Telling Jewish grandparents about baptism

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January 20, 2011 at 3:35 am #5412

Cath

My husband is Jewish and I am Catholic.  After many years of grappling with the kids/religion issue, we decided to have a baby and to have the baby baptized and raised Catholic.  As a bit of background, my husband was raised Conservative but is not practicing.  I am an actively practicing Catholic and have always been so.  As part of the decision, we agreed that my husband would inform his parents (before the baby arrived) regarding the religion decision.  That was nearly two years ago.  The baby has obviously arrived, has been baptized, and is nearly a year old.  Still my husband has had no discussion with his parents.  His parents are not practicing Jews either, but I do know that they will hit the roof when they find out about the religion issue.  This is why my husband has waited and waited….and waited to tell them.  He is thoroughly stressed out by the mere idea of them hearing the news.  He keeps telling me that he will inform them, just that he is waiting for the right time.

I have been relatively patient with this situation, but I am getting to a point where I feel that I am forced to “hide” the fact that my own child is Catholic.  This is just not acceptable to me.  Ideas?

January 21, 2011 at 1:17 am #5418

EJ

Tough spot Cath  — for you and your husband.

Given that the baby is almost a year old, do the grandparents really not know?  For Jewish boys there is a bris at 8 days, and another ceremony a little later, a Pidyon Ha Ben, if the boy is the first born.  Even non-religious Jewish families usually have something…or talk about whether there will be something even if they are secular and don’t have either ceremony. For Jewish girls the current tradition is a naming ceremony  –  it’s less “standard” than the ceremonies for boys, but…  The grandparents may know, but perhaps not conciously.  Is there someone who you can talk to to feel this out with?

Aside from whether the grandparents know or not, sounds like you and your husband have an issue to work through.  Perhaps a neutral third party, a counselor of some sort, can help you talk about it?

January 21, 2011 at 4:08 pm #5420

Cath

Thanks for your response.  I think the grandparents simply believe that we are exposing the baby to both religions and not choosing one or the other.  They themselves did not have a bris or anything for their own children, so I don’t think there was any particular expectation on their part that we would go that route.  As I mentioned, they are not really religious, yet they will go ballistic about anything that is “contrary” to their “tradition.”  It’s more of a defensive attitude than a real following of tradition in that respect.  There really isn’t anyone else in the family who would be that candid with me about this topic.  They are all Jewish, and I don’t believe anyone in the family would be sympathetic to my situation.  They will probably all be very “reactive” if and when they find out.

I agree that there are issues to work out with my husband.  While he was present at our baby’s baptism, he refused to stand with the baby, godparents and me at the baptismal font…or participate in any way.  He also refused to be in the pictures to mark the occasion.

January 21, 2011 at 6:26 pm #5422

cat

It seems that your primary problem is not with the grandparents, but with your husband. It does not sound as if he truly is supportive of the decision to bring up your child catholic and it is likely that you will continue to have conflict about this for years unless you two work on the problem together. I can tell you that a child growing up in a household where both parents are not together and supportive of the religious choices can feel torn and conflicted about their religious identity and often winds up very uncorfortable with religion in general as an adult.

January 21, 2011 at 7:51 pm #5423

Cath

My husband does have issues to work through regarding the religion of our child, and I fully acknowledge this.  I don’t necessarily have a problem with my taking the baby to church alone or eventually ensuring that he receives proper Catholic instruction along with the sacraments….but at some point, I am basically operating as a single parent while my husband is the “ghost” in the background, unwilling to even tell anyone (not only his parents) that his child is Catholic.  His resistance to informing his parents is indicative of his own mental resistance to the idea of having a Catholic child.  I am not sure if we will ever work through this one.  Unfortunate, but true.

January 21, 2011 at 9:48 pm #5424

cat

You need to try. I grew up in  a household much like the one that your child is facing. There was a lot of anger and hosility about religion and fighting between my parents My mother took us to church although my sibling and I were not baptised and we had the ultimate choice of what religion to follow. My father never went to church with us and clearly resented us going. To make long story short, I stopped going to church as a teenager and converted to Judaism as an adult and now have a Jewish family and my sibling follows no religion. My family’s stress level about religion is much better now, but it was a long hard road and we still do not discuss it, just celebrate holidays. (the Jewish ones and a secular Christmas).

January 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm #5425

Andrea2

It sounds like you need marriage counseling. If he was that resistant to participating in the ceremony, you’re probably going to have greater problems when it’s time for your son to go to CCD or make his first communion or when he starts asking why daddy doesn’t go to church with you, etc. Since you’re practicing and he isn’t, I think you made the right decision to raise your child Catholic. I also think he had to have known this was a distinct possibility when he married a practicing Catholic. But if he has such negative feelings it’s probably going to carry over into other things as well.

There’s a web site for Catholics with Jewish roots that is called Hebrew Catholics and I think it has some ideas about how to incorporate some of the Jewish heritage into Catholic worship, like lighting candles or a sedar at Easter and prayers, etc. I don’t know if that would make him feel any better if he thought that your child was also learning about his Jewish heritage and how it is what Catholicism is based on.

February 1, 2011 at 6:08 pm #5448

Ava

I found out by accident that my Jewish son and Italien Catholic DIL baptized their child after my son had him in the Mikvah. It crushed us for a lot of reasons and will never forgive my DIL, my son went along with her and am disappointed in him. He was raised in a traditional Jewish home, Hebrew school, Jewish camp, Bar Mitzvah and more.

He had a rent a reformed Rabbi preform some sort of Jewish and Catholic ceremony, with a blessing from the Priest and breaking of the glass.

Currently the grandchildren celebrate Xmas/Easter and go church once a month. Hanukah/Passover is moderately acknowledged.

As far as I am concerned, you can’t be both, you are either a Jew or a Catholic and stop trying to confuse the issue by trying to celebrate both religions.

February 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm #5461

Phx Mom

Ava:
Are you talking about a marriage with a rabbi and a priest? 

Per the discussion:
I’m a practicing third generation Reform Jew.  My son had told me he wanted Jewish children, and first was engaged to a Jewish gal, but it didn’t work out.  Then he eloped with a wonderful Catholic woman with two young children.  (Later there will be a formal wedding ceremony with a rabbi and a priest.)  Her children will be raised Catholic; any they have together will be raised as Jews.
While it is difficult for me to accept that my darling granddaughter and grandson won’t be of my faith, at the end of the day it’s not my decision.  It’s not your in-laws’ decision, either. 
I can understand why your husband did not participate in the baptism– it simply doesn’t reflect his beliefs.  There’s also a difference between agreeing in theory to have your child baptized and actually seeing in done.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love all of you, but you’ve got to understand our tribal mentality.  In centuries past, Jews were forcibly converted or threatened with death. 
You also need to understand that many people identify as Jews without going to temple or celebrating the holidays.  That said, even though your child is being raised in your faith, your husband and his parents still can be the Jewish side of the family and expose your child to their faith and practices.

February 7, 2011 at 8:48 pm #5467

Lucy

I don’t really buy the argument that my husband felt awkward about our son’s baptism because of forcible conversion of Jews in centuries past….tribal mentality or no tribal mentality.  Roman Catholics certainly faced their own persecution in “centuries past,” yet that fact is rarely offered as a source of present-day discomfort for Catholics in any given situation.

I agree that my husband can still expose our child to his Jewish traditions.  He is free to do so.  And I certainly recognize that, as you indicate, “many people identify as Jews without going to temple or celebrating the holidays.”  These people are free to worship, or not worship, at their choosing.  I find it interesting, however, when these same people who don’t actively practice their Jewish religion become suddenly uncomfortable at the fact that their children are being raised in a different tradition.  If you don’t care to practice your own religion, that pretty much indicates to me that you wouldn’t provide much of an example of your own faith to your children.

February 8, 2011 at 11:01 pm #5469

Debbie B.

Lucy,

The confusion about Jews who identify culturally more than religiously is due to the fact that unlike Christianity, Judaism has both a Peoplehood and a Religious aspect. Before we got married, when my husband told me that being Jewish was in some way more similar to being Chinese than Protestant, I didn’t believe him. Fast forward 30 years: I now understand what he meant and think he was right. But I’m on the other side now too: I realized that despite my lack of Jewish ancestry and strange though it seemed, I had somehow joined into the the Peoplehood part of Judaism as well as the religious part, and that was when I converted.

The religious persecution of Jews and of Christians has been of different natures and can’t be directly compared. It’s not just the Jews themselves who see the Peoplehood part: other groups do too and act accordingly. Jews were often identified by their ancestry and not just by belief. “Conversos” during the Inquisition were still persecuted because they were ethnically Jews. And the Nazis still wanted to kill people who had a Jewish parent or grandparents regardless of the religion they believed in and practiced. And the Holocaust is recent enough that most American Jews know of relatives that perished during that time. Because of that, many Jews have “survivors’ guilt” and feel like they are betraying relatives who were killed for being Jewish to not pass that heritage on to their children.

You can say that if a person really cares about the religious upbringing of their child then they should be willing to do religious activities themselves. But it is insensitive suggest that just because someone doesn’t actively practice a religion that he has less right to have any feelings about the matter. It sounds uncomfortably like a contest to me: where more active practice of a religion entitles that person to “win” and get to determine the religion. I don’t hear much in the above comments about cooperation or attempts to understand the other side. I pity the children caught in the middle of that because they’ll sense the underlying tension.

February 9, 2011 at 8:49 pm #5476

Cath

Debbie,

Thanks for the clarification, but there is no “confusion” on my part regarding the difference between culturally-identifying and religiously-practicing Jews.  In my opinion, if someone does not care at all about the tenets of Judaism (and often rejects them) yet was technically born a Jew, his or her Judaism might more aptly be desribed as a race or culture rather than a religion.  From your perspective, even an atheist can identify as being Jewish.

I’m not arguing that my Jewish husband shouldn’t have feelings about our child being raised Catholic.  My husband is free to expose our child to whatever Jewish traditions he wishes.  It’s not about winning or losing.  It’s about bringing a child up in a living, active faith (i.e. one with which a parent is familiar) and having that child learn by a parent’s example.

I appreciate your offer of pity for my child in light of the situation, but none is necessary.

March 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm #5606

Harold

Dear Cath,

I agree with those who suggest seeing a counselor of some sort.  Many in interfaith marriages do this when religious issues come up.  Your husband needs to sort out his own issues with Judaism, and you and he ultimately need an understanding with which you’re both comfortable about how you will raise your children (i.e. he’s agreed to raise them Catholic, but clearly is not 100% comfortable with that).

If I may suggest based on personal experience, it would be more productive to work with a counselor who has some religious grounding (although who will not be biased one way or another, as you would expect a good counselor not to be).  Often, secular counselors, even if they’re good, just don’t grasp the issues involved or why they can be so important to someone.

I do agree with Debbie.  Although I don’t think the hesitance about Catholicism here necessarily has to do with past Jewish persecution, etc., and I know that there have been periods where Christians have suffered persecution, objectively and historically there is simply no comparison between the two.  It could be (or not-I’m not trying to label anything here since I don’t really know the situation), as it sometimes is for secular Jews, that even though your husband has no real attachment to the religion (which sounds like more a result of his parents’ inertia in failing to give him a grounding in it, than any active fault on his part), he does have some sense of failure to pass something on to the next generation.  And although not borne of any sense of persecution, it could well come out of the feeling of being part of a very small minority religion, a mindset that it can be hard for Catholics and Protestants, at least in the U.S., to relate to.

Finally, I disagree with those who suggest looking at Hebrew Catholics (outside of Catholicism they would be called Messianic Jews), etc.  When my wife and I married, she was at the time Christian. Some suggested we join the Unitarian Church because we could “incorporate both traditions” and “have the best of both worlds.”  We realized that melding traditions would be for our benefit, not our children’s, and would not really accomplish anything.  I think it’s important to choose a tradition for children and stick with it.

March 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm #5609

G

Cath, I think your husband is trying to tell you he’s not comfortable with raising his children Catholic. Obviously his passive-aggressiveness is a cowardly way to tell you,  but maybe this is the only way he feels comfortable expressing himself. I would think that for the sake of your marriage, and for your child, who undoubtably will sense the tension between the two of you, and it will affect his own religious beliefs, I think you need to revisit this issue, because it is clear that you two are not on the same page.

If you just ignore how he feels about this, or try to push him even more it will only get worse as your son gets older **believe me on this one, there is no getting around that**  As another child who has experienced that situation, I’ll echo the opinions of the other person in this post. I know you don’t believe your child needs any pity for his situation, but believe me,  he will bear the brunt of this tension, whether you realize it yet or not.

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