Religious conversion is often associated with ideals of religious sincerity. But in a society in which religious belonging is entangled with ethnonational citizenship and bureaucratic privilege, a convert might well have multilayered motives. Over the last two decades, mass non-Jewish immigration to Israel, especially from the former Soviet Union, has sparked heated debates over the Jewish state’s conversion policy and intensified suspicion of converts’ sincerity.
This talk will trace the performance of state-endorsed Orthodox conversion to highlight the collaborative labor that goes into the making of the Israeli state and its Jewish citizens. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in conversion schools, rabbinic courts, and ritual bath houses, this talk will complicate the popular perception that conversion is a “wink-wink” relationship in which both sides agree to treat the converts’ pretenses of observance as real. Instead, it will demonstrate how their interdependent performances blur any clear boundary between sincere and empty conversions, and how these performances permit the state to save its Jewish face.
This event is open to alumni, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the public.