Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

What Are My Minhagim?

It’s a strange question for most Jews, but something that most converts must wonder about at some point during their conversion. After all, the traditions of my fathers are great, but they’re not…Jewish.

One of the questions many friendlier Jews ask when told that you’re converting is: “What are the traditions for converts? Do you get to pick your minhag? If so, what’s going to be your meat/milk waiting time? If you don’t pick an hour, we’ll taunt you for the rest of your life.”

The topic in and of itself is simply confusing to a non-Jew. I remember thinking for quite awhile: “Traditions are great and all, but what’s the big deal? I mean, I understand that we’re bound by halacha, but how does tradition even factor into that?” It’s so far down the list of things to learn about that it doesn’t even register. Like most other concepts, the pieces quickly started falling into place and it’s now more clear why it does matter.

To be honest though, I still really don’t know the answer to those questions from curious Jews. It just doesn’t seem like it should be a priority, so asking the rabbis might give the wrong idea. (“Why are you asking how long after your hamburger you can wait to drink a milkshake. Get out of here!”) There have been sideways conversations about it, and discussions circling around the topic, but no real answers. Someone mentioned the idea that it might be tied to the majority minhag of the community you’re in.

This is a fascinating idea, but it doesn’t really help in my situation. The community I am in is…interesting. I can’t say too much for fear of making it obvious where this place is, but needless to say, the composition of the community, the traditions, and other aspects are unlike any other location in the United States, from what many people have said. That means even if this theory is true, it still doesn’t clarify things.

Really, the question won’t be answered until it is discussed with the converting rabbi and/or beit din. That doesn’t mean it can’t be batted around and played with though. It would require more study of minhag though, their halachic status, reasons they were adopted, etc.

I do have some ideas around this though. I’ve considered ways to work parts of the real traditions of my fathers into my Jewish observance. As a simple example: One that struck me last Pesach was using arugula for maror instead of romaine lettuce. (Seriously…Romaine is a bitter herb?) Arugula is very bitter, very Italian in many ways, and is one of the foods my father loves that I never understood as a child but appreciate more as an adult. The significance of recognizing and appreciating your predecessors in the story of Pesach is obvious, and having that extra touch to make it more personal would only add meaning. Seems like a good candidate for a family minhag, no?

There are other questions too: Do you commit to one set of minhagim immediately upon converting? Can you change before you have children? What if you make aliyah quickly after converting? Can you take on the opposite minhagim (Ashkenazi/Sephardi) if it fits the new community? These are the lighter topics my brain likes to toy with when pondering my conversion. In the bigger scheme of things, it’s not really important in directing yourself towards the service of God…but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating to think about.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home