Should I convert to Judaism to make a Jewish mom happy?

My Jewish boyfriend (who is, naturally, the bee’s knees) and I recently decided to cohabit. His mother has taken this is a sign that we are headed toward marriage. Upon hearing of our decision to live together, she proceeded to reiterate to him that anyone he marries must be Jewish (he was raised Jewish, but is essentially an agnostic now), either beforehand, or by converting. Her main reason is that she wants all of her grandchildren to be Jewish. In fact, she considers it her right as a grandparent to have Jewish grandchildren. Though she’s relaxed that at times to simply mean “grandchildren raised with a religious background,” what she really means is a Jewish background. This is especially important because I have a 7-year-old son from a previous relationship (my boyfriend and his mother agree that he would be a cad if he didn’t adopt my son upon our getting married, should that occur). If we were to get married, his mom would expect us to have my son schooled religiously (not full-time or anything, but once a week, like Sunday School), and then get bar mitzvahed, etc. She might accept my son and other potential children being raised Jewish without my own conversion, but that’s not certain.

Now, I was raised in a very secular household (one athiest parent and one Catholic parent), and am a self-acknowledged agnostic bordering on atheism. I am admittedly somewhat ignorant of Jewish beliefs and traditions, but I don’t have any problem whatsoever with exposing my son to Jewish beliefs, rites, and traditions - in fact, I’m all for it, as well as learning more myself. I think it’s healthy and stimulating for a child to have exposure to all kinds of religions and belief systems and draw his own conclusions based on his experiences; I’ve tried my best to raise him to have the utmost respect for all people and their beliefs.

My question isn’t whether I’m right in believing what I believe, or whether Judaism is a good religion, but simply, if we get married, should I convert and try to raise my child(ren) religiously when I don’t believe in it myself? Does his mother have a right to request that and expect it to occur? Even if she doesn’t, should I do it out of respect for his mother or to try to maintain peace within the family? My boyfriend is somewhat ambivalent about it, preferring to have as little conflict as possible between me and his mother, which is understandable, I think. Truth be told, she can be very, very argumentative and stubborn, especially about stuff like this.

One other thing. Although my boyfriend is ambivalent right now, if push comes to shove, and I am adamant about not converting and not raising my child(ren) as Jewish, I’m pretty sure he would take my side in any clash with his mother.

For the purposes of avoiding bias, I am leaving my personal feelings out of this post…for now. My boyfriend and I agreed that we should post our quandary on this board to get some uninvolved but informed opinions.

So what do you think? Jewish responses are especially welcome because I’d like to hear your opinion about this right to have Jewish grandchildren thing.

[Edited by TVeblen on 02-02-2001 at 08:20 PM]

It is dishonest to profess a religious belief you do not hold. It is a disservice to your children to require from them adherence to a religious code in which you do not believe.

What you owe a mother-in-law is to be respectful, to love and honor her son, and to allow her access to her grandchildren so long as that access is not harmful to the children or to the immediate family structure.

What you owe to your children is love, caring, an honest presentation of your own beliefs, and (as they grow) the freedom to deide for themselves what religious path is best for them.

Aw jeez. Noticed two typos: “decription” and “athiest”. Sorry. I really do know how to spell.

I’m an atheist married to a man who is trying to be a good Catholic. I agreed to have our children baptized and let them go through the process of becoming members of the Catholic church (unless they object at some point.) I also attend services.

It would be easier in a lot of ways for me to convert to Catholicism–less to explain to the kids as they get older. But I’m not going to do it. I can’t get up in front of people and claim to believe things I simply don’t believe.

One of my bosses is Jewish. Not a particularly Orthodox one (he eats ham and other non-kosher food without concern), but Jewish. His wife of almost four years was confirmed into Judaism a year or so ago. She converted because she wanted to do it. Nobody pushed her into it, least of all Steve. She is pleased and proud to have gone through the, let’s face it, fairly arduous training involved with converting. (As he says, “She knows more Hebrew than I do!”) It’s something to consider - it’s not like you go to the Rabbi and say “I’m wanna be Jewish” and it’s done. If I’m not mistaken (and he’s out of the office, or I’d ask him) it’s years worth of training. Not to be taken lightly.

If you’re going to convert because you, yourself, want to, super. If you’re going to do it because you think it would make your boyfriend happy, that’s okay, too. (That’s why Steve’s wife did it. And she’s happy, too.) If you’re doing it because you think that a potential mother-in-law expects you to - that’s not so good. It’s one thing to love, respect, and honor a mother-in-law (or a mother, for that matter). It’s quite another to let her decide how you’re going to live your life. That goes doubly for your son, IMO.

I’d ask myself what I would do if your maybe-future-mother-in-law wasn’t involved. Would you raise your child Jewish, or any other religion for that matter? Or would you raise your children a different way? How does your boyfriend answer that question?

If neither of you would raise your children religiously without the influence of your boyfriend’s mother, then I would take a stand on this one. They’re YOUR children, and ultimately your responsibility to raise in the way you think most fit. For the same reason, I wouldn’t convert unless you truly believe in Judaism and want to embrace it wholeheartedly. I would guess that any reasonable Rabbi would agree (but then again, I know absolutely nothing about Judaism, so I’m talking out my butt here).

OK, I’m in a similar situation. My wife is Jewish. But I would never think of converting, since I’m an atheist. But I did agree that the kids should be raised Jewish and go to Hebrew school, that we wouldn’t have a pagan christmas tree, etc. Of course, this doesn’t worry me, since I know many many Jews are atheist/agnostic and in any case Judaism is a religion that encourages thinking and study, all to the good. And I don’t care whether we call our winter holiday christmas or channukah, all I care about is that we have one. I have no problem attending Passover, Yom Kippur, or whatever services.

But the difference is that according to Jewish law, my kids would be Jewish no matter what I do, while yours won’t. Agreeing to raise the kids Jewish wouldn’t be as effective in your case. But, unless you actually WANT to be Jewish don’t pretend to convert, it’s disrespectful.

Here’s my take.

I was born and raised Jewish, but now I’m completely secular. I still identify with Jewish culture, to an extent, but you won’t find me in a synagogue this year until November, when my cousin is bat mitzvahed.

I have a Jewish mother, tamer than most, and two very-alive and aching-for-me-to-reproduce Jewish grandmothers. While the subject hasn’t really come up, I’m sure they would insist that I raise my children Jewish.

Of course, I’m not dating a Jew right now. Religion is completely unimportant to me, so I would never encourage Anniz to convert. My family (who are just glad I’m dating someone, female, and alive) would probably never ask her to convert. I know my parents wouldn’t, and my grandmothers would just be lucky to have me get married to try to push their luck.

So, my advice? Don’t do it for your boyfriend’s mother. I must admit there’s a certain cachet to being a Jewish grandmother (or so mine tell me), but it’s not required to be the grandmother of a Jew to be one.

Don’t do it for your children, either. Let them decide what they want to be when they’re ready to do so. My parents never forced Judaism upon me or my brother, except for doing the usual Sunday School/bar mitzvah routine. I most likely will not get married by a Rabbi, and my family will forgive me for that.

Do it for yourself. If you want to be a Jew, good luck. A friend’s wife converted (and so did my uncle’s wife) and it’s not easy. The beauty of Judaism is that we don’t want you. Jews make it very hard for outsiders to join the tribe. It’s not like you sign a paper and say a prayer in Hebrew, and suddenly you’re a Jew.

Oh, and in conclusion: converting to Judaism wouldn’t make a Jewish mom happy. It’s my experience that nothing makes them happy. :stuck_out_tongue:

Once again, similar situation:

I’m Jewish, not particularly devout, mind you, and my wife is not. She, interesting to note, was raised Southern Baptist in Texas. I half expected her family to arrive at our wedding in white peaked hoods. While they did not warm to me quickly, they have come to realize that I love their daughter, sister, aunt, etc. (They always ask what I like to eat at Easter)

I think the love part is the key. My wife did not convert. My mother (the ultimate Jewish Mother, I might add) was not particularly thrilled by my marrying out of my faith. However, she grew to love and respect my wife for her love of me. Matter of fact, I think she questioned my wife’s sanity a couple of times for staying married to me. About a year before her death, mother told my wife that she was an extremely lucky mother-in-law to have a daughter-in-law like my wife.

I think what I’m trying to say is, if you want to convert, do it, but if not, don’t. You are neither Dr. Laura (there’s one that sets the religion back a couple of millenium) or Sammy Davis Jr. If she loves her son, and you do too, she’ll probably come around. Mine did.

But, if mine was any example, expect some not-so-veiled hints for the rest of your (or her) life.

Masel tov

p.s. Anyone who notices they misspelled “discription” and “atheist” in the middle of a long post is probably anal enough to consider herself partially Jewish as it is.

Well, shiksa, if you wanna get into the symantics of all this, your children with this man will never be “truly” Jewish, as religion is passed through the mother. BUT, is he conservative or reformed? (He’s obviously not orthodox, or else this relation wouldn’t happen, you’re trefe.) Now, based from my own experience… My father converted from Catholocism for my mother. He took a year to study and he was asked REALLY deep questions. My Grandmother (mom’s mom) didn’t like the schaegetz coming into the family, but after getting converted (and remembering all the Aunts and Uncle’s names) she thawed. My own wife is Catholic, but does not practice, neither do I. She has agreed to raise the kids Jewish because that’s easy in NJ. HER mother doesn’t care, as long as there’s SOME religion in the house (and this woman almost became a nun to be closer to Jesus!) that is practiced.

So, forget what your mother-in-law-to-be wants, educate your son on the basic points of Judaism, and decide later what religion the future kids will be. If he really wants to be married with a Jewish ceremony, fine. Get the chupa. Get a priest. Jews are very tolerant nowadays, unlike my grandmother.
PS–You got guilt from his Mom, eh? Welcome to Jewish Mothers 101. Next up is the food/criticism (Like some pie? I wish I had grandchildren to give this to.)

A tough situation. Oh and I’m Jewish, btw.

First of all, I echo the reasoning of “don’t convert unless you want to.” I wish you the best of luck in your relationship, but if for some reason it doesn’t work out…then what? Converting to Judaism is not an easy process, so if it didn’t work out, would you just continue to be Jewish or toss it aside?

You should note that in many Reform temples, it’s not really an issue if the mom isn’t Jewish, as long as one of the parents is Jewish. I’ve also heard of formally converting the children to Judaism, believe it or not.

For any intermarried couple, it’s important to iron out these issues - I realize it’s an ongoing process, but getting these issues out on the table right now is important. For example - if you have a boy, your inlaws will expect him to be circumcised.

In the long run, though, I hope it all works out and that there are no rifts. Your kids can’t have too many people that love them.

Just checking in here. Thank you for all of the responses --the boyfriend and I have found them all to be very helpful and thought-provoking. I’ll wait a while before saying what I think about the whole thing; but for now, I’ve definitely got food for thought!

By the way, he’s reformed.

For the record: I’m Jewish. I’m non-religious. I am married to a non-religious Jew. We got lucky.

Do not convert. I agree with most of the above comments (especially Montfort’s), and I have little to add except:

There will be things that your mother-in-law will not like about you. There are many things that my mother-in-law didn’t/doesn’t like about me. I’m fat, for example. Sometimes I think that if she had a choice between a fat Jew and a thin goy for a daughter-in-law, she would have chosen the thin goy. But I digress. If your mother-in-law wants to have a problem with you, she will, no matter what. If she wants to love you and to have a good relationship with you, she will find a way to get over whatever reservations she might have. Fortunately, my mother-in-law is of the latter type, and we now have a great relationship.

Remember, you are marrying the man, not his mother.

I had no idea he had a criminal record! j/k

The term is Reform, not reformed. Just so you know. I hope I don’t sound picky.

Maybe this is a naive view, but I would think that the Jewish Grandma herself would be the best one to teach the children about Judaism, not the parents who don’t really believe in it themselves. So my idea would be to teach them your own beliefs, raise them the way you think is right, but let the mother in law feel free to teach them her beliefs when she’s with them. Support her if she wants to talk to the children about the Jewish perspective, take them to synagogue activities, celebrate Jewish holidays with them, etc. You don’t have to put on the charade of believing in Judaism to let the kids learn about it, in my opinion. In fact, that could be counter-productive. They might figure out that you dont really believe and think that Jewish people are hypocrites or something like that (or just simply get an inaccurate picture of religion, since I imagine that few of us who are not Jewish really understand Judaism the way a devout Jewish believer does). Just help the kids understand that it’s okay for people who love each other to disagree on things, and that it’s important for them to learn about Grandma’s beliefs and respect them.

Eventually kids have to learn that not everyone agrees with the family religion (or lack thereof). I think kids can handle learning that Grandma and Mom & Dad have different views of religion.

Well, I’m a religious Orthodox Jew, and I agree with the others: don’t go through a “conversion ceremony” just to please someone else. It’s fundamentally dishonest, and from the perspective of at least Orthodox Jews, it wouldn’t even be a religiously valid conversion, since you profess no intention of adhering to the Torah’s laws.

Now, with this boyfriend of yours being pretty agnostic, I dare say he probably doesn’t know that much about Judaism himself.

Your best response to this mother of his, in my opinion, is to ask her (tactfully, of course) to explain to you why Judaism is so important to her, and what positive things it has to offer (other than her son). If she can actualy articulate a reason that sounds somewhat sane to you, then perhaps you should explore Judaism with an open mind. (If she can’t, of course, you’ve got the argument won without going through an insincere ceremony.) Once you’ve learned a bit about it, then make for yourself the decision whether to convert or not convert. However, don’t take on the name without doing the homework to find out what it really means…whatever denomination of Judaism that might be.

I initially read your post last night and decided to give myself some more time to think about an appropriate response before actually posting a reply.

As to the question of your possible conversion, I would say not to convert. My reasoning is as follows:

If you were to convert under Orthodox rabbinical authority… well, you wouldn’t be converting. Orthodox Jews do not accept people who are converting for ulterior motives (including marrying a Jew). In addition, as Chaim pointed out, Orthodox rabbis will not perform a conversion if the convertee is not going to be willing to live by the mitzvos (commandments). I belive (and please correct me if I’m wrong CK) that the Conservative branch would hold the same position.

Reform Judaism will consider your children Jewish even if you don’t convert, provided that you actively raise them in a Jewish environment. (Orthodox and Conservative Jews would not consider your children to be Jewish, even if you did go through with a conversion under Reform authority.)

So, with respect to the status of your children, there is no benefit to your converting.

In addition, as many posters have already pointed out, it would be wrong to convert simply to “satisfy” your boyfriend’s mother. Choosing a religion is not like choosing a country club membership. It’s a deep and personal thing that should reflect the values and morals that you hold. If Christianity has those values that you embrace, then by all means, embrace them. Don’t, however, throw that away simply because you want to find favor with a possible mother in law. A change in religion should only happen when there is a change in the very core of your beliefs. Otherwise, it cheapens religion to the level of switching from being a Yankees fan to a Mets fan simply because your mother in law wants you to switch.

The same applies, by the way, to your son. Even if you do marry this gentleman, don’t convert your son to Judaism unless he’s prepared to embrace it. I can imagine that a seven year old who’s grown accustomed to Christmas trees and carols, Easter eggs and the like, will find it a bit jarring to be deprived of all that. Of course, Judaism has other things to offer; but a seven year old will probably not be able to maturely understand this and may resent you later for “taking his Christmas away.”

So, to answer your questions:

**if we get married, should I convert and try to raise my child(ren) religiously when I don’t believe in it myself? **

Any unborn children will have their Jewish status resolved regardless of your conversion as I pointed out above. Your seven year old should not be converted (IMHO) until he is older and wants to make this conversion for himself. For example, if, when he is older, your husband has made such an impression on your son that he views him as a positive role model and wants to embrace his values, morals and ideals, then, by all means consider it. But not before then.

**Does his mother have a right to request that and expect it to occur? **

Does it really matter if she has the right to request it? If she were, for example, a French national, would she have the right to request that you renounce your United States citizenship and live in France? I have the right to ask you for a million dollars, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get it.

If her opinion is asked for, she certainly has the right to give it. But beyond that, she doesn’t have the right to ask (let alone demand) anything.

**Even if she doesn’t, should I do it out of respect for his mother or to try to maintain peace within the family? **

I don’t think so. Of course, maintaining peace is very important, but if your possible conversion is meaningless, then what benefit would she gain out of your conversion?

**So what do you think? Jewish responses are especially welcome because I’d like to hear your opinion about this right to have Jewish grandchildren thing. **

Well, I’ll give you one perspective.

Of all the things the Jews have gone through over the last two thousand years, there is one thing that you can say about them: they survived. Throughout the Crusades, inquisitions, blood libels, expulsions, “desecration of the host” slanders, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc., we’ve survived. From the ancient Syrian-Greeks, to the early church leaders, to Torquemada, to Hitler to Arab terrorism, we’ve survived. I know that for the last 60 generations, my anscestors have struggled and persevered in their faith, all the way down to me. And I’ve passed on my faith and my heritage to my children. I’ve helped to ensure that Judaism will be around for another generation. I, at the very least, owe it to them to see that we continue to carry on.

When a Jew marries a non-Jew, it usually indicates an end to that particular Jewish family. The chain of Jewishness, starting from Biblical times until today, is finished. For example, I have a cousin (male) who married a non-Jew. I know that his Jewish line ends with him. Finished. No more. His children will not be Jewish. Neither will his grandchildren.

Even if he and his wife agree to raise their children as Jewish, it would still have likely meant the end anyway. In the vast majority of intermarried families, the children tend to take on the dominant religion of the area where they live. In the U.S., that is Christianity. Even if his children are raised as Jews, the likelihood that they would marry out (after all, it was OK for their parents) and have non-Jewish children is extremely high. I highly doubt that even if my cousin’s wife did convert to Judaism that any of their grandchildren (let alone great-grandchildren) would be Jewish.

Not so long ago, most families sat shiva for a child who intermarried. (shiva is a seven day mourning process that one goes through when a close relative dies) While this is not usually done today, and I personally don’t advocate this practice, there is a certain truth to it. This Jewish family, in essence, is dead. Oh, it may linger yet for a generation or two, but in all likelihood, this branch of the Jewish family tree will not grow any longer.

This could well be the source of your boyfriend’s mother’s hang up about having Jewish grandchildren. She wants to make sure that Judaism survives to the next generation.

I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone by my ramblings, and if I did offend some of the intermarried posters who have posted here, I do apologize. But Gundy did ask for Jewish responses and did indicate that she wanted my opinion.

What the heck, precisely, are “the bee’s knees???”

Zev Steinhardt

Bees knees = cat’s pajamas. :smiley:

It’s an expression–circa 1920s IIRC. Gundy is saying that she thinks her boyfriend is the greatest of the great.

Thanks Green Bean. I’d figured as much. I’d just never heard that expression, however.
Zev Steinhardt [sub] who’s now wondering what his wife will think of him if he tells her she’s the “bee’s knees.” [/sub]

Well, Zev, that’s because you’re not a hep cat.