Just a quick post today to note what the reading will be for the conversion I am taking and some thoughts on study:

The text book is Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition and Practice

The bible we’ll be using is the JPS Tanakh

Other recommended reading is:

Jewish Literacy

Jewish Holidays

Living a Jewish Life

And, because I am insane and obsessive, especially when it comes to books, I have also bought

Becoming a Jew

To Be a Jew

To Pray as a Jew

These eight books are going to be my starting point in study, but I expect to head off in a number of tangents along the way.

I am really excited about this process, there is so much to learn and so many other avenues to explore, including for me looking into Gershom Scholem’s work, the codification of much of Jewish tradition in the middle ages, the place of Jews in the Frankfurt school, and much, much more. As this blog develops, I hope to have it branch off into both personal meditations on my own journey in Judaism, but also more general writing about aspects of Jewish history and theology that interest me.

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  1. The Sikh Geek

    It’s a little bit of an awkward comparison, but sometimes it feels like the difference between a convert and someone born into a faith could be similar to a tourist and a resident, but in a good way. During my year abroad I was a resident, but I still kept a partial mentality of a tourist: I wanted to see as much stuff and pack in as many experiences as I could. Lifelong residents would always be caught off guard when I talked to them. “I never thought of going there or doing that. I mean, I know it’s there, I just never had a reason to go there.” Maybe it’s the same in conversion. You’ll seek out and delve into many things that those born into the faith never have, just because those things have always been there, so why bother. It will be interesting to see the sites in belief and history that you make a point of going to.

    1. seanv2

      I think this is a useful analogy. E and I have talked alot already about how this process is also one of rediscovery for her since, as the “local” there is a lot of the this she just doesn’t think about. I’m excited for being a tourist, I just wish I had a better sense of the layout of the city.

  2. Villagecharm

    I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on Scholem along the way. That guy is so smart and his subject matter is so fascinating; in addition, he’s a genuinely moral writer without being self-righteous.

    Also curious to hear your thoughts on the Frankfurt School. Did you know Adorno almost converted to Catholicism? I’ve always been interested in those guys’ relationship to religion.

    1. seanv2

      Very excited to learn more about Scholem. Right now I am trying to just wrestle with the basics of the faith, but Scholem is someone I can see myself spending a long time getting to know and figure out.

      Adorno almost became a catholic? That is surprising to me. Any idea why?

      1. Villagecharm

        Well, Adorno had sort of a Catholic background – his mother was Catholic. In one of his letters he talks about how he almost converted to Catholicism but decided not to go through with it, but my memory on it is hazy.

        1. seanv2

          Gotta find time to learn more about Adorno! So much to learn!

  3. Rachel

    You will accumulate many, many, many books along the way! These sound like a great start. Get the basics down and then investigate areas you want to know more about – that’s what worked for me.

    Did the rabbi say anything about learning Hebrew?

    1. seanv2

      Rachel – the Rabbi hasn’t said anything yet about learning Hebrew. I think it is not required before conversion, but I am not sure. First class is next week, so I’ll probably know more then!

  4. Hungry Hyaena

    Sean(V2), I’ve already said it in another thread, but I think that this blog will be a terrific resource for me! I’m very pleased that you’re sharing with us.

    I’m also an avid reader and, though an artist by trade and a science geek by reputation, I’ve developed a hearty passion for theology during the last four or five years. (I’m 31.) I also write, and I’ve produced a good number of unpolished essays about religion, myth, and metaphor since this theological interest awakened in me. It was in the course of my reading and writing that I fell in love with Judaism, at once a rational, midrashic tradition and a mystical, sublime tradition. This push-pull sung to me, more resonant than any other religious tradition and history that I’d studied. I’m a big proponent of interfaith work, and I admire much about other religious traditions, especially some of the physical elements of Islamic worship, the imagination of the Sufi mystics, the existential philosophical exercises fundamental to some streams of Taoism and Buddhism…and yet all of this was intellectual appreciation. I regarded my study of religion as an anthropology. It was exciting, but distant. But then I was rocked by Judaism; it echoed within. Suddenly that study was different; it was a little terrifying to think, with a quiet, interior certainty, “Whoa….I’m a Jew.”

    As I’ve delved deeper and deeper – through further reading, but also through email correspondence with rabbis of various backgrounds (Orthodox, Chasidic, and Conservative, to date) and the adoption of many Jewish rituals and daily prayer – I’ve found so much more wealth. My girlfriend, a Jew by birth (or “local,” to use the Sikh Geek’s excellent analogy), has reacted similarly to your own partner: she’s enthused by my enthusiasm.

    The comments above call to mind a Chasidic tale of buried meaning that I read about a year ago. I’m going to dig it up and transcribe it rather than risk botching it…. Ah, it’s not strictly Chasidic in origin, and it’s in Daniel Matt’s terrific book God and the Big Bang, an exploration of the “harmony between science and spirituality” (though the emphasis is on unpacking Jewish mysticism and Matt incorporates little hard science).

    “There is a strong tendency in religion to complicate things, to add more rules and more customs until they finally ossify into something venerable called ‘tradition.’ This is illustrated by an old Yiddish story about a man who owned a precious gem that he kept hidden in his closet. Toward the end of his life, he gave the gem to his daughter and told her to guard it carefully and pass it on to her oldest child. She obeyed his command and, when she was very old, she handed it on to her son. The son decided to bury it in the backyard and marked the spot with a stone. When his hair turned white, he showed his son the spot. When the son grew old, he forgot what was buried there: He had never seen the gem. But he told his daughter to mark the spot with a stone because it was very important. She did as she was told. Stones were also added by her daughter and her grandson and her great-grandson and on and on for countless generations. By now, an enormous pile of stones had accumulated – and no one knew there was a gem buried underneath.”

    I feel that a JBC can enrich the Jewish experience of the JBBs in their life by reminding the JBBs what it is that the cairn indicates. That’s no small gift.

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