Conversion & Confusion

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September 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm #6150

I am about 1.5 months away from marrying a Jewish man – I am spiritual but don’t practice any particular religion.  Earlier in our relationship, I started to take some time to learn more about the Jewish faith.  It is definitely appealing to me and, as we began to discuss marriage, I decided that I was completely comfortable with the idea of raising any children we may have as Jewish.  I began to consider conversion and started reading as much as I could and trying to encourage my non-practicing Jewish boyfriend to teach me more about the rituals and take me to synagogue so I could learn even more.  His reactions were mixed – we did a couple of very pared down Shabbos celebrations (essentially just lighting the candles and I’d say the blessings), and a Passover celebration, but we never did make it to a service.

Then life got in the way with a sudden job change and move to another state.  We recently got engaged and decided that we wanted to get married quickly.  He has started telling his family, to very mixed reactions.  His entire (very large) immediate family is Orthodox.  His parents responded exactly as we expected and we don’t expect them to attend.  His siblings have had mixed reactions – those who have reacted positively say mazel tov and then ask when I will convert.  The others have not reacted positively.

Now my fiance is bringing up conversion.  I am confused though because, before announcing our marriage, while I may not have been on the fast track to conversion, I could definitely see it as a possibility in the future as I learned more about Judaism.  However, I am now trying to reconcile the negative reactions that have come out of our announcement with the positive aspects of Judaism.  I question – why would I want to be a part of something that won’t accept me for who I am right now?  A caring and good person who loves a Jewish man very much.  It is also difficult to see the pain that my fiance is going through and feeling like some of his family would rather he be unhappily single than married to the non-Jewish woman that he loves.

So I am conflicted.  Does anyone have any words of wisdom regarding my conflicts about conversion?

September 28, 2011 at 6:14 pm #6158

Debbie B.

If your fiance is not practicing and shows little interest then he is bringing up conversion due to outside pressure. But the fact is that unless both of you are willing to commit to strictly Jewishly observant lives then an Orthodox conversion is completely out of the question. As it is because of your upcoming wedding, it would be difficult to find a rabbi to supervise a conversion which could not possibly happen in less than 1.5 months (1-3 years is more realistic). I don’t know how much you know about Orthodox Judaism, but the lifestyle requirements are really quite major.

If you were to do a non-Orthodox conversion (which would still typically take a year of study), it would probably not be accepted as valid by many (most?) of your husband’s Orthodox relatives. Your fiance many not realize the stringencies involved in Orthodox conversion, but you can point him to the RCA website if he wants to read up on it:  http://www.rabbis.org/conversion.cfm
He might be surprised to learn that many Conservative rabbis require a commitment to keeping kosher (to varying degrees) and Shabbat (with some Conservative leniencies). And most CJ rabbis would require some indication of support for your conversion by your fiance.

As far as being accepted as who you are right now: many Jews do accept you for who you are, even those who think it is preferable for Jews to marry Jews. More of the “liberal” Jews are comfortable with intermarriage, but there is a very strong taboo against it in traditional Judaism. Do not be put off by Judaism due to the unwelcoming attitudes of some Jews.

Do not convert for other people, but do investigate Judaism to see if it is right for you. I myself did not convert until many years of being married to a Jewish husband and converting and raising my children as Jews. I am extremely happy as a Jew and very involved in Jewish life and am now more observant than my husband. But I am also glad that I converted on my own terms, knowing that it was absolutely my own choice.

You might remind your fiance that tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and a ten-day period of introspection until Yom Kippur. He needs to think hard about his own feelings toward Judaism and how he can deal with the intermarriage situation in a way that is sensitive to your needs and feelings. The ability to accommodate your spouse in various ways is important for any marriage, not just the intermarriages. It is really time now, before the wedding, to have a heart-to-heart discussion about religion and the role you both want it to play in your relationship.

Good luck.

–Debbie

September 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm #6160

Hi Debbie:

Thank you so much for your well-thought out comments.  I’m fairly certain he is aware that it is not something that can happen before the wedding and would take some time but I do think he would like to be able to tell his family that it is underway.  He also is aware that if I do not have an Orthodox conversion that his parents will probably not accept it.  Perhaps he thinks his siblings would be more lenient, especially those that are being at least somewhat supportive.  We have not had a deep conversation about this yet… it came up casually in a conversation on Monday and we tabled it for discussion until tomorrow.

I am actually hoping that his sudden interest in my conversion will renew his interest in his own faith.  Even if I choose to never convert, I am still very open to the idea of raising our future child(ren) as Jewish and I’d need his guidance in that realm.  Also, I think it would be good for his soul to reacquaint himself with his faith, as an individual, rather than as a member of a strict Orthodox family.  And, from a purely selfish standpoint, he could provide so much more insight into everything for me; there is only so much you can get out of books.

After writing my post yesterday and doing some additional reading, I have softened on my original negativity – perhaps I just needed to get my frustrations out in writing.  There is a huge part of me that wishes his whole family would welcome me.  But, as you mentioned, and I am well aware, that is not a good enough reason to convert. 

We both definitely have some soul-searching to do and it sounds like Rosh Hashanah is the perfect time for it!  Thank you, again, for your thoughts.

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