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Editor(s): Hartman, Harriet
Date: 2024
Abstract: There are less than 1300 Jews living in Finland who are members in the two officially Orthodox Jewish communities in Helsinki and in Turku. After the Civil Marriage Act was put in effect by the Finnish Parliament in 1917 the number of intermarriages between Jews and non-Jews started rising in the communities. Most of these marriages were officiated between Jewish men and non-Jewish women. In the beginning, the non-Jewish spouses kept their respective religious affiliations, but in many cases, their halachically non-Jewish children converted to Judaism. In the 1970s, adulthood conversions to Judaism became far more frequent in the communities—especially in the Jewish Community of Helsinki. Today, most of these individuals and their families concerned are still active members of the Jewish congregation. The high number of intermarriages and the conversions to Judaism have had a crucial impact on the development of the religious customs of local Jewry. Through the analysis of archival sources and new ethnographic material derived from semi-structured qualitative interviews, this case study investigates how intermarriages formed the traditions and habits in the families and in the communities. By relating the topic of intermarriage to the question of conversion, the study sheds light on institutional changes within the Jewish Community of Helsinki, and analyzes how women, who converted to Judaism in 1977, articulate and perform their religious practices, identities, and agencies when consciously aiming at building Jewish families.
Date: 2023
Abstract: This article explores the relationship between marriage and conversion from a critical gender perspective, based on a comparative ethnographic study of women’s conversion to Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the Netherlands. In the study of religion and gender, a valuable conceptual framework developed that questions the limited representation of religious women (as somehow ‘oppressed’) and recognises agency within observance. However, up to now, theories and conceptualisations of female conversion have not been able to successfully deal with the tension between individual agency and relationality, more concretely: between individual choice and the impact of intimate relationships. This article suggests a framework more capable of grasping the complexities of conversion and marriage, by introducing the concept of mixedness. In this approach, relationships are understood as agential spaces of religious becoming. Conversion forms and reforms what is ‘mixed’ within a relationship, and intimate relationships indeed play an important role in religious becoming. The goal is to move beyond the binary options that women seem to have to vocalise their process: either they convert because of someone else (implying less agency) or their religious transformation is an expression of autonomous, individual choice (neglecting the impact of relationships). Mixedness highlights the dynamic and fluid aspects of intimate relationships, whilst simultaneously focusing on the interactions between the couples’ experiences of mixedness and social norms of majority and minority religio-racial groups.
Date: 2023
Date: 2020
Date: 2020
Abstract: This chapter analyses the intersections between Judaism, conversion, belonging, and gender, through the lived material practice of the tallit. Conversion to a religious tradition is not merely a change in mind set, but rather implies the learning, performance and negotiation of a religious habitus. This is especially the case with conversions to Judaism, or giyur, which focuses on the learning of practices and commitment to synagogue life. Such process of ‘self-making’ is directly related to questions of gender and the possibility of taking on certain objects and tasks. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, this chapter traces how conversion materialises in daily ritual practice for women in various Jewish communities in the specific ritual use of the prayer shawl, or tallit. Gender equality has been one of the prime topics by which liberal Judaism came to distinguish itself from orthodoxy in the Netherlands. A symbol of this difference is the use of the tallit by women, both in the local Dutch context as well as internationally. Historically, women have been excluded from Shul life, and wearing a tallit, as is permitted in liberal synagogues, can be revolutionary as a marker of inclusion. For converted women in the Jewish diaspora of the Netherlands, wearing the tallit in service can be a confirmation of their Jewishness, but is more often met with ambivalence. Some don’t practice, because they do not want to disturb the status quo, or because they see value in gender segregation in shul. Others do, for equally varied reasons, from political quests for emancipation, to pious desires for submission and devotion. As a compromise, specific forms of ‘women’s tallit’ have entered the synagogues, worn by women who do so out of pious desire. This chapter starts from these various prayer shawl practices, to trace broader questions of belonging. It asks not only how this object is used, but also which types of gender discourses, pious desires, and notions of agency are expressed through the use (or lack thereof) of a tallit.
Date: 2019
Abstract: Религиозная идентичность, даже в рамках одного течения прогрессивного иудаизма, является неоднородной и во многом зависит от культурного, политического и социального контекстов, в котором находится та или иная община. Прогрессивное течение призвано гармонизировать современный мир и традицию иудаизма в соответствии с запросами индивида. Основная проблема предлагаемого исследования связана с тем, что на уровне идеологии — учения прогрессивного иудаизма — существует определенный набор маркеров идентичности, но на практике — в отдельных общинах — этот набор может трансформироваться. Для выявления устойчивой модели идентичности в прогрессивном иудаизме необходимо рассматривать отдельные кейсы — российский случай является одним из них и заслуживает тщательного научного анализа
(автор рассматривает общину «Ле-Дор Ва-Дор»). Реконструируемая на основе идей Клода Монтефиоре и Лили Монтегю философия прогрессивного иудаизма сравнивается в настоящей статье с российским вариантом прогрессивного иудаизма. В результате исследования автор приходит к выводу о том, что идентичность в общине «Ле-Дор Ва-Дор» конструируется за счет философской идеи универсализма, которая позволяет людям нееврейского происхождения становиться членами общины. Философское обоснование модификации ритуалов основано на концепции Informed choice. Сравнение общей философской мысли в прогрессивном иудаизме с учением в общине «Ле-Дор Ва-Дор» показывает, что сообщество
вырабатывает определенные стратегии идентичности исходя из культурного контекста. Влияние культурного контекста отразилось в отношении к однополым бракам, а также в некоторых ритуальных сторонах жизни указанной общины в России
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.