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Review: The Honey and the Sting

A practical guide for prospective converts

    Walter Rothschild
    JVAB, £34

    When the Reform Beth Din published a guide for prospective converts, Jewish By Choice, in 1994, its author, Rabbi Dr Walter Rothschild, believed it filled a gap as there was "almost nothing available that wasn't either American or Orthodox".

    But times have moved on and Rabbi Rothschild, who moved from Leeds to Berlin in 1998, felt a more up-to-date book was required for those considering entry into Judaism. In Europe there has been growing interest among those who have one Jewish parent or grandparent.

    He wanted to provide more than an introduction to Jewish observance but also convey some of the practicalities of living as a Jew, which involves not only knowing about Shabbat rituals but also understanding how a synagogue community works.

    While some books present only the sweetness and light, he covers some of the "problem areas" such as how to cope with rising antisemitism or the fallout from negative views about Israel. "A convert is often quite shocked," he said, "You need to protect people from their own idealism or naivety."

    He deals with "uncomfortable realities" such as "the kind of thing a convert might expect to hear in a synagogue where not everyone is welcoming": or inter-denominational conflict: or the difficulties of living in a small community "when you don't have a kosher butcher or a bagel shop around the corner": or aspects which are not always talked about such as widowhood or divorce.

    If you are buying a car, he said, the advertising brochure will set out all the positive features. He compares his new book more to the handbook under the dashboard which, as well as the benefits, tells you "what to do if it breaks down".

    The Honey and the Sting offers a "very personal" view, he said. "But as the introduction says, you are welcome to disagree."

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