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Date: 2020
Abstract: In the Netherlands, religions are often positioned as opposite to secular ideals of women’s freedom. While women’s emancipation supposedly grants women their autonomy, religions are suspected of reaffirming gender inequality. In this religion-versus-emancipation dilemma, questions of the body are pertinent, since traditional religions are framed as restricting and regulating women’s bodies. Questions about modesty, sexual relations, clothing and food preparations often come up in such debates. There seems to be a particular tension for women who convert to religions that are often regarded as ‘gender conservative’, and this chapter sheds light on that field of tension. This expands the field of women’s conversion – which has typically focused on Islamic women – by employing a comparative analysis of interviews and participant observation with Jewish, Christian and Muslim Dutch women converts. Joining a religion that one was not raised in is a process of ethical self-fashioning through training and disciplining of both the body and mind. Converts have to learn how to eat, how to pray, how to dress and how to have sex in such a way that it permits them to give shape to their religious subjectivity and pious desires. What I found is that performing authenticity is a central and embodied characteristic of modern-day conversion stories in the ‘age of authenticity’. This performance is often played out through the sexual and gendered body and religious subject transformations were closely related to sexual self-fashioning. In order to understand these links between conversion, sexuality and the body, I focus on experiences and ideas about virginity and marriage, menstruation and homosexuality. In this chapter, I aim to show that sexual embodiments and ethics cannot be understood as either religious or secular, but rather as a new form of religious subjectivity within Europe as a space where authenticity has become the most important mode for selfhood.
Date: 2021
Abstract: With Finnish independence in 1917, long-awaited legislative reforms were put in force in the country. Jews gained the right to obtain Finnish citizenship. The same year, the Finnish Parliament implemented the Civil Marriage Act (CMA), allowing the country’s Jewish citizens to marry non-Jews without converting to Christianity. In 1922, the constitutional right to freedom of religion was affirmed in the Freedom of Religion Act (FRA), granting the right to practice religion in public and private and allowing Finnish citizens to refrain from belonging to any religious community altogether. The FRA also addressed the question of children whose parents belonged to different religious congregations or who were unaffiliated. The FRA defined the religious affiliation of children after their father; this was, however, against the Orthodox Jewish law (halakhah) that the local Finnish Jewish communities wished to follow, which traced a child’s religious affiliation matrilineally.

Due to the small size of the Jewish marriage market and to the secularizing tendencies of the Jewish congregations, the number of intermarriages started to grow in the early twentieth century, and soon, they became a characteristic phenomenon of Finnish Jewish realities. This resulted in a growing number of halakhically non-Jewish children. Thus, the communities faced several challenges in terms of their administration and everyday practices.

This article-based dissertation provides an overview of Finnish-Jewish intermarriages from 1917 until the present by analyzing archival materials together with newly collected semi-structured ethnographic interviews. The interviews were conducted with members of the communities who are partners in intermarriages, either as individuals who married out or as individuals who married in and converted to Judaism. The key theoretical underpinning of the study is vernacular religion, which is complemented by relevant international research on contemporary interreligious Jewish families.

The results of the study show that while most informants understand Jewish law flexibly and rarely consider themselves “religious,” the differences between the practices of intermarried men and women are remarkable. Whereas women employ creativity and “do Judaism” to establish practices they consider meaningful for their Jewishness and Jewish identity, men tend to draw on their cultural heritage and often refrain from creative practices. The study also indicates that the adult conversion of women is far more common than that of men, making conversion a gendered phenomenon in the Finnish Jewish communities. Most informants of this study “do Judaism” in various ways and often choose to perform certain traditions to strengthen their connection to Judaism and ensure Jewish continuity through their children. Intermarried members and converts form a large part of the Finnish Jewish communities, and thus the results shed light on patterns that can be assumed to characterize multiple Finnish Jewish households.
Author(s): Tabick, Jacqueline
Date: 2013
Abstract: I examined the characteristics of converts to Judaism through the Reform Synagogues, 1952-
2002, exploring the psychological impact of conversion, the nature of their Jewish identity and
the durability of their religious commitment through time. Recognising the large variation in the
Jewish practice and attitudes displayed, I also examined the influence of motivational, family
and biographical factors on their Jewish identity.
Motivation for conversion was multi-dimensional. The instrumental desire to create family
unity was identified as the most powerful motivating factor. The strength of this variable
was found to be a significant predictor of the level of behavioural changes in the converts’
Jewish lifestyle. Counter-intuitively, this motivational factor formed negative correlations
with ethnicity and a non-significant relationship with ritual behaviour.
The data highlight differences between the factorial structure of the Jewish identity of converts
and born Jews. For converts, four identity factors were identified: ritual practice, ethnic
belonging, Jewish development and spirituality. Miller et al. have identified three factors
underlying the Jewish identity of born Jews under 50: behavioural ethnicity, religiosity and
mental ethnicity. Survey data of converts has shown a clear division of ritual and ethnic
behaviours, whilst in born Jews, the same differentiation is not demonstrated.
Like moderately engaged born Jews, converts emphasised the notion of affective identity rather
than the actual performance of Jewish ritual acts, though it is clear that ‘on average’ converts
have a somewhat more intense pattern of ritual practice than born (Reform) Jews.
The majority of the converts felt content with the results of their conversion but the relative lack
of emphasis placed on Jewish continuity as opposed to the convert’s individual self-fulfilment,
can be seen as an indication of a possibility that the conversion process may only delay
demographic decline in the Jewish community for just one or two generations.