Title

"Conversions" of conviction: A study on the process of becoming a Reform Jew

Date of Award

5-2000

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Judy Long

Keywords

Reform Judaism, Conversion, Jew

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Jewish Studies | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture

Abstract

This qualitative dissertation investigates the process of becoming a Jew within Reform Judaism. More specifically, it explores the extended process of converting to a new religion and adopting a new culture. These new Jews argue that becoming a Jew is not a life-altering experience, instead, they define their new Jewish identity as an extension of their old self. Thus, these new Jews claim that the process of converting to Reform Judaism centers more on learning what it means to be a Jew, think like a Jew, and act like a Jew than changing a set of religious beliefs. A main struggle in this process for many of these new Jews is maintaining ties to their old family while forging new ties to their Jewish family. However, since many born Jews believe that lived experience is required to fully understand the experience of being a Jew, many born Jews question the motives behind conversion. Thus, this dissertation examines how the new Jews understand, define, and defend their decisions to become a Reform Jew.

I conducted twenty observations of an Introduction to Judaism class and interviewed twenty-two students and three teachers. I found that their background as cultural Christians shapes their feelings on Jewish political issues and cultural holidays. Conversion is a process and they have only begun to "think like a Jew." I also noticed a difference among the generations. Unlike the older new Jews who are not becoming part of a Jewish family, the Jewish identity of the young new Jews is more tied to the concept of family than "religion." Nonetheless, the new Jews argue that their "conversion" is a "conversion" of conviction, the conviction centering on maintaining a Jewish home.

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