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Can someone living with a non-Jewish friend/house mate convert to Judaism? Obviously, there is a concern over issues such as Shabbat and Kashrut - however if the non-Jewish person complies or makes compromises would the Beth Din allow the person to convert? The flatmate is vegetarian so that's one less thing to worry about. We will however have separate dishes - my sets for meat, dairy and pareve, and theirs.

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2 Answers 2

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Monica beat me to it by a few seconds here, but I'll finish what I started writing.

I'm assuming the housemate is not a "boyfriend/girlfriend" type person. Just someone who happens to live in the same house. Otherwise, that's a horse of a completely different color!

(You may want to rephrase the top question line, as sadly I think many people today would read "living with a non-Jew" as "having a non-Jewish significant other.")

Basically, a panel overseeing a conversion is asking a few questions: "Is this person sincerely trying to keep all of Jewish law? And is s/he on a trajectory where s/he remains most likely to do so?" The particulars of how to determine that will vary from beit din to beit din.

It would not surprise me if some rabbis felt that having a non-Jewish housemate makes keeping Judaism difficult enough that they wouldn't endorse it. (Notice how many observant Jews seek out other observant Jews as housemates.) Otherwise, in a theoretical sense it's doable, but there are a lot of questions to ask (this comes up with observant students looking into college dorm options as well), such as:

  • Is the housemate respectful of your religious choice, or will they give you a hard time about it?
  • If your housemate practices a religion that has physical images (e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Hinduism), you will have all sorts of halachic problems to deal with. I'd advise not going there.
  • Is the house within walking distance of a synagogue, and ideally with an eruv?
  • How complicated is it to keep kosher in such a setup? Separate dishes are a great start, but ovens and sinks can be non-kosher too. This is something that really depends on the details. Furthermore, in some cases, food cooked by a non-Jew without any Jewish involvement becomes automatically non-kosher.
  • How complicated is keeping Shabbat in such a setup? If you walk in Friday night and your housemate has the stereo/TV on, you just ignore it. But what about lights in shared spaces that you need on/off? Toilet paper that needs tearing? Lots of little things.

I don't think it's inherently a "red line", there are enough little things that can go wrong if you don't really know your stuff. Some rabbis may say "okay we'll work it out"; some might recommend trying to find a Jewish housemate if possible (which will probably create its own bunch of questions as your learning mistakes will make it difficult for your housemate); and others may say "it's just too much of a mess."

Good luck!

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Yes, I live within walking distance of the shul and there is an eruv. I don't have a TV (still getting settled after moving) & we don't usually turn the stereo on. I only have one sink so it's already complicated. Perhaps I can try the separate basins thing? This is a relative who needs a place to stay, and I can't kick her out. I really want to convert and increase my observances but I don't want to impose on her either. She does her laundry & cooks on Shabbos but I can't make her shomer shabbat just because I am. I've sacrificed a lot for her - just want to do something for me for a change. –  Malka S Sep 16 '13 at 14:14
    
thanks for the good wishes! :) –  Malka S Sep 16 '13 at 14:19
    
Sorry Shalom, didn't mean to FGITW you. :-) (I didn't know.) –  Monica Cellio Sep 16 '13 at 14:48
    
@MonicaCellio more like 142nd FGITW. –  Shalom Sep 16 '13 at 23:32

This is something to discuss with your rabbi, but I'm not aware of any halacha that would forbid this and I've never heard a convert (I know several and we've talked about the process) mention this issue. That's weak evidence, but consider: your rabbi (and ultimately the beit din you stand before) is concerned that you will be able to transition into and maintain a proper Jewish life. If you can do that in your current living situation, then there is less need to ask you to make changes.

However, you will need to have detailed conversations with your friend/housemate to make sure the implications are really understood, and then try it for a while and see if it's working. It's one thing to agree in principle and another to be confronted with the details all the time, like separate dish-washing sponges, lights being left on that one instinctively wants to turn off, and so on. Everything that you are working to re-wire in your brain as you make the transition will be ten times harder for someone else, who is not motivated like you are, to do.

All of this is for a housemate who is the same gender as you and not a romantic partner. For those cases there are other issues that you definitely need to discuss with your rabbi.

A note on one detail you mentioned: if your housemate is vegetarian but not vegan, there may still be kashrut issues with the shared kitchen appliances (vegetarian includes dairy). Are you prepared to re-kasher the oven every time you want to cook meat, for instance? You will find it far easier, if the housemate is agreeable, to just maintain a kosher kitchen at home.

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I don't think I have a choice but to kasher appliances every time. I can't kick her out, she has nowhere to go. –  Malka S Sep 16 '13 at 14:18
    
Well, you might be able to add appliances -- would adding a toaster oven (for one or the other of you to use exclusively) help, for example? Anyway, I'm just raising issues that you'll need to think about, because you made that comment about her being a vegetarian. A lot depends on the good will of the people involved. And as you indicated in your comment on the other answer, there are other factors too -- this is a relative you have some obligation to, not a roommate found on Craigslist. All the more reason to discuss the situation with your rabbi! –  Monica Cellio Sep 16 '13 at 14:21
    
Hope the Beth Din will be understanding! With regards to bisul olam, we cook separate meals with her being a vegetarian so we don't really share meals together. I've considered the extra appliances but that's costly too... Worst case scenario, I'll have to wait until she is in a position to move out. –  Malka S Sep 16 '13 at 14:43
    
It might actually be easier to just have a kosher kitchen. The extra costs of food for her will pretty much only come up with cheese; for the rest of what she eats there's not much difference. Anyway, comments here aren't the best place to discuss these details, but please feel free to come into Mi Yodeya Chat for more discussion. –  Monica Cellio Sep 16 '13 at 14:46

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