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Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends

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Married to a convert herself, Anita Diamant provides advice and information that can transform the act of conversion into an extraordinary journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth.

Here you will learn how to choose a rabbi, a synagogue, a denomination, a Hebrew name; how to handle the difficulty of putting aside Christmas; what happens at the mikvah (ritual bath) or at a hatafat dam brit (circumcision ritual for those already circumcised); how to find your footing in a new spiritual family that is not always well prepared to receive you; and how not to lose your bonds to your family of origin. Diamant anticipates all the questions, doubts, and concerns, and provides a comprehensive explanation of the rules and rituals of conversion.

304 pages, Paperback

First published February 24, 1998

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About the author

Anita Diamant

26 books3,934 followers
Anita Diamant is the author of thirteen books -- including THE RED TENT. Based on the biblical story of Dinah, THE RED TENT became a word-of-mouth bestseller in the US and around the world, where it has been published in more than 25 countries.

Her new book, a work of nonfiction. PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE. A NEW CHAPTER IN THE FIGHT FOR MENSTRUAL JUSTICE will be published in May 2021., As different as they are, this book returns to some of the themes of THE RED TENT -- including the meaning and experience of menstruation.

Anita has written four other novels: GOOD HARBOR, THE LAST DAYS OF DOGTOWN, DAY AFTER NIGHT, and THE BOSTON GIRL. She is also the author of six non-fiction guides to contemporary Jewish life, which have become classic reference books: THE JEWISH WEDDING NOW, THE JEWISH BABY BOOK, LIVING A JEWISH LIFE, CHOOSING A JEWISH LIFE, HOW TO RAISE A JEWISH CHILD, and SAYING KADDISH..

An award-winning journalist, Diamant's articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, Real Simple, Parenting Magazine, Hadassah, Boston Magazine and Yankee Magazine. PITCHING MY TENT, a collection personal essays, is drawn from twenty years worth of newspaper and magazine columns.

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5 stars
852 (43%)
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736 (37%)
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301 (15%)
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47 (2%)
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27 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews
Profile Image for Emily.
1 review
July 27, 2020
This book had quite a bit of good information in it, but it is very focused on conversion to Judaism because of/in preparation for marriage. As someone who is considering conversion as a single person, not all of it was super useful. I did appreciate Diamant’s celebratory attitude toward conversion, though.
Profile Image for Michael Doyle.
36 reviews21 followers
July 4, 2011
This book really lays out the details of becoming a Jew-By-Choice, from why others have made the decision, to what to expect from your rabbi and your learning experience during your months of study, to the actual rituals of conversion, post-conversion celebrations, and your first year as a new Jew. Written from a liberal (Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist) perspective, the book is written for both prospective converts through marriage and those considering Judaism for personal reasons. It also discusses the disagreement with Orthodoxy over conversion (they, of course, won't recognize liberal conversions.) But unless you intend to marry in Israel or make aliyah (more there), who cares? Let Orthodoxy keep its prejudices, this book serves the American liberal Jewish convert very well.
Profile Image for Paul.
74 reviews3 followers
December 13, 2010
I am getting into a bad habit of reading others reviews before I write my own, which makes me want to react to other reviewers' comments. I will limit myself to this: the subtitle says it pretty well, "A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends." This is about conversion and the issues surrounding it. I think she does a nice job and I saw myself in here quite a bit. For those looking for more about Judaism, the history, the traditions, the beliefs, and the debates over strict and allegorical interpretation of scripture and G-d's will, I refer you to any number of other books that are not pretty clearly targeted to a modern convert's issues and the parts that may affect family and friends. That is what the title states, it is what the book delivers.

I have read about six books on Judaism in the last year alone. Most of them were primers and introductions to the faith. Most of them were wonderful, however, what this book provides is very much missing in those books.

As a read, Diamant is a good writer with a nice mix of anecdote, information, and interpretation. She is very careful to represent Judaism from her point of view and to make sure that it is clear there are many (countless) views on how to be Jewish. If you are converting or know someone who is, this is a very nice read. I found it supportive and reassurring.
Profile Image for Paula.
193 reviews41 followers
September 4, 2011
This was my first Jewish related book that I read. The reason why it interested me is because a friend of mine is Jewish. I tend to read up on what other people are, in order for me to better understand certain aspects (thus is why I have a couple of Mormon books in my already-read list).

I just so happen to come across this book on a bookshelf of another friend of mine. I think this book is a starting point in getting to "know" the makeup of Judaism. I definately ALWAYS thought of Jewish/Judaism as a way of life (ethnic like) and not a faith, merely because there just seems to be many many things and rituals that fit into the Jewish life-style. And this particular book definately confirms.

I did find a number of things in the book repetative and some things I seek more questions on. I suppose this is where I start to ask the Jewish friend the questions for deeper meaning/purposes of sitautions and reasons! :-)
Profile Image for drew.
7 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2019
The book was very informational and helpful. At times though I did not feel it was for me. I am someone that wants to convert and do not have a Jewish fiancee or significant other. I think at times that was who the book was for. If you are converting and your significant other is Jewish I highly recommend this to you. However, if you are converting for reasons that don't include the above I would say read but know some parts of the book will not be applicable to you. Overall a book I do not regret reading and do think prospective converts should read.
Profile Image for Erinn.
60 reviews
January 9, 2008
I read this book as part of my conversion process. It pretty much answered all my questions regarding the process of converting, the ambiguity surrounding 'who is Jewish?', converting children, dealing with friends and family, and being naked in the mikvah (which I was a little nervous about). I recommend this book to anyone who is converting or knows someone close who is converting, it is full of good information and useful tips about how to spend your life as a new Jew.
17 reviews
March 15, 2022
Thank you for all. I have seen the ways for I am now converted to Judaism.
Profile Image for Jadis LeFeu.
62 reviews10 followers
October 21, 2020
This book is palpably aimed at former Christians converting to Judaism because they're engaged to a Jew, so there is a whooooole lot that is not relevant to me as a person, but there's a good overview of the history of conversion to Judaism, and some details about the mikvah process that were nice. The author just really did not imagine me existing in her target audience.
Profile Image for Annie.
232 reviews26 followers
April 5, 2021
very much geared at cishet people preparing to convert for marriage (mostly). i don't feel like i learned that much from this book after taking the intro class at my shul, but if i would have read this before that, it would likely be very helpful. i think i just read it at the wrong point in my journey.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
39 reviews
February 17, 2020
This book assumes that all converts are married to someone born Jewish. Therefore, it ignores the potential challenges present for an interfaith marriage/family where one person is a convert.
It makes sense why this perspective isn't given, but just thought I'd note it for anyone else.
Profile Image for Ariel Chapman.
19 reviews
August 2, 2021
It’s a good book, but only good. It doesn’t offer a huge diversity in opinion or experience and is told from a very American, Ashkenazi and modern orthodox perspective.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
1,434 reviews51 followers
August 28, 2020
This is a book my rabbi has frequently recommended to me in my conversion journey, and I have to say that reading it from cover to cover has been hugely helpful. The layout is very easy to follow, which I have found has made it easier to revisit certain passages. It didn't exactly cover my situation (in a relationship with a non-Jew, converting to Judaism for myself, most rabbis will not even allow this), but it covered a lot of ground, and it has been helpful in my understanding of the conversion process itself and everything that entails. Those looking to understand Judaism on a broader level won't necessarily find what they are looking for (one of my ongoing reads is Telushkin's Jewish Literacy and I have a copy ready to go of Diamant's Living a Jewish Life, both of which would be great for that broader understanding), but for those who know they want to convert (or that a loved one does) will find that it explains the process beautifully.

It managed to answer a lot of the questions I had and it gave me answers to questions I didn't know I needed to ask. Some of the information was already familiar to me, but it was great to get this more in-depth explanation of conversion.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone considering conversion or who has someone close to them considering conversion!
Profile Image for Melanie.
30 reviews
April 18, 2021
This is a straightforward, comprehensive overview for anyone exploring or planning to convert to Judaism, or for people who know someone who is and want to understand the process better. Besides general how-to's and explanations, it also includes poetry, prayers, and rituals that can be incorporated into various milestone points of conversion.

From reading the reviews, I can see how meaningful and helpful this book has been to so many people, so my advice is absolutely give it a read if this is something you are looking into. I wish I had enjoyed it better myself, and think maybe if I had read it a year or two ago I might have gotten more out of it. By now, most of it felt repetitious to what I already know and therefore I was pretty bored with it. And you know how sometimes you really just connect with a book? For me, this just wasn't one of them. But for you, it may be. Give it a try and see. It's pretty short and easy to read.

(It may seem silly and controversial, but one thing that bugged me a lot in the book was how often the author brought up about giving up Christmas. It was always presented as though this is something a convert will so obviously do, instead of considering those who do continue to enjoy the holiday in a cultural rather than religious way. I've both known and read of born Jews (including my husband), converts, and interfaith families who still enjoy the cultural elements of Christmas and don't consider it "a litmus test of their dedication to their Jewish faith", as one comment I've read put it. It may not be the right choice for everyone, but it felt annoying that the author kept bringing it up again and again as though there were no choice about it at all.)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
July 22, 2021
This is a lovely book for those who are converting, or are interested in converting. Diamant presents a variety of stories, antidotes, and information for those who are interested in the conversation process-for every step of the conversion process-and tries to answer a variety of questions that would commonly arise. This book does assume that the reader has some level of knowledge regarding Judaism already; so it’s not so much a ‘are you loosely toying with the idea of conversion?’ book but more of a ‘you have already done some research and forethought’ book. Though if you are the former, please don’t let this discourage you from picking up the book-it could certainly be a handy tool for your research.
Profile Image for Cassidy.
49 reviews2 followers
February 3, 2021
Sincere, supportive, and detailed...Diamant’s “handbook” is just that, and so much more. The warm hug of encouragement I needed. Demystifying many parts of the process, Diamant covers everything from logistical to spiritual to relational, though focuses most on the practical and customary steps. While not completely comprehensive, it is a helpful starting point for the convert and their family, friends, and community.

My two critiques:

1) The subtle (but clear) suggestion that becoming a Jew requires reckoning with the modern state of Israel and coming to see it in a *positive* way (so it seems to Diamant) bothered me. I wrestle with the role of Israel in the conversion process. In the handbook, one of Diamant’s suggestions for a conversion process activity is to “go to an Israel Independence Day parade.” While there is nothing inherently wrong with this activity, it is important to remember that people have been converting to Judaism for *thousands* of years...MOST of for which the modern state of Israel did not exist. Israel is a part of our world, and Jews-by-choice may be asked about their feelings or opinions about it, but they should not be expected to be Israel experts or supporters (or even have an opinion on Israel, should they not want to).

2) The focus on Christianity as the “default” religion and culture that Jews-by-choice come from frustrated me. Maybe this rubbed me the wrong way just because I’m not Christian? Maybe, statistically, most Jews-by-choice are, and thus this framing for the book is warranted? I’m not sure. But there were several points at which I felt alienated while reading the book by Diamant assuming that readers would have to reckon with their parents’ Christian values, “giving up” Christmas, etc. I wish Diamant had included more of the concerns, challenges, experiences, etc. of atheists and those converting from other religions.

Even for these critiques (and perhaps even more so because of them) I highly recommend this book to all those considering conversion, *and* all those born-Jews who are looking to more fully understand the Jewish people in all their (our?!) flavors.
Profile Image for Jim.
4 reviews
January 5, 2013
While I agree with the criticisms expressed here, that the book is overbroad in some areas and assumes too much in others --and that it is unapologetically non orthodox--no one is going to read this book in a vacuum. As part of my (for lack of a better phrase) "coming out" as a Jew by choice, this book was instrumental in relieving a great deal of anxiety about the process and really helped me decide to ultimately take the (in this case literal) plunge. After years of reading about Judaism in the third person....this book helped me shift to the first.
4 reviews
July 21, 2020
This a nicely written handbook but only for those who have no idea about Judaism and already want to convert.

Author talks about very basic things. I think she focused more on reform and conservative perspectives, rather than Orthodox.

The description of conversion process sounds easy, while in reality the process is not that smooth.

The book also would not be helpful for anyone reading outside of USA. Author talks about conversion in US and gives links and tips to local sources for more information.
Profile Image for KaraAnne.
5 reviews1 follower
March 23, 2008
This was one of the first books I read after meeting my (now) husband. Before getting too deep into a relationship with him, I wanted an idea of what it might be like should we decide to marry. It was very helpful for me, and helped me realize that choosing to be Jewish was something I wanted/needed regardless of the outcome of our relationship...the bonus is that three years later we were married!
130 reviews
May 2, 2008
Indispensible for my conversion process...I still pick it up every now and again, it inspires me.
Profile Image for Jillian Coleen.
231 reviews6 followers
November 25, 2010
Good information for what to expect through the conversion process, but still leaves me wanting to know more. An btw, family and friends - I'm just learning, not making any decisions on anything :)
Profile Image for reganne :).
17 reviews10 followers
July 8, 2021
I really enjoyed this book! As someone who has never felt a true connection with the Christian faith I was raised in, I always felt like I was doing something wrong, or there was just something wrong with me. However, I've always felt much more connected and fascinated with Judaism, and I've recently been doing research to start the conversion process. Diamant does a fantastic job of making the book feel readable--something you don't have to think too hard about. Some of the Jewish literature I've been reading can seem a little daunting because of the old language it's written in. But Diamant's writing feels more like an informed and educated conversation--you feel comfortable reading it. Diamant lays out the entire conversion process start to finish. She describes things in great detail without droning on and answers any question a person considering conversion could possibly have. I haven't even started the process, but I feel prepared because I know what it entails. My favorite part of this book, though, is how Diamant reminds the reader that if they have their doubts, or are worried about what their family and friends may think, it's normal. Every person in the world has had doubts about their decisions or a big change coming in the future, and that's okay! It's just in our nature as humans. And as for the support of family and friends, I liked that Diamant mentioned that if your loved ones aren't supportive right off the bat, you just need to give them time and hopefully, they'll come around. Normally, when people get upset about big decisions like this, while it could be rooted in unchecked biases or ignorance, a lot of the time it's because it comes as a shock and it's hard for them to place themselves in your shoes.
This is definitely a book I would recommend to anyone thinking about conversion to Judaism, and if you have a family member or a friend that is interested in learning more about the decision you're making, this would be an excellent read for them too.
2 reviews
April 27, 2020
Anita Diamant makes Judaism a home for Jews-by-choice in her book Choosing a Jewish Life. Along my conversion process, countless mentors and friends have recommended Diamant's work. One rabbi told me to "just read anything written by Anita Diamant". Choosing a Jewish Life created instant comfort and reassurance in all my doubts and questions about adopting Judaism as my way of having a relationship with God. Diamant's book speaks to you like a friend and answers your questions in the most pluralistic way possible. She acknowledges that her answers are more representative of the Reform/Conservative experience but points out Orthodox viewpoints throughout the book that create a well-rounded introduction.

Choosing a Jewish life covers topics from choosing your rabbi, a background on circumcision and conversion ceremonies and what to expect in your first year living as a Jew. I most enjoyed the section she wrote on creating a Jewish identity and will take her insights with me through the rest of my Jewish life.

My book is full of bookmarks and highlights in the places I know that I'll return again someday. I've lent my copy to multiple friends who have since bought their own copies and continued the book philanthropy to those in their circles, but Jewish and non.

If you are considering living a Jewish life, want to better understand the religious conversion of someone close to you or you want to deepen your already Jewish life, Choosing a Jewish Life is a wonderful collection of knowledge and insights that can’t be missed.
Profile Image for Kyra Boisseree.
397 reviews10 followers
November 10, 2020
I am actually surprised and really impressed by this book! I was expecting it to be very much like "here are all the mitzvot you'll be obligated to observe, are you sure you want that? are you sincere??" but instead it was really positive and enthusiastic about conversion! It didn't treat Judaism as some kind of burden, and it was really warm and understanding the whole way through. Where I expected it to focus on big religious questions and ~WHY~ people convert, it instead focused on the concrete details (the part about what to expect from a mikveh was particularly enlightening, and I loved the detail put into the section on converting children, especially in regard to adopted children). It also never hesitated to tell you to talk to your rabbi, because even when there are concrete steps, the experience is different for everyone! In retrospect, I feel really foolish for expecting it to be anything but what it was. This book isn't proselytizing and it isn't trying to scare anyone away. It's for people who have already decided, but who are somewhat unsure of what happens next. It was, in that way, very reassuring.
Profile Image for Brian Murphy.
13 reviews3 followers
March 21, 2022
I'm really thankful that this book exists because it explicitly focuses on (and celebrates!) the process of becoming a Jew by choice. It was accessibly written and includes the perspective of a bunch of different rabbis and converts. I found the stories, prayers, and rituals included to be quite moving. I may have even teared up once or twice :)

Parts of some chapters seemed to be repetitive of parts of other chapters, but perhaps that is because I read it straight through. If you were treating it like a handbook and jumping around to different sections relevant to you, perhaps that duplication is necessary. It also mostly, took for granted that a potential convert would have a born-Jewish partner or spouse. Which is understandable, the author shared a statistic that 90% converts to Judaism are married to or planning to marry a born-Jew. So, that's not necessarily a shortcoming of the book but as a reader who does not have a Jewish partner, I did find myself thinking "Hmm... would there _really_ be a place for me?"
Profile Image for Jess.
612 reviews27 followers
December 12, 2018
This book was recommended by my rabbi for those who are in the process of or considering undergoing the process of converting to Judaism. This is not a long read, but it is a thorough one. From ideas of finding the right rabbi and right denomination for you, to announcing the news to family and friends, to figuring out how to maintain ties to your family and their traditions, this covers a host of topics. It helped me answer a lot of questions and gain insight as to why certain rituals are important.

This seems to be the book that liberal (non-Orthodox) converts to Judaism turn to for words of wisdom and having read the book, I can see why. Anita Diamant did a thorough job of explaining so many aspects of Jewish conversion. Definitely a recommendation for all those seeking a non-Orthodox conversion.
21 reviews13 followers
January 17, 2022
I would recommend this book for those who are just starting to consider conversion to Judaism, but haven’t yet begun studying with a rabbi or in a conversion course. Much of the contents re: ceremony, holidays, how to talk with family about your conversion, etc. would be covered in the period of study leading up to conversion. It is a fantastic overview- the short history of conversion was particularly enlightening- but unfortunately dated. The book was written in a time when cell phones, widespread internet usage, and yes, Zoom services were not commonplace. I don’t find the references section particularly useful as I’m sure the discourse surrounding conversion has shifted within the last 25-30 years. A lot of this info is easily googleable, though I suppose it’s still useful to have it all in one place, and it will proudly be the first book in my Jewish home library.
Profile Image for Andy Karas.
4 reviews
September 9, 2019
As good an instruction manual as you can find for becoming a Jew-by-choice. Of all the books my rabbi suggested, this was the best nuts-and-bolts resource to get me up to speed on the requirements of conversion in a straightforward way. It doesn't - and it isn't designed to be - a manual that prompts the deepest or most ultimately meaningful reflections on your journey, so you should look elsewhere for that. Still, you should have some materials that don't grapple with the penumbras of jewish thought but instead just tells you some of the answers you need to know but are too embarrassed to ask (e.g., "does hatafat dam hurt?"). This book is that, and additionally contains suggestions for further reading to get the rest.
Profile Image for june3.
312 reviews1 follower
December 10, 2020
A good book on an interesting subject, although I teensy bit starry-eyed (IMHO).

It is not easy to become Jewish. The first paragraph on p. 72 spotlights this issue head-on. Judaism in America is not really a faith or even a shared set of religous beliefs. There are Jews in America who pray three times each day and others who have never set food in a synagogue. Judaism in America is an ethnicity or perhaps maybe even better, a shared identity. American Judaism is full of emotional contradictions that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain or to replicate.

Philip Roth may be the most prolific of the American authors who have attempted to address these issues, most notably in the "Goodbye, Columbus" collection. Likewise, Tova Mirvis' masterpiece "The Ladies' Auxiliary" which I will need to read again soon.
Profile Image for Courtney.
104 reviews1 follower
March 30, 2021
Fantastic book, especially for converts. Diamant includes all the pertinent information - how the conversion process runs, some differences between denominations, what to expect at your beit din and mikveh, how to navigate interfaith relationships and family members, and so much more. This book is a very compassionate take on what conversion is and what it means, and it also includes lots of information about the history of conversion as well which I found particularly interesting.

For those converts and born-Jews looking for information about holidays, Shabbat, and other "how-tos" after the conversion (the infamous What Next?), I highly recommend Diamant's follow-up book Living A Jewish Life. It's just as excellent as this!
Profile Image for R.E. E. Levy.
Author 2 books4 followers
January 6, 2019
I cried at least four times reading this book. There were so many moments where Diamant's poignant way of sussing out the heart of the Jewish people moved me to the core. I was a left a little wanting by how much of the book focused on jews-by-choice (but that is who the book is for so I can't fault that) because as an ethnic Jew on the path to conversion a chunk of the information was simply not meant for or not specific to me. I was left wanting more and will definitely be picking up her other books which will probably have more of the cultural insights I was looking for.
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