Intolerance is depressing

My sister’s boyfriend is Jewish. She is Catholic. Niether is very practicing in their religion. They have been together for almost two years now and the religion issue has never been a problem… except for his mother. She wants her boy to marry a nice Jewish girl, and so she does everything she can to make my sister’s life difficult.

The boyfriend has tried to bring my sister to family dinners, and she has either been “uninvited” by his mother, or subtly insulted at the table. My sister is trying very hard to be accepted - she’s always respectful to the family, and does things like bring gifts to supper, but the mother always finds fault with the gifts, and with her.

This afternoon, there was a memorial service for the boyfriend’s grandfather, who died last year. The service was at synagogue. My sister wanted to be there for her boyfriend, naturally, and so she dressed up, and left work early to attend the service. When the mother saw her there, she made a scene. A HUGE scene. A “who does she think she is, you’re not bringing her in here, she doesn’t belong here” scene. People on the street were stopping to see what the yelling was about.

My sister ended up leaving - her boyfriend was so mad he was going to leave too, but my sis went up to him and his mom and said “Look, this isn’t about religion, or about me, or about your mom. It’s about your grandfather, and he’d want you to be here. I’ll be at home, I’ll see you tonight.” And then she called us in tears. :frowning:

I think it’s sick the way my sister was treated and I’m very very upset. Like she said, it’s not about religion - it’s about respect. Is there a rule that non-Jews aren’t allowed into a synagogue? I’ve never seen such intolerance, such disrespect, in anyone before. I don’t think that any of my Jewish friends would have a problem taking me to synagogue, if I was curious about it… so what’s her problem?

If your sister’s boyfriend doesn’t grow some stones and tell his mother to Stop It Right Now, I don’t see much hope for the relationship.

And you’re right. Intolerance does suck.

You already pointed out the problem:

The issue is quite a bit deeper than simply wanting her son to marry the “right kind” of girl. It is not the same as objecting to a girl for having an “inappropriate” career or being too poor (or too rich). Judaism passes through the mother, so if her son marries a Gentile, all the woman’s grandkids will not be Jewish unless they chose to convert at a later time. (And with her son apparently not being an observant Jew, himself, that is unlikely.)
I realize that from the outside, this looks like nothing more than snobbishness (and I think her behavior goes far beyond “mere” intolerance), but your sister needs to recognize that the mother considers her a threat to her culture and her descendants.

I have no practical suggestion for dealing with the situation. I am responding simply to the fact seeking question, “What is her problem?”

This is exactly why I think interfaith dating is a bad idea but that’s another post …

Ok. Looks like we’ve got a few options here:

  1. So he’s Jewish, but it’s not real important to him, same with her Catholicism. If they get married, why can’t one of them just convert? (That is, if the thought of a 2-faith household bothers them, personally.)

  2. They’ve been together 2 years; this is not some casual dating fling. Why hasn’t this boy grown some balls and told his Mom to shove it? He needs to stand up to her now or Mom is going to be running the show if they do get married someday. She’s dissing his woman. I’m not sure your sister SHOULD stay with this guy, actually, if he’s not going to defend her to his family.

  3. This mother of his needs to realize that your sister could very well be the mother of her grandchildren. If she pisses them off too much, they may just pick up and move cross country and she’ll never see them. Yeah, Mom sounds cold, but people thaw a LOT when grandbabies enter the picture, unless they are just totally evil.

This boy needs to have a sitdown NOW with his family and let them know that as long as your sister is around, she is to be treated the same as if she were some rabbi’s daughter straight outta Boro Park.

And FWIW, this guy’s family doesn’t seem to be indicative of the average Jew’s attitude toward Gentiles, in my experience anyway. I went to temple for a class back in, oh, 1998 and felt very welcome; one member took me and my then-fiance around the place and showed us all the cool stuff and explained what everything meant. I currently have a rabbi as one of my professors and he says any of us are welcome at temple ANY time. I’ve never known anyone Jewish to even remotely express that Gentiles “don’t belong” in a synagogue, even to visit. Your average bar mitzvah probably has tons of goyim there that were invited by the family.

Jews are taught to be nice to “aliens” because they were strangers in Egypt and should remember how it felt for their people. I don’t guess this situation is exactly the same, but in a way she’s “alien” to their culture. I don’t get the hostility, especially if she’s good to their son and is a nice girl.

  1. She has seriously thought about converting. She loves him very much, and if converting will make things easier for everyone, she has no problems doing it. She has been looking into the Jewish faith more deeply and likes it very much. BUT - the conversion would change nothing for the mother, because my sister’s blood would not be any more Jewish, and so the kids wouldn’t really be Jewish. Same problem with promising to raise the kids (if there ever are kids; they’ve only been dating 2 years!) in the Jewish faith.

  2. He does defend her. Constantly. He doesn’t need Mommy’s approval - he loves my sister to death no matter what, and he keeps telling his mother how much my sister means to him. But it hurts my sister so much to not be able to be close to his family. Family is very very important to us, and she can’t understand the coldness and hostility she’s encountering.

For the rest, well, I don’t know what to say. Her defense is that she’s seen so much happen to her family, they’ve been persecuted so much, she’s so traumatized, that she’s afraid to lose her culture. And that is the part that hurts me the most. Why? Because we didn’t do anything to her or her family. My grandfather and great-uncles were in Europe and Africa fighting to try and prevent more harm coming to her family. Some of them died over there and are buried out there, because they believed that it was their duty to fight against evil. My grandfather came back from that war and raised his family to believe in tolerance, and to defend people who have been wronged. And now my sister has been wronged and I wish there was something I could do.

And she is a nice girl. She’s a wonderful girl. Educated, hardworking, respectful, and any decent woman would be proud to have her as a potential daughter-in-law.

It’s a shame that she’s being treated so, Antigen. My own experience with Jewish people is that outside of religion they are no different than you and me. I worked in a company where I was the token gentile. ;j

They’re also like you and me in that occasionally, one of them will take an exit ramp off the mental highway marked ‘Batshit’. This woman sounds like she read the same playbook as my Mom-but that’s another issue.

She sounds like a lady with her head screwed on straight, and her boyfriend cares for her very much while attempting to prevent maternal meltdown on his end.

Sending good thoughts her way-L’chayim

Then Mom needs to go talk to her rabbi because she is sorely mistaken.

When you convert, you are as Jewish as someone who has “Jewish blood” according to the law. You are just a much as a descendant of Abraham as anyone else. Blood doesn’t have a thing to do with it. You can’t be “more Jewish” or “Jewey-ier.”

I’m also interested in what she thinks “Jewish blood” is. This woman DOES realize that, somewhere in her family tree, there are critters of every race, creed and color?

Well, he can’t convert to Christianity, presumably, since he will be unable in conscience to make the required act of faith. And, anyway, that wouldn’t solve the problem with respect to his mother; it would make it worse.

She could convert to Judaism, since AFAIK no act of faith is required. But as a convert she would be expected to be scrupulous about adherence to the law, and that would be quite a burden on her if she didn’t consider observance a either moral obligation or an inherently worthwhile way of life, and was only doing it in an attempt to keep her mother-in-law happy. Indeed, it could be quite a burden on him too, if he’s not particularly interested in living an observant life. And if she doesn’t observe the law, then so far as a pious Jew is concerned, she would have done better never to have converted at all; better a good gentile than a bad Jew.

Broadly in line with my experience. I’ve been to both Orthodox and Progressive synagogues, roomed with a Jewish roommate and got to know his family quite well, etc, etc, and was never made to feel unwelcome in any way. But I was never contemplating marrying a Jew and, in particular, I was never a Gentile woman contemplating marrying a Jewish man.

And this, I think, is the problem. If these two marry, generations of Jewish heritage comes to a stop - permanently. I suspect the mother’s concern is that, if the girlfriend converts, this will be purely to please the mother, and the mother knows that this is unlikely to be a strong enough basis for a sustained commitment to Judaism, so she doesn’t see conversion as a solution.

So I can see why this is a problem for the mother. I think it’s the mother’s problem, mind you, and she has no business victimising or punishing her son’s girlfriend. Her son may have some relgious obligation to marry a Jewish wife, and he may have some moral obligation to marry a wife acceptable to his family (although that point is debatable, obviously) but the girlfriend clearly has no obligations in this matter at all, and the mother should see this.

What can the girlfriend to about it? Nothing, I’m afraid. The mother’s gripe is with her son; the son’s dilemma is the damage his relationship with his girlfriend will do to his relationship with his mother. Only the mother and the son can resolve this.

I don’t think she should convert. It’s easy to say that if one has no religion, then you should be able to convert easily, but I think that’s unfair to ask either cpartner.

But they should have a long talk about how the kids are going to be raised BEFORE the marriage. One of three things could happen:

They decide to raise the kids with no religion. This will not make Mom happy, and she will continue to bother them and make snipes all their days about how the kids are not being raised in the proper faith. She will probably make them to the kids, and possibly try to turn them against the mother.

The boy will grow a pair…but this probably means seperation from his mother. He won’t be as close, and the mom will forever see her as the girl who stole her baby.

The girl will convert (!) and the mom will find something else to bitch about. Worry not.

Or I guess they could break up.

How do her parents feel about it? You can get by with the approval of one set of parents but not both, IMO. Let me just say there will be more ugly scenes and unhappiness…

but having said all that, I totally believe in interracial relationships. I am with a Chinese guy and my parents (specially mom) HATE it. Of course, I am estranged from them. But he’s agnostic and I’m atheist, so the religion thing isn’t an issue, plus his parents like me OK.

First off, the mother has no excuse for acting that way. None.

Second, though, I probably wouldn’t be happy if I were in her situation either. I am Jewish, and raising my kids Jewish is important to me. I’m in a good position, however, being female, in that I can marry and have kids with whomever I want (my SO is, in fact, not the slightest bit Jewish) and my children will be Jewish.

If it’s important to your sister’s boyfriend that their children be Jewish and she is willing to convert, so much the better. It happens fairly often and, IMHO, the mother should be freakin’ overjoyed that she will have Jewish grandchildren and that this girl loves her son enough to convert.

:rolleyes: There aren’t enough rolleyes in the world… Here’s a quote from Maimonides on whether converts are “really Jewish” or not, from a letter to a convert asking if he should include “and God of our fathers” in his prayers just as born Jews do:

By all means you should pray ‘Our God and God of our fathers’ for in no respect is there a difference between you and us. Do not think little of your origin. If we trace our descent from Abraham Isaac and Jacob, your descent is from him by whose word the world was created. Maimonides in his letter to Obadiah, the convert

Probably a stupid question, but:

If a woman converted to Judaism then wasn’t observant, or even unconverted after she had children, would her children be Jewish?

One can’t “unconvert” from Judaism. If you are a Jew, you are a Jew. That’s it.

Accordingly, whether or not you’re observant doesn’t really matter, although converts are usually way more observant than people who are born into Judaism, IME.

Not at all!

Whether you’re observant or not doesn’t affect whether or not you are a Jew.

However, there is a subtle point here. Orthodox Jews, who tend to be the most observant, don’t accept conversions done by other branches of Judaism. Most people who convert to Judaism in the US convert Conservative or Reform. So, unless the woman converted Orthodox (which is supposedly quite difficult), some Jews would not recognize her or her children as Jewish. But that has to do only with who supervised her conversion, not with what she does or doesn’t do afterward.

I faced this issue when I converted to Judaism before I married Mr Neville. I ultimately decided that, since neither of us had any intention of living an Orthodox lifestyle, converting Orthodox would be fraudulent on my part. I know that Orthodox Jews will not consider either me or any children I might have to be Jewish. The only way I can see that being an issue is if I had a daughter who wanted to marry an Orthodox man. I decided that, if that happens, that’s her problem and not mine.

She couldn’t “unconvert”, but she could convert to another religion, either her original religion or a different one. I am not a rabbi, but I think the kids born before she re-converted would be considered Jewish. I think that any kids born after she re-converted wouldn’t be considered Jewish, but I’m less sure on that.

I’ve been there. It took me several years, but finally I decided that Judaism was right for me, and would be even if I were not marrying a Jewish man. If she can honestly say that, then more power to her.

Oh, our family loves him to death. He could be purple, have three arms, and pray to a shoe, and we’d still love him because he treats my sister right and he’s a great guy.

I don’t know where this story will go, but thanks to all of you for your insights. Anne Neville, thank you very much for finding that quote. Where could I find other words of Jewish wisdom about being tolerant to others and loving your fellow man?

I hope everything works out so that my sister can just be happy. My mother is about ready to call up this woman’s rabbi and tell him about this week’s incident, but I doubt she really will. The point isn’t to start a war between the two families. But boy do I hope she gets her come-uppance. You know, the boyfriend has an older brother, and he’s single. Hmmm…

Fortunately, that’s not terribly difficult.

Here’s one from Rabbi Hillel:

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah: the rest is commentary. Go and study.

And another one from Maimonides about converts:

And how great is the duty which the Law imposes on us with regard to proselytes? Our parents we are commanded to honor and fear; to the prophets we are ordered to harken. A man may honor and fear and obey without loving. But in the case of “strangers” we are bidden to love with the whole force of our heart’s affection.

Here are some books that might have more:

Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant

A Maimonides Reader by Isadore Twersky

You’re probably not going to find an Orthodox Rabbi who will convert your sister, though, if her only reason for converting is to marry a Jewish man. Unless your sister really wants to convert out of a love of Judaism and a desire to live according to the commandments, she shouldn’t do it.

And just to say, I’m not saying that his mother is right in the way she’s treating your sister…she’s not, that’s obvious. There’s no excuse to be rude, especially because your sister seems like a good person. However, they shouldn’t marry.

I do believe that is up to them to decide.

Absolutely agreed. I didn’t convert until I realized that, if something were to happen and I didn’t end up marrying Mr. Neville, I would still have wanted to be Jewish and to marry someone who at least didn’t have a problem with any kids being raised exclusively Jewish.

I personally happen to believe that observing the forms of a religion without actually believing in it is one of the worst sins you can commit that doesn’t directly harm other people. So I would advise Antigen’s sister not to convert unless she really thinks Judaism is right for her, not to please a screaming harpy of a prospective mother-in-law.

That said:

That may or may not be true for all Orthodox rabbis. Maurice Lamm in Becoming a Jew (a book on conversion from an Orthodox perspective) says that not all Orthodox rabbis reject converts who are converting to marry a Jew. Here is an Orthodox argument that says that the marriage motivation for conversion might be valid in at least some cases. Whether to accept or reject any individual convert is ultimately up to each rabbi’s own judgment.

And, of course, she doesn’t have to convert to Orthodox Judaism unless she really wants to. Some Conservative or Reform rabbis might be more willing to convert her if she’s marrying a Jewish man.

I think Antigen’s sister and her boyfriend have to work that out for themselves.