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Why a certain topic arouses public interest at a certain point in time is not always immediately apparent. The topic of conversion, for example, is currently the subject of conferences, lectures and exhibitions in German-speaking countries without any notable changes in its social relevance or in the religious structure.
Image in the current special exhibition "The Whole Truth" on the question: Jew or not? Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Modern Screen Magazine, November 1956
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe
Few convert to Judaism. According to surveys by the Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany, an average of 64 conversions are carried out annually in German-Jewish communities, and this number has changed little since 2000. The size of the Jewish community also remains relatively stable: the number of its members has been around 105,000 for over a decade. Compared to the community as a whole, the proportion of all converts since 1990 - a total of exactly 1,366 people - represents less than one percent of the Jewish community. In contrast, there are around 100 Jews who leave the community each year, although this number is not very meaningful because they are people with the most varied of motives, including financial ones, taken into account. All in all, the Jewish converts are a small and exotic minority.
And yet the topic is discussed with great enthusiasm. In autumn 2012, ETH Zurich offered a series of lectures entitled »Conversion. Interreligious Transfers, Boundaries and Spaces ”shortly after the University of Trier ended its conference on the subject of“ Change of location, change of view, change of role: conversion in spaces of Jewish history ”- in June 2012. In a special exhibition "The Whole Truth", the Jewish Museum Berlin shows the fluid boundaries of Jewish identity based on the biographies of Jews, non-Jews, part-Jews and various converts, including the actress Marilyn Monroe. The subject is particularly detailed in the exhibition »Step in! Step out! ”Of the Jewish museums of Hohenems, Frankfurt and Munich (and a number of other partners). Conversions are discussed from a cultural, ritual and psychological perspective, with exhibits and associated texts tracking the conversion stories of individuals in three stages: the before, the event and the after. The stories are illustrated by means of pictograms, which make it possible to understand which religions were accepted and which were rejected. Overall, many religions are represented: Christianity and Islam, but also shamanism, Buddhism and Pastafarianism, an atheistic parody of religion in which a spaghetti monster is paid tribute as the supreme, divine being. The texts are concise, integrative and occasionally ironic, with catalog and program contributions from converts, scholars and intellectuals.
Bhikkhu Nyanaponika alias Siegmund Feniger in Sri Lanka
© Forest Hermitage Archives, Sri Lanka
So where does the interest in a ritual that few practice? In today's Germany it is apparently not a question of exchanging one religious culture for another, but rather of trying to reconcile different religions on a personal level, within relationships or communities and societies - or to turn away from them entirely. If you can believe the Eurobarometer of the European Union from 2005, the majority of Germans are not religious. Christian churches, which for many years have seen only dwindling parishes, have started to think about whether and how they could rededicate their buildings. And the Jewish communities are not nearly as big as they could be. While more than 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Germany, the members of the Jewish communities number just half. This means that the vast majority decided against joining the religious community. So maybe the topic of conversion is so popular because it brings up what seems to be waning: religious loyalty.
Naomi Lubrich, media
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