A woman once wrote to Miss Manners (aka Haragamam) with a story about a man she had sat next to on a plane trip. In the story, the man had asked her, “Are you a career girl?” What should she have answered? asked the woman. Miss Manners answered that she was perfectly within her rights to answer in the affirmative (since she was indeed a “career girl”) and, in the spirit of friendliness and reciprocity, ask the man if he was a “career boy.”
I’m all for turning the tables on people who ask jarring questions. And one of the silliest questions I and other converts to Judaism are asked is, “Why would you convert to such a nutty religion?” If the asker wants to discuss the ways in which Judaism is nutty, well and good; I can partake. But if the question is really just a thinly-veiled insult (another way of saying, “How could you have been so stupid?”), a snappy answer may be called for. Here are a few responses to consider for those who want to answer the question in the same spirit:
1) because the Jews have all the money;
2) because the Moonies rejected me;
3) because Jews control the world. Just read the papers;
4) because the Scientologists are too nutty, and the Unitarians aren’t nutty enough;
5) because I heard Jews aren’t supposed to ask nosy questions.
One can also ask the asker, “Why would you ask such a question?” After all, why a convert did what she or he did is not anyone else’s business. (This retort also works for people who ask if your triplets are “real,” how much money you make, and why you don’t cover your hair. Thanks to Heather for the tip on this one. Another Miss Manners response, I believe.)
Of course, one is always welcome to plumb the depths of one’s soul and come up with a real answer if the asker is someone with any right at all to know.
But I have a fourth way to deal with this situation. Converts or potential converts should try asking born-Jews why they stayed Jewish. If they think it’s so nutty, why don’t they convert to something else? Bet they haven’t thought about that one. (If you get the opportunity to ask this question of a born-Jew who has opened the subject, please come back and write about what happened.)
How do you think one should answer a question like this?