Ask Richard: Should I Feign Converting to Judaism to Keep Peace in the Family?

Dear Richard,

I’m in a long-term relationship with a man raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish family. He and I are atheists happy to participate in Jewish culture, but lacking any interest in the spiritual side of things. His parents are both very observant. His mom converted before marrying his dad, and now runs a strict Jewish household.

My boyfriend and I started living together last year. His parents were initially very upset with this arrangement, since it signified that our interfaith (in their eyes) relationship was serious. Because I respect his parents and didn’t want to cause a rift in the family, I expressed to them a sincere willingness to convert someday. However, my boyfriend made it clear that the conversion would be for their sake, not mine or his. They seemed fine with this, and have since given us no trouble for living together.

After looking into conversion a little more deeply, I’ve learned that most rabbis will not allow someone to convert just for marriage. The expectation is that the convert holds a sincere faith in God and intends to live a Jewish life both spiritually and practically. Rabbis are expected to strongly discourage potential converts from converting (the tradition is to turn them away at least three times) to test their sincerity.

Problem is, I’m not sure I’m that good a liar.

There are aspects of the conversion process that appeal to me: I’d love to learn Hebrew, and I find Jewish culture and history interesting. Still, I’m very uncomfortable with the notion of lying about belief in God for the lengthy conversion process. Of course, I’m also uncomfortable with the notion of causing a lifelong rift between my boyfriend and his family.

I wish I could turn to a Jewish person about this, but I’m worried it would be disrespectful. Any ideas on how to best approach the situation?

L

Dear L,

Firstly, you need to sort out what belongs to you, what belongs to your boyfriend, and what belongs to his family.

Twice in your letter you say you don’t want to “cause a rift between my boyfriend and his family.” Any rift between them is his and their responsibility, not yours. By his own volition he has discarded the beliefs of his family, and that would be the essential cause of any rift. You did not cause him to be an atheist. His relationship with you, another atheist, is simply another choice that he has made. It only makes his earlier choice more obvious.

Your boyfriend’s parents also have choices. They can choose to accept him as he is, or reject him in ways that can be appallingly cruel. Either way that goes, they can choose to acknowledge that it is his choice to go “off the derech,” or they can try to blame a convenient scapegoat, such as you.

By thinking it is your responsibility to prevent a rift in his family, you are buying into the blame. Don’t.

I do not understand what exactly you meant by “However, my boyfriend made it clear that the conversion would be for their sake, not mine or his.” It does not sound like he made it clear that you don’t believe in God. It wouldn’t make much sense for them to approve if they knew the conversion would be a fraud, so I’m going to assume that they still think you believe what you would be affirming.

If you want to show respect for his family and satisfy your own intellectual interest by studying Hebrew, Jewish culture and history, that’s great, go ahead, but you don’t have to go through a phony conversion with an elaborate charade of feigned belief in their religious claims. Lying and faking a deep, sincere conversion would be a very disrespectful thing to do to the rabbi, to your boyfriend’s parents, and to yourself.

And the truth will out.

Your having to lie and pretend true devotion would not be over at the end of the conversion process. You would probably have to keep the façade up for decades. His mother converted to Judaism and now runs a strict Jewish household. It seems likely that after your “conversion” you would be expected to do the same thing. Are you prepared to fake and fake and fake doing as the rabbis expect, “living a Jewish life both spiritually and practically” for the rest of his parents lives? Even if families relax their religious demands on a young couple, the pressure starts all over again when children arrive. As parents, will you have control over your kids’ education and any religious indoctrination, or will you have to draft them into the farce as well?

All this to prevent a “rift,” but a hidden rift of deceitful ingratiation will have already happened, and the two of you will be the ones doing it, rather than his parents.

Your boyfriend needs to step in and take an assertive and unambiguous stand toward his parents about how he expects them to show you respect just as you are. He does not have to fully “out” you or himself as atheists, (but in the long run that seems inevitable.) If anywhere along the way they reject you or the two of you, then that is their choice, their creation, their failing. It is their immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of love. If that’s the choice they make, then you’re both better off without them.

If you want to show them respect, do it honestly, not by pretending something. If they are capable of showing you respect, it should be for the person you really are.

I wish a happy life for you and your boyfriend, and harmony with both of your families.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • bob

    I have a question. Even if you are an atheist, why is it socially acceptable to willingly identify yourself as a cultural Jew? The old testament portrays the ancient Jews and their god as evil genocidal maniacs. Keep in mind I’m talking about someone who self identifies with Judaism, not just someone who comes from a family that is labeled as Jewish.

    What if there were someone who thought that what the Nazis did was horrible and that Hitler was a bad person, but still considered himself a cultural Nazi? Although he doesn’t agree with with the Nazis, he still wears a swastika, celebrates Nazi victories, appreciates Nazi art, and makes a holiday of Hitler’s birthday. Obviously, there would be a stigma with this kind of association.

  • Sackbut

    Might I suggest this couple look into Humanistic Judaism? It maintains a sense of Jewish culture without the belief system, revising songs and rituals accordingly. It takes an honest look at the bible without reverence for it. Anybody can be a Humanistic Jew just by stating they want to do so. It has proved to be a good home for a number of “interfaith” couples and couples who want to retain the culture of Judaism without the religion. It has some amount of official recognition as the fifth branch of Judaism; it is not clear if Orthodox family will approve, but perhaps.

  • John M

    you don’t want to live a lie. lying about your faith on this level would be just as bad as having an affair. his parents owe you the same respect that you’re giving them. there has to be a way for you to sit down with them and express your beliefs without creating a “rift”.

    you don’t have go all out and say “i’m an atheist” (which they probably wouldn’t be able to handle). but they should know that you love their son and you want to spend the rest of your life with him. and that’s the only thing that matters.

    my ex’s father didn’t like black people until after his granddaughter was born. maybe your future in-laws will have a similar change of heart. if you’re honest with them, eventually they will understand and respect you for being brave enough to tell them the truth.

  • lfa

    I’m an atheist from a secular Jewish family and identify as Jewish. As well as being a religious epithet, “Jewish” is an ethnicity. “Nazi” is not an ethnicity. I leave the proof as an exercise to the reader.

  • Stephen P

    One often has to make small concessions in order to maintain a relationship. But this is not remotely a small concession. It’s about turning your life upside down in an attempt to keep the in-laws happy – an attempt which is quite likely to fail anyway. If your sincere interest in learning more about Judaism is not sufficient, then probably nothing will be sufficient.

  • LMR

    I’m guessing that the objection from the parents has to do with many orthodox Jews still viewing the definition of being ‘Jewish’ as being passed through matrilineal descent.

    So, if the mother isn’t Jewish, the grandkids won’t be either (short of converting later). [Odd mix of ‘Jewish’ being perceived as both a religion and/or an ethnicity.]

  • Gordon

    I was asked/challenged about the “cultural Jew” thing yesterday on YouTube. I said it was not for me to tell someone whether they identify with their heritage. But the other person couldn’t get beyond the idea that Judaism is a religion, claiming that if you don’t believe it you are not a Jew.

  • Claudia

    I think it would be very important to establish barriers in terms of what you are willing to do right now, before the marriage. I think a conversation about how you are willing to learn about Jewish culture and integrate into the “cultural Jew” (which, if my family is any indication, is just a sly way of saying “atheist Jew”) community, but that out of respect for their sincere religious beliefs, you cannot go through conversion. I think you should explain that you spoke about conversion without a full understanding of what it entailed. Apologize for that, and say that now that you know that it requires a very sincere and constant expression of faith, you cannot honestly go through with it. Stress that it is out of a wish to not disrespect the honest beliefs of others, and that you are otherwise quite happy to learn about Jewish culture. But be firm, because you sure as hell don’t want to have to have the conversation when you have a newborn son and they want to know when the briss is.

    @bob, Nazis? Really? By mentioning Nazis in the context of Jews you are positively awash in Godwins law. Why would identifying yourself as Jewish be any less acceptable than identifying yourself as Christian, who hundreds of years ago butchered thousands in crusades, burned women as witches, tortured scores in inquisitions?

    Maybe it’s because Jewish history didn’t end at the end of the Torah. Pretending that modern Jews have to identify with some savage nomad tribe and ignore thousands of years of philosophers, scholars, artists and more recently scientists is unbelievably obtuse and downright bigoted. I want to believe you only said this because you didn’t think it through very carefully.

  • Sackbut

    I have a question. Even if you are an atheist, why is it socially acceptable to willingly identify yourself as a cultural Jew? The old testament portrays the ancient Jews and their god as evil genocidal maniacs. Keep in mind I’m talking about someone who self identifies with Judaism, not just someone who comes from a family that is labeled as Jewish.

    It is an ethnic and cultural identity, not solely a religion, and not solely defined through the bible. People refer to themselves as Russian or Italian or American despite whatever atrocities may have been committed by Russians or Italians or Americans at various times. “Coming from a family” and “self-identifying” are extremely intertwined concepts.

    I used to call myself Jewish, or culturally Jewish, or something similar. I stopped because it was confusing people (Jew or non-Jew) who thought I held the belief system, and because there is a significant subset of the Jewish community who expects non-theist Jews to “return” to the religion. I didn’t have a particular fondness for the rituals and ceremonies; I’m only somewhat familiar with them. (I do enjoy Jewish food, though, and I like Jewish humor.)

  • Ibis

    Stepping back, the whole insistence on conversion (removing the religious component) is a little odd. It implies that whatever culture she’s from isn’t adequate. While she’s learning Hebrew, why can’t he be learning her ancestral language? LMR is right I think, in supposing this is more about the “ethnic identity” of eventual children than about L’s own beliefs. The boyfriend’s parents don’t want the mother’s and father’s family traditions presented to the kids as equally interesting and important to them. The parents want it all one way (including, no doubt, the genital mutilation of any boy infants).

  • Anonymous

    Your boyfriend needs to step in and take an assertive and unambiguous stand toward his parents about how he expects them to show you respect just as you are.

    Well done, Richard.

  • GregFromCos

    I’d just ask one question. Will your boyfriend respect you more by faking a Jewish conversion, or by standing by your convictions. I know for me, I would be furious if the woman I wanted to marry felt it was important to lie to my family to gain their approval. But to each their own.

  • hugh

    L,

    DON’T LIE!!! Don’t try or pretend to be someone you aren’t. You will always regret it.

  • Caroline

    >The parents want it all one way (including, no doubt, the genital mutilation of any boy infants).

    That is the most important part of it all: please do not mutilate children because of religious, ancestral and archaic beliefs.

  • bob

    @bob, Nazis? Really? By mentioning Nazis in the context of Jews you are positively awash in Godwins law. Why would identifying yourself as Jewish be any less acceptable than identifying yourself as Christian, who hundreds of years ago butchered thousands in crusades, burned women as witches, tortured scores in inquisitions?
    Maybe it’s because Jewish history didn’t end at the end of the Torah. Pretending that modern Jews have to identify with some savage nomad tribe and ignore thousands of years of philosophers, scholars, artists and more recently scientists is unbelievably obtuse and downright bigoted. I want to believe you only said this because you didn’t think it through very carefully.

    Well, whether it is religious or cultural sense, I don’t think it should be socially acceptable to identify as Christian either. Sure, history of the Jewish people did not end with Torah, but the Torah is the core of Judaism as the bible is the core of Christianity. Also, the crusades, the witch hunts, and the inquisition, are horrible thing done by Christians, but that is not the central make up of Christianity. Not that there aren’t any out there, but I’ve never even met a Christian that looks back on the inquisition with admiration and tribal pride. How many prominent Jewish or Christian leaders openly condemn the Torah or Bible?

  • Daniel

    This is one reason that I only date non-religious people now (and women without religious parent issues). I have no desire to deal with parents that won’t accept me as I am. A partner who is ethnically Jewish who is a outright atheist is acceptable to most practicing Jews, but someone who is not Jewish who is willing to be culturally Jewish but not believe in God simply will not be accepted as Jewish. It’s another form of Born-Jewish Privilege. You have to ask yourself whether you really want to be in a situation where your boyfriend is caught between his parents’ desires and yours? I’ve been there and it sucked. You should let your boyfriend know that he needs to lay down the law to his parents that you are willing to be culturally Jewish but you won’t get an official conversion and that’s that. If they are reasonable, then OK, but if not, then he has to decide whether you are more important than them.

  • Trace

    Not a good idea, L.

  • L

    Writer of the letter here.

    I’m almost certain the insistence on my conversion is due to the matrilineal aspect of traditional Judaism. My boyfriend made it clear to his parents that we are both nonbelievers when first discussing the conversion, and they still seemed fine with that — hence my surprise at discovering all the sincerity restrictions for converts. I suspect they’re in denial about both his and my atheism; he’s openly told them he doesn’t believe in God and they continue to just shrug it off as a “phase” (he’s approaching thirty, by the way.)

    All of these responses are confirming my intuitive feelings about the thing. It just hurts to think of being grudgingly tolerated rather than welcomed, of our wedding being grimly anticipated rather than celebrated, etc. His parents have been pleasant to me since day one, and his mom still makes warm remarks about how I’m just not Jewish “yet” when people mention it. I hate to think of ruining the relationship I’ve built with them thus far (though I know ultimately that would be their decision, not mine.)

    I suspect a humanistic/cultural conversion would not suffice. His family seems to find Reform Judaism flaky and false. Of course, they might accept it over nothing.
    My boyfriend says he’ll support me in whatever decision I make. It’s heartening to get some support here — my family (all atheists/agnostics, by the way) all think I should just fake it to keep the peace.

    I appreciate the responses so far and look forward to discussing things further.

  • There are a lot of complicated issues here. But one important thing is that from a Jewish perspective, a conversion made on false pretenses is simply not valid. Let me ask this: suppose some friend had a dietary restriction due to religious reasons? Would you lie to them about what you put in their food? If not, then lying about a conversion seems substantially the same.

  • How many prominent Jewish or Christian leaders openly condemn the Torah or Bible?

    While he’s not prominent by any means, the Reform rabbi in my community is openly disdainful of certain passages in the Torah, and is also perfectly willing to say, in his sermons, that the Torah is not historically accurate.

  • Another Atheist Jew

    Hey L,

    I wish I could be more encouraging, but from my own experience, having been raised Orthodox Jewish, I can tell you that frum (‘their’ way of saying orthodox) Jews are really really uptight about the whole marrying Jewish thing. They are not likely to ever be accepting of a daughter-in-law who is not converted to Judaism through an orthodox process. And as you seem to know, the process is quite a rigorous one, designed to ensure the sincerity of the participant. I think it will be difficult to convince the rabbi that you are truly sincere, and like the other commenters here, I’m not sure how beneficial the whole thing would really be. You probably do not intend to raise your children in a way that his parents would be accepting of and, ultimately, I think you guys are in for a bumpy ride… But then again, I’m in a similar position to you, so here’s to misery loving company! Cheers! …and good luck!

  • Daniel Schealler

    The entire concept of conversion-for-marriage seems entirely bizzare to me.

    ———

    Joseph Smith grew up under the teaching that the Earth is indeed a sphere that spins on an axis that is itself tilted relative to the plane of the planet’s orbit around the Sun.

    However, he is preparing to marry Sally McAllister. Sally McAllister has grown up under the teaching that the earth is an unspinning flat disc, and that the sun and the planets revolve around it.

    Sally’s parents are of course very connected to the flat earth theory. So Joseph has now become absolutely convinced that the earth is indeed flat.

    The wedding of the happy couple will be happening on November 11th.

    ———

    The above seems completely bizarre, doesn’t it?

    The whole notion of converting a religion for the purpose of marriage seems no less bizarre to me. It’s just weird, of itself.

    But what’s even more weird is that people (parents, communities, individuals) just seem to have this expectation that it’s something that will just happen, as if it was actually meaningful.

    It’s like people who demand respect. Respect is valuable because it is the recognition of the respect-er that the respect-ee has performed some action or possesses some quality that is worthy of respect. If respect has to be demanded then, even if it is given, it does not correspond to any such recognition – and so it is worthless.

    But people go on demanding respect anyway, and (I expect) feel good when they get it.

    Similarly for demanding a conversion for the purpose of marriage. It isn’t a meaningful conversion.

    The only way it makes sense to me is if the parents of the groom (or bride) assume that, if the bride (or groom) converts religion, this will ensure that their grandchildren get the ‘right’ sort of upbringing. But that’s particularly uncharitable of me: Not only is such a position incredibly narrow-minded, but it’s also stupid, as it wouldn’t work in the long run.

  • Siamang

    bob, seriously you lost the argument when you equated Jews with Nazis. Anything else you do, flailing about trying to justify it, is only digging the hole deeper.

    Worst opening post ever.

  • Parse

    L,
    It’s better to be grudgingly tolerated than to be outright rejected – which is what will happen when (not if) you get caught. The longer the lie lasts, the worse the pain when it comes out.
    I second what Claudia says: that you won’t convert out of respect for your in-laws, their faith, and yourself. It may net you a rough patch now, but it’ll prevent a major argument and falling out later. And the lack of guilt about what you’re doing, the lack of duplicity to your in-laws, and the lack of fear of discovery is an added bonus.

  • Sunny Day

    Yeeesh.

    A deception to make Salomone happy, won’t.

  • Sunny Day

    Yeeesh.

    A deception to make someone happy, won’t.

  • I’m almost certain the insistence on my conversion is due to the matrilineal aspect of traditional Judaism.

    That was my first thought. In my opinion, it’s another good reason not to go through a conversion. If you convert, and your in-laws believe that the children will be “born Jewish” as a result, then it seems likely that they might be more inclined to become pushy about religious upbringing and religious rituals. Where the kids are concerned, it seems like it would be easier if their grandparents don’t think that they already “count” as Jews.

  • goldfinch

    The parents were told they did not believe in God. The parents want the conversion so the Jewish line of the family is preserved. It is cultural.

    If she could find a rabbi that would do the conversion even though she is an atheist I would do it. But she probably can’t. So, then she could tell the parents that they can’t find any rabbi who will do the conversion. No lying involved.

  • Anonymous

    This kinda stuff would be too much baggage for me. Look at this discussion about Chelsea Clinton.

    http://www.vosizneias.com/46002/2010/01/01/new-york-chelsea-clintons-bridegroom-a-jewish-problem-of-mixed-marriages

  • echidna

    From a comment by an orthodox jew under the link provided by anonymous:

    You may not convert for love of another. You may only convert for love of God and His laws.

    An atheist really can’t convert to orthodox Judaism and maintain integrity.

    You and your intended are atheists, while his parents are not. Do you really want your children put under the yoke of religion? That is the question that is before you. It’s not about his parents, or whether you can live with lies. It’s about whether your children will be drafted into the bondage of religion.
    Your atheist friends and family are dead wrong when they suggest converting to “keep the peace”. It will do no such thing.

  • B

    Just another Jew chiming in to echo what other people have said: It is definitely a bad idea to try and fake your way through a conversion process. It would require lying to some rabbi for a while and then lying to your new family for even longer, which is definitely the wrong way to start a marriage.

    It seems like the parents are indeed mostly worried worried about your possible future kids not being “really” Jewish. However the kids could always convert on their own once they got older, couldn’t they? Not being Orthodox I don’t know how important it is that children are part of an unbroken line of descent, but it seems like this possibility hasn’t occurred to them. Maybe it would be enough? It might also be good to think about how you do/don’t want to teach your possible future kids about their Jewish heritage, since that would play into this as well.

    In any case it sounds like your boyfriend’s parents are pretty reasonable, if for no other reason than they are not opposed you two dating in the first place! I’m sure you’ll be able to get through this alright and keep these relationships intact. I wish you the best of luck! 🙂

  • AxeGrrl

    goldfinch wrote:

    The parents were told they did not believe in God. The parents want the conversion so the Jewish line of the family is preserved. It is cultural.

    If she could find a rabbi that would do the conversion even though she is an atheist I would do it.

    Why? why should the in-laws’ desire to ‘preserve the Jewish line’ be given priority here?

    As others have already commented, if they do that, it will undoubtedly lead to further and even more ‘involved’ expectations re: the raising of the children.

  • Maybe they’re hoping that through the process of learning about Judaism you will come to the sincerity part. Not really likely for a real atheist though!

    Perhaps the best thing to do would be to ask an Orthodox rabbi about your situation. You would likely be told that you weren’t a suitable candidate, which you could then relay to your boyfriend’s parents as a way of opening up an honest discussion on the topic.

    If you’re not sure where to start, I would recommend contacting Rabbi Abi Weiss via http://www.hir.org/ — of all the Orthodox groups I can think of, Open Orthodoxy is probably your best bet for a sympathetic insider’s opinion.

  • My boyfriend and I started living together last year. His parents were initially very upset with this arrangement, since it signified that our interfaith (in their eyes) relationship was serious

    What a shame that they feel upset about this. The boyfriend has moved out. His parents don’t get a say in how he lives his life anymore. If they don’t like it then it is just tough really.

    I respect his parents and didn’t want to cause a rift in the family, I expressed to them a sincere willingness to convert someday

    That was a mistake. Respect, as the saying goes, is a two way street. You respect their religion, not by joining it, but by respecting their right to practice it. They should respect your lack of religion by respecting your right not to practice it. I suggest telling them that you’ve changed your mind about converting and explain why.

  • It seems the best option here is complete and brutal honesty. You could have a meeting with their orthodox rabbi to discuss options but tell him that you are an atheist and would not be doing any conversion for religious purposes (only appeasement purposes). it would just be in “name only”. If he is OK with that, then take it under consideration. If he is not OK with that, then perhaps the deal is off (with the conversion). In the big picture, it might be better to set up the boundaries right from the start with his parents. But in any event, you have to live life to live it. Good luck with everything.

    P.S. I’m not Jewish and know next to nothing about Orthodox Judaism.

  • Nicoline

    You don’t want to live a lie, that’s not good for you, your boyfriend or anybody else. Suppose you decide to have children, how would you teach them to be honest and ethical if you yourself are neither? If a cultural affinity is a must, I think the suggestion of humanistic judaism is an excellent idea.

  • Daniel

    @L The more I think about this, the more disturbed I am by a matrilineal conception of religion. How weird is the belief that your conversion to Judaism would enable you to pass on Jewishness to your children by magic? I really think that their desire that you convert is a form of Born-Jewish Privilege again, as if your children would somehow be worse Jews if they had to adopt the religion through their own volition (should they wish to) rather than acquiring it by intra-uterine transfer. I never dealt with these issues because I am a man who was with a Jewish women, but it was painful that no matter how many seders and high holidays I participated in I was treated as an outsider and had no real option to convert given that I am an atheist who is not willing to lie about it.

  • Daniel
  • Maverick

    L,

    As everyone has been saying, “converting” is not a good idea. I was thinking that it might go better your boyfriends parents if they know you really took their wishes into consideration and looked into conversion to Judaism, its requirements, and what it entailed but concluded it wouldn’t work out.

    Here are some helpful bits of Halachah and Hashkafah (Jewish Law and Philosphy) that it might be helpful to know:

    -If you don’t believe in YHWH, then it is impossible to convert in Jewish Law. A critical part of conversion is Kibul Ol Malchult Shamayim (“accepting the yoke of heaven”), which you can’t do if you don’t believe a deity exists.

    -If your conversion is questionable, then the status of your children and grandchildren would be in limbo. This would create huge problems for them if they wanted to be part of the Jewish community, especially if they wanted to marry a Jew. It would be much better for them, if for some reason they wanted to join the Jewish community, to just convert themselves. Therefore, your boyfriend’s parent’s concern about the Jewish status of your children might be better remedied, ironically, if you don’t convert.

    -If you were to somehow convert, that could make some other matters much worse. Since you apparently don’t intend to abide by Jewish law, and I’m guessing you don’t intend your children to, there would be some serious religious consequences. Conversion would cause an untold number of transgressions of Jewish law by you and your children which your boyfriend and his parents would also be culpable in, as they caused the conversion. From a religious perspective, it might be better it might be much better to engage in the relatively minor “sin” of intermarriage rather than engage in the multitude of far more serious transgressions conversion would precipitate.

    -Jewish Philosophy (ostensibly) requires a logical foundation for belief in YHWH, a requirement you cannot fulfill. Furthermore, Maimonidies, the preeminent Jewish philosopher and decisor, says that the highest human value is the intellect, and obviating your intellect in the face of social pressure would be the antithesis of this basic Jewish philosophy.

    As an aside, Jewish law says that originally Jewish lineage was patrilineal, but this was changed to matrilineal when the Jews were given the Torah at Mt. Sinai after leaving Egypt. Since the evidence indicates no such event took place, it can be argued Jewish lineage is still technically patrilineal, so your status is of no great concern in Jewish law (although I don’t think your boyfriend’s parents would be receptive to such an argument 😉 ).

    Also, there are quite a few Jewish-turned-Atheist blogs out there, and I’m guessing many of the bloggers have run into the same problem you have. You might be able to find some good advice or experience from these blogs and bloggers.

  • Anonymous

    Kibul Ol Malchult Shamayim (“accepting the yoke of heaven”)

    Cattle for YHWH?

  • nardo

    I think that discounting the more liberal options in Judaism is a capitulation to the Orthodox line that they are flaky and that their conversions “don’t count”. At least in the case of Reconstructionism and Humanist Judaism, they are supported by cogent, non-theist philosophies and rich intellectual traditions.

  • L

    The confusing thing about all of this is that his parents really did seem to be okay with me just “going through the motions,” as it were, for their sake. Which is why I thought that was possible in the first place. Most of my atheist/agnostic peers who have been encouraging me to convert seem to think that going through an elaborate farce to please them would be an impressive show of devotion to the family, not a betrayal of their faith. Judaism is more of an act-based religion than thought-based, right (as opposed to, say, Christianity, which seems much more internally focused) ? Could that have something to do with it?

    The articles being linked to are depressing and discouraging. It’s frustrating to me that I could be exactly the same person, born to equally non-religious parents, but that if I had the right heritage, there would be no need for this song and dance.

    Daniel, when you say “I think you really need to think about the implications of intermarriage among Modern Orthodox Jews,” do you mean I should respect those views and break up with my boyfriend, recognize that they exist and prepare myself for a bumpy ride, or lie to avoid either issue? I realize that I’m being seen as aiding my boyfriend in “cultural suicide” simply by being with him, but I refuse to wallow in guilt for something I can’t control. I’d be happy to participate in Jewish culture if his community would be willing to accept me as I am.

  • Daniel

    I’m certainly not saying you should break up with your boyfriend. I just think you should be aware of how Modern Orthodox people are going to look at you and your husband if you marry, so you aren’t blindsided by it. It’s hard for people to understand the degree to which Jews who marry out are considered traitors. And people may view you as the temptress that led your boyfriend astray. But, if your boyfriend is supportive, that is the most important thing. He has to make it clear to his parents that you are important to him.

    I had a very bad experience with issues like these but ultimately it was my partner, not her parents, who made religious issues miserable and failed to understand that I have no real choice in the matter. The worst part is being told by my partner that I would have to be converting out of personal conviction. Obviously, I have no religious convictions. If personal conviction for Judaism was important to my partner, why was she seriously dating me, non-Jewish atheist-from-birth in the first place? The whole thing was beyond absurd, and it amazes me that we still deal with these issues in the 21st Century.

  • Claudia

    The articles being linked to are depressing and discouraging. It’s frustrating to me that I could be exactly the same person, born to equally non-religious parents, but that if I had the right heritage, there would be no need for this song and dance.

    Yes, it’s frustrating. It’s a form of racism (though most racism can’t be “fixed” through conversion) because your treatment depends on your ethnic/religious origins.

    You aren’t in the worst kind of situation though. The person that matters most, your boyfriend, shares your perspective and from your letter seems willing to establish bounderies with his parents and not let their wishes rule over your lives. In addition, your comment that they seem ok with the idea of “going through the motions” makes it sound like they are not ideologues, of the sort that would only accept sincere belief and would shun their son for the crime of intermarriage. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their main concern is their future grandchildren. Bad enough in their minds that their son is now a nonbeliever, but if he marries a nonjewish nonbeliever, how Jewish will the children be? I’m the product of one such union, and the answer is not much.

    Don’t discount the love of parents though, it can make them accept things they may outwardly claim are impossible. Millions of parents of GLBT people have had to make the choice between their prejudice and their children and have chosen their children. Your boyfriends parents seem like good candidates for choosing being in their sons life even if they don’t approve of one of his decisions. Be rspectful, but don’t tolerate racist behavior from anyone. You and your boyfriend need to present a loving, but united and firm front to his parents. You are both atheists. That will not change. If and when there are children, they will be taught about the cultures of both parents and allowed to decide on religion once they are old enough to understand the implications.

    Oh and please don’t circumcise. Involuntary genital mutilation of infants is immoral, no matter how happy it can make in-laws. Good luck!

  • celesul

    I’d like to chime in, as a Reconstructionist Jew, and the daughter of an Atheist and a Jew. My dad considered converting, much like you are now, and ran up against the problem of sincerity. He refused to convert, which my mom respected and her parents dealt with, as she required that all of her children would be raised Jewish. She had a retched time finding someone who would marry them in a Jewish ceremony.

    You will almost certainly not be able to convert in a way that will be acceptable to any Orthodox Jew, unless you lie a lot, which I’d advise against doing. You might want to try to convert according to Reform, Reconstructionist, or Humanistic standards. You would not be considered a Jew by the Orthodox, and nor would your children if they didn’t convert. On the other hand, given your sincere interest in the cultural elements of Judaism, you can probably be considered a Jew by some of the less traditional movements.

    If your boyfriend wants to have any contact with his parents, your kids will grow up with some degree of Jewish identity, just a slightly confused one. If you don’t give it to them, their grandparents will try to teach them about Judaism every time they see them. Even if you convert to Judaism in a way that is not accepted by the Orthodox, that might help with his parents. You’d be showing some interest, which is better than nothing, and giving them hope that the kids would be at least slightly Jewish and that you’d maybe be able to be swayed eventually.

    They will most likely appreciate a Jewish ceremony, so if you cannot convert, or wish not to, find a Reconstructionist rabbi to marry you two. A reform one might as well, but Reconstructionists are most likely to. (Humanist probably even more likely, but they are even less acceptable than the other Jew-lite versions most likely). And then your ceremony can at least be a traditional Jewish one. (Rabbis tend to like to be certain that a couple going through a Jewish wedding plans to raise any progeny Jewish, so if you sincerely don’t want Jewish kids, you might only be able to find a Humanistic Rabbi).

    The reasons for their concern are mostly likely related to grandkids: kids of a Jew and a non-Jew are less likely to be Jewish, and the Jewish community is a shrinking one. Even if you don’t want to raise any kids Jewish, promising to celebrate the holidays and try to raise them culturally Jewish would probably go a long way, and letting their grandparents take them to shul. And, honestly, being culturally Jewish is fun. We have the best holidays. (the classic description is “they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”)

    I certainly sympathize with the problems with converting: if I wasn’t born Jewish, I’d probably have a hard time convincing an Orthodox rabbi that I could convert to Judaism, because I’m no where near as religious as that. I’m very much a Jew by Reconstructionist, Reform, and even Conservative standards though.

  • Jayman

    Bob,
    Nazi’ism is a race ideology.  The entire focus is on the Aryan-Nordic race.  Judaism is not a race ideology.  Its focus is on the idea of covenant, that is, creating the ideal society that exists in a relationship with its God.