Things the Books Don’t Tell You

R. Ethan Tucker wrote an article for the Times of Israel describing the halacha around converts’ immersion, particularly regarding female converts. Of course, this is of particular interest to me. I didn’t actually know that many conversion courts require the rabbis to be in the mikveh room with the giyoret while she is in the mikveh water; at least one source I recall reading said that a female mikveh attendant could witness the immersion while the rabbis stood outside (apparently this is the contraposition to Rambam, aka Maimonides), and the local Reform rabbi said that “we don’t make you go in naked.” (I was not under the impression that Orthodox immersions were done clothed.) Other sources simply do not mention it at all. This is an oversight, I think.

I’m sure I have mentioned it before, but this is one reason why, despite not pursuing a Reform conversion, I think Anita Diamant’s book Choosing a Jewish Life is such a great resource — it actually talks about conversion with the female perspective specifically (if not exclusively) addressed. Most other books on conversion I’ve seen so far, while fairly comprehensive, are written by men (usually Orthodox rabbis), who by nature more or less live in a homosocial paradigm, and they seem to ignore the female experience altogether (probably because they don’t actually know very much about it, or it simply never occurs to them).

So to me it’s interesting to see someone actually discuss this, both socially and halachically, as it specifically pertains to women. (Who is going to write the Giyoret’s Guide to Orthodox Conversion? Don’t say “You are.”) If this is at all of interest, do give it a read. Personally, I’m not too concerned about being in water in front of three rabbis, if it happens, as their eyes and/or imaginations are their problems (and anybody lusting after my ratty old carcass has problems indeed), but I can see how lots of other women would find it intrusive, undignified, and contrary to personal modesty (you could argue that one yes or no, I think, either as that rabbis shouldn’t be looking at the naked bodies of vulnerable female converts because of modesty, and also that it’s obviously a special case carved out specifically by the Rabbinic authorities — hmm, do I sound Jewish yet?).

Anyway, I have things to do to get ready for Shabbat, and time is ticking by. Give the article a peek and see what you think!


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