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???”