Data on Jewish "return" or conversion to traditional Judaism suggests that the societal context of return has a major impact on the process of conversion. In both the United States and the former Soviet Union this is a two-step process involving first ethnic identification and later religious identification. In Israel, where Jewish ethnic identity is a taken-for-granted aspect of Israeli identity the return to traditional religion does not require a deeper involvement in ethnic Jewishness prior to religious return.
The pattern for couples in the FSU is somewhat complicated by the fact that women follow the lead of men. For American couples, women seem less dependent on their men and articulate these stages more clearly. Furthermore, American men sometimes follow women into traditional Judaism.
In broader terms, the argument presented here suggests that the majority/minority status of converts and of the religion to which they are converting affects the conversion process. The two types examined in this chapter are only a portion of the possible variations. Judaism is a religion in which ethnicity and religion are intertwined. Would Irish or Italian Catholicism or American Protestantism be similar? How much cultural affinity must exist before there is a sense of ethnic identity?
Moreover, there is also the case of moving from the religion of a majority group to that of a minority group. Would the new religious involvement in Judaism of a secular Jewish Israeli immigrant to America involve a prior renewed or heightened sense of ethnic identity? These questions suggest points that require further study.
I am grateful for the support provided for this research by the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Lucius N. Littaur Foundation. An earlier version of this chapter has appeared in Anson Shupe and Bronislaw Misztal (eds.), Religion, Mobilization, and Social Action. Copyright © 1998. The chapter has been included in this volume with permission of GREENWOOD PUBLISHING GROUP, INC., Westport, CT.
Alba Richard. 1990. Ethnic Identity: The Transformation of White America. New Haven: Yale University Press.