sincerity of your motivations.

    Here are some next steps. First, spend some time around Jewish people, ideally outside of the religious context. Some examples of how to do this include activities at local Jewish culture centers, if those are a thing where you are, or seeing if you can work with a Jewish non-profit organization of some sort. Just finding and hanging out with a friend group that's heavily Jewish at your school may also be an option. Second step, may actually be more accessible than the first, is to talk to a rabbi. Find a local temple, tell them you're interested in converting, and I am betting you will be able to have a good conversation about many of your goals, desires and concerns. They should be able to direct you to how to learn more, and provide you with opportunities to participate in some temple activities.

    Disclaimer: I am not a religious Jew. I have some background in the religion, but never had a bat mitzvah or regularly attended services. I consider myself culturally Jewish, my dad is apparently 100% Ashkenazi genetically, and in general I've been part of Jewish communities my whole life, but when it comes to technical religious details, I am very much not the one to ask.
  3. Artemis

    Artemis i, an asexual moron

    I was raised Roman Catholic, including confirmation, and stopped going to Mass not long after confirmation. I already didn't believe much when I got confirmed, to be fair, so it was an invalid confirmation for me (I can't speak for your experience on that part).

    What religions have you looked at besides Judaism? Have you looked at any denominational (or non-denominational!) church services in your area that aren't Catholic (Protestants? Lutherans? Baptists? Methodists? how much of your core beliefs are specifically Catholic and how much are Christian?)? As a non-Jew (non-Jewish person? 'a goy' look I don't pretend to know the terminology my whole point is) I don't know enough to talk about it other than I'm an outsider who respects what little I learned ancillary (auxillary? peripherally?) in my religious studies.

    I think looking at religion as an "If I quit, the terrorists have won!" thing is a bit of a... I don't know if I have a good analogy or description for it, but not a method that's likely to make anyone happy on either side? (Not that that's a perfect metaphor for 'if I leave all that's left in Catholicism are the Bad Catholics' but... would you stay in another group you disagreed with just so you could say 'Look! Not All [blatantly awful group for hypothetical scenario reasons] are awful! I'm one too!'?)

    My mother would say, and has said, to think about this before you got confirmed, yes. I say well, it comes up now, so think about it now, when it did, and there's nothing wrong with that, it's better to think about it at all than never, and you are not an impostor for questioning your beliefs.

    What do you want your next move to be? Do you want to just have a community to hang out with? Because you are welcome to attend services for religions you don't belong to (for many denominations, anyway) or to study more about them to see if you find one that you fit in with better, or just talk to people from more backgrounds. Do you want to be told "This Is The Religion For You"? Because I don't think any of us can answer that definitively for you :P I'm a philosophy degree with a butt ton of theology (mostly Christian, thanks Methodist private college! but it's still interesting and I have a smattering of awareness of others) and I ultimately... just don't ascribe to any one religion so much as built my own I'm happy with.

    You're asking some really big important questions, which is good to think about them! It's probably going to take a long time to figure out what you want to know and even what you're trying to ask yourself, however, so please don't be frustrated if this is something you have to come back to over a few days, or weeks, or months even. Changing religion was a pretty slow burn for me, at least. Maybe other people aren't as stubborn with themselves, which hey, more power to you!

    [end probably unhelpful but generally supportive babble]
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  4. Re Allyssa

    Re Allyssa Sylph of Heart

    I second the maybe checking out other Christian denominations as well. There's definitely something out there that fits the parts of Catholicism you like and not the posts you don't. And you may even good the parts of Jewish culture that you like as well.

    Of course, you can always try Unitarian Universalists
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  5. Rakukaja

    Rakukaja Member

    I've heard a lot of liberal Catholics end up becoming Episcopalians or Anglicans. Are there any Episcopalian or Anglican churches near you?
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  6. TrillianAri

    TrillianAri 5'7" of whelm on a 5'4" frame.

    Jew here, born and raised. I don't think there's anything wrong with joining a religion for the sense of community. It's part of what a lot of Jewish organizations sort of hang their shingle on, your divinity being a personal - even private thing that guidance is available for but mostly being a community that is there for support. Look up your local Hillel if you're college aged or Chabad if not. They don't really care if you're Jewish, all they ask is for you to have some curiosity and to let them feed you and provide you with a sense of community. Chabad shabbat might be a good place to start.

    As for the sense of ritual, I absolutely think there is a sense of Judiac ritual. In Judaism there's a principal prayer that sets out a lot of the expectations for living life called the Shema. It's like our lord's prayer only...where the lord's prayer is more poetic and experiential the Shema is literally a thesis statement for the religion and then expectations for when you remember the significance of this religion. The expecations laid out are WAY over and beyond what most Jews do in practice but it references that you should treat the Shema as a mantra - say it when you rise in the morning and before you go to bed, bind it to your doorposts (it's what's in our Mezuzot if you were curious), say it over your children when they are born, and die with it on your lips. Like I said, real industrial, most Jews just say it as sort of a nightly prayer. All that is to say that I do the exact same thing when I see an ambulance - say the Shema, or when I see someone in a bad situation, or when I need an extra spurt of luck.

    We have religious tokens like the kippah or the tallit, I have a whole bunch of star of david necklaces that I kiss as a superstitious tick.

    In addition most of the divinity in Judaism is explored through repetitive ritual - a lot of the mannerisms and traditions you might see in some of the more devout shabbat services are about doing something mundane like...salting bread or your hands, pressing a kiss to a token on a doorway, as both a sign of devotation but also to find the divine in the mundane. It's an act of mindfulness. As you wash your hands in salt water you're meant to think about why it is you do that thing and in that moment personally explore your connection to divinity in the way that is most significant to you - in turning that question over in your head, visiting the importance of doing this ritual. You can basically take as little or as much of the ritual as you like, but you'll always find a way to explore your days or a new tradition that you can incorporate and tailor to your level of spirituality where you want to.

    Don't let any of that like...put you off though. Most people don't expect you to know anything of the traditions. They're mostly treated like delightful, meaningful folklore. The rest is trying, questioning, loving, and warmth. That's what I grew up in. Now, if you do choose to explore I will say go to a reform temple. Reform or conservative. (the spectrum goes reform ---> conservative ---> orthodox)
    (over here is Hasidism because it's kind of not even on that spectrum and is pretty problematic.)

    Also disclaimer: I don't identify as a Jew anymore...religiously. When I was 15 I told my mom that my belief sort of grew...up and over the bounds of what is explored in Judaism - it hasn't much changed my love for the religion, and funnily enough, most of my personal spirituality doesn't really contradict Judaism. I'm pretty open about being sort of Jew++ and for the most's treated as normal spiritual exploration. So you're right in having identified it as more than just a religion. It's on a culture. It exists on both axes of identity. Nothing wrong with wanting that.
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  7. Whoops

    Whoops enough

    Delurking because this is a post that captures some of my feelings about conversion.

    Hey so this is also something that’s also been on my mind for, uh... a few years now. Like five years. I’m pretty sure it’s not just a passing curiosity or me being fed-up with Catholicism (yes I was confirmed but it was years ago and it’s not like my family gave me a real choice in the matter at the time lol), but I also feel like I don’t really know where to start with this. I know of two synagogues (one in my city and one closer to my work), but I don’t think I should just drop in one day because I’ve never been to a Jewish service before and I’m terrified that the years of Catholic upbringing and general Christian cultural upbringing will cause me to act in an unknowingly offensive manner (the last thing I want is to be invading someone else’s space like that because I figure the current political climate has made that a more touchy subject). One of them has streaming services, but they’re always on at the same time I have to make dinner for my father (Im his caretaker and he needs medication at certain times of day), so I keep getting interrupted. I’m not sure what sort of online resources I should be looking for to help give me the necessary information to either commit to taking an online class (which still costs money) or figure out how to ask someone in person how to go about doing this without alerting my father.
  8. idiomie

    idiomie I, A Shark Apologist

    Uh, sorta convert here?

    That's a pretty good starting off point for books to read. I also have a massive (like, I think about 70 books?) list that the first rabbi I spoke to gave me. You can get a bunch of the books off of amazon for pretty cheap. Most of mine are kindle editions, because it's not really ... safe ... for me to have open "so you're converting judiasm!" type books lying around right now, but for a couple, it's actually cheaper, even with shipping, to buy a physical copy used.

    Also, like. In general, just try to talk to a rabbi. I cannot stress this enough. The first rabbi I spoke to I didn't really "click" with - either him, or his community. (Because I was a 19 yo queer college student, and this was a community that was largely 50s and older, and they hadn't had anyone new, even just moving to the area, for like almost 15 years at that point. Also I was deeply insecure, and so it was hard to find a place for myself. They were really friendly, in their defense! It just didn't work out very well.)

    The new rabbi I'm talking to - I'm still not an official convert in progress, but the community as a whole has been very welcoming, and I've been invited to Rosh Hashanah services. And there's an intro to Judaism class I'm enrolling in, and a Hebrew class too.

    I also have a lot other books I've been picking up and reading, if you want recs? And movie recs!

    But seriously, just send an email to your local rabbi(s). They're really good at being a sounding board for this stuff.
    • Agree x 1
  9. idiomie

    idiomie I, A Shark Apologist

  10. Whoops

    Whoops enough

    Hey guys thank you so so much. I will take a look at those kindle book lists and see if it helps me work up the guts to send an email or two.
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