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Must a Convert Honor His Biological Parents?

Must a Convert Honor His Biological Parents?

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Question:

As a potential convert, I wanted to know what Jewish tradition says about the relationship of a convert to his parents who are not Jewish and who are not interested in conversion. Are they still considered his parents after the conversion?

Answer:

Our sages say that when someone converts, it is as if he or she becomes a new person, now charged with a Jewish mission. “A convert who converts is similar to a child being born.”1

But while this is the case spiritually, the physical facts must also be taken into consideration. There are biological parents who gave birth to and raised that individual. The fact that someone has the opportunity to convert is due to what those parents did for that child. Practically, according to Jewish law, one should honor his or her biological parents.2

It can be difficult for parents to see their child choose a path so different from their own, and it is important to remain sensitive to their feelings.

Leaving a certain life behind you while still respecting those who got you there can be tricky. Finding the right balance is something to discuss with the rabbi you would be working with on your conversion.

Let me know if this helps.

Yours truly,
Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

Reply:

Dear Rabbi Cotlar,

It was a pleasure to receive such a prompt response to my question. Moreover, it was wonderful to receive such an enlightened, considerate, well thought out, sensitive opinion. Judaism is a beautiful religion, and the Jewish people comprise a nation of “menschen” because of spiritual leaders such as you.

Footnotes
1.

Talmud, Yevamot 22a.

2.

See Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 6, p. 262.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Atta Thomas June 29, 2014

Rabbi so if we the nations obey the Torah,the teaching and instructions of G-D ,are we part of the root of Isreal? Reply

SY August 19, 2017
in response to Atta Thomas:

It is spelled and pronounced "Israel" (a before e) and the commonwealth of Israel included both the ger toshav (foreigner in the gates) who was mandated only to the 7 Noahide laws as a minimum, and the ger tzedek, (the convert who took on board all the mitzvot related to their gender and work) and the native born.

Only those who are converted through halachic brit milah (legitimate legal circumcision) and the native born are considered a "son" of Israel. This is covered in Exodus 12 and Genesis 17 among other places. Reply

david mexico June 28, 2014

i think the title is incorrect. it should be "MAY" a convert honer his parents? Reply

Anonymous June 27, 2014

My father was not Jewish My great Aunt Lola informed me when I was in late 20's I am Jewish. I am very close to my fathers family. He was not Jewish. My grandparents did not tell my mother or uncle we were Jewish. My Grandmother was Jewish, her mother, on back were Jewish. I first learned the history, culture, then the spirituality. I do not feel as I belong anywhere at times. My fathers side is not very accepting of my being Jewish or the least bit observant. At times I do not feel welcomed by my Jewish encounters. Converting would be a difficult transition. I am 57 now Reply

Baruch USA June 27, 2014

Parents of the Ger It can be reduced to what is Jewish and what is not. Yiskar, Shiva, Kaddish, Yarhtzeit, etc are distinctly Jewish. Honor, respect, communication, love, care, sharing of course are B'nai Noah as well and are shared by all righteous people.
When in doubt, look it up first and then confirm with your Rabbi. Reply

michal melchiore June 27, 2014

non-jewish parents it is clear that Jewish law requires one honor their parents. I have said Kadish for
both of my dead parents. Would you give them less than you would have BEFORE
your became Jewish? Reply

Rivkah Colorado springs June 26, 2014

Converts and thier parents Jews also believe that we choose our parents before being born into this life. This is because the situation we are born into provides the opportunities for learning, growth and spiritual elevation.
Yes, it is sometimes painful for all parties involved when this life calling has been made - but we must try our best to be as respectful as possible to each other and empathise with those who this hurts. If it makes one feel any better, this is understood by each soul on the higher planes.
I have been working for 15 years to be converted - obviously, lessons still need to be learned. I will merit HaShem's grace when He is ready for me (or I Him)! Reply

Shoshana June 26, 2014

Converts join a new family Sorry to be the downer but a convert does not sit Shiva for biological parents, nor does he/she recognize the same familial role. My husband converted and much was said about this during the process. A lot of it is actually to protect the biological parents who G-d chose to bring the convert into the world. Liability law, etc. But it is something so important to address before conversion there is no sugar-coating. Once you come out of the mikvah you are Jewish and they are not. It has to be considered seriously. Plus, we had to inform my husband's family why we could not attend their marriage or funeral ceremonies in churches. It is what it is. G-d loves everyone and this is not about that. It is about a Jewish commitment, a Jewish life and a Jewish Covenant. Noahides are equally cherished. Choose wisely with educated and compassionate rabbis. Once a Jew always a Jew. Kol tuv. Reply

Anonymous Pasadena, CA June 26, 2014

A Convert Honoring thier Biological Parents B"H I believe this is one of those questions one should consult a rabbi or two for an answer. But at the same time, as was written, the physical side of Life is also important. Bringing Holiness into THIS world, is called, Tikkun HaOlam, Repairing the world. Even if one's earthly parents are in darkness, Once HaShem has brought the Light of Torah into a persons' life, it becomes that persons' responsibility to shine what they were given from on high, unto even the most wretched of places, for it is HaShem who steers everything into its' proper place. I know of a few, whose parents were drug addicts. After their conversion, they took it upon themselves to do an intervention of their parents. It worked. The parents did not become Jewish, but they got clean & sober and began making a difference to others in the Recovery field. Even if it seems hopeless, remember that All of the darkness cant stop the light of a single candle, unless you allow it. Reply

Natalie Kehr London June 26, 2014

Actions can be commanded. Feelings cannot be commanded. "Honour" can have 2 meanings:- (1) behave properly towards the people/deity you are honouring; (2) Feel respect for the people/deity you are honouring.

It makes sense to command people to act properly. Indeed I hope that my behaviour towards people whose morals or opinions I despise is such that they have no idea what I really think about them.

It makes no sense to command people to have an emotion or opinion. Emotions arise from the actions of others, and opinions come about when one thinks about things. I know parents whose children would need to be masochists if they honoured their parents in the emotional sense.

As a parent I have absolutely no desire to be honoured by my children because of a command. They behave properly because they are decent people. They are autonomous people and can have opinions which are not the same as mine, just as long as they have thought about their opinions.

The convert should continue to honour his biological parents in the behaviour sense. Reply

Susan Pelayo Artesia, NM June 26, 2014

It is a command to honor thy father and mother. Reply

Casey June 26, 2014

great answer, I am hoping to convert. My father has been dead for over 25 years, my mom isn't Jewish, but my father was. He and Mom hid the fact he was Jewish from me until last month. when I told her I had been attending a synagogue for the last 2 and a half years. and recently completed the Intro to Judaism class. planning on converting. She was happy for me.. My children who are Roman Catholic on the other hand are gown, my grandchildren don't understand why I want to be Jewish, My answer is: I have always felt I am. Now God says its time to make that change and make it happen.. I just wish I had a Rabbi like the one that answered your question... mine doesn't back my conversion, or anyone from the gentile faith for that matter.. Good luck.. Wish you the best in the future. .Lechayim
Casey Reply

Sherry Coral Springs FL June 26, 2014

Honoring those antagonistic toward you I agree with "Anonymous"'s post, 6/26. There are parents who expect their kids to turn out like clones of themselves, and any time the child makes a choice that differs from parental preference, the parent gives the child a hard time to the point of excommunication. Perfect example, Jewish parents whose child marries out of the faith. Can also occur with non-Jewish parents whose child decides to convert to another religion, and also a problem with a child who "comes out" and is gay. I did experience abuse (mental and physical) as a child, and it was impossible to "honor" my mother, as I interpret "honor." Did I say nasty things about her behind her back? Yes, but they were true; she did hit me, she did throw me out of the house. Should I never opened my mouth to tell someone? Who knows; 40, 50 years ago people didn't talk about these things. I could write more but no more room here. Reply

Anonymous June 26, 2014

I just want to mention that honoring parents whether Jewish or convert goes only so far. If parents If parents are antagonistic towards Judaism and want you to be less Jewish--you stay firm and do not honor them by being "less" Jewish. If they hate Judaism and everything Jewish, no honor necessary. separate yourself.
Sometimes honor is just not saying anything--stop communicating. Reply

David Denver June 25, 2014

What is the actual definition of honoring your parents? Torah just says to do it, but does not say how. There are all kinds of answers, depending on who you ask.
My biological parents hated me for converting, they badmouthed everything I did, even to my own children, and constantly told my children I was in the wrong, and encouraged them to disrespect me and Judaism.
I have had to break all communication with my biological family, how is one to honor someone that would do that? Regardless of the definition. Reply

Anonymous September 10, 2017
in response to David:

I think if Halacha is so detailed on kashrut, should also delve more into this all-important commandment - the logistics Reply

Anonymous Atlanta Georgia June 25, 2014

Is the child of a convert required to honor his father who converted after the son was born? Reply

Shelley Smith Waco, TX, USA June 25, 2014

Conversion When I turned 18 I sought out the local temple and went through the conversion process. Something I had wanted since I was 8 years old. The Rabbi was very strict and I have never regretted my decision. My parents were Roman Catholic and we extremely supportive. For a person so young to make such a dramatic life change can only be attribited to the type of people who raised them.
They spent almost as much time meeting with the Rabbi as I did, now 49 years later they are gone but I have always honored them and sat Shiva for them with the help of my local Jewish friends. Reply

David Alan Fairman Shilo, Israel June 25, 2014

Some relatives - uncles and siblings married non-Jews. Our relationship was always warm. They even provided separate dishes and kosher food when I visited. But when I married and had my first child, I thought about the possible effects of sanctioning their marriage on my children. The solution - move to Israel! I still love my uncles and non-Jewish cousins - from afar and via internet. But my children are holy, shomrei mitzvot living in our holy land! Reply

Anonymous Chile June 24, 2014

i belive, that If you are now jewish it is because G´d arranged everything in this world to somehow put that beautiful neshama in you. In my opinion we should be thankfull for the creator and the highest dimensions, all the way down to the earthly and micoscopic dimensions. parents are somewhere around there in between.. you should be respectfull and very greatfull. and so should they. Reply

Convert June 23, 2014

You can give them honor without speaking to them. Honor has nothing to do with a physical relationship in the physical world. I have to disagree.
They are the people that gave life to you and raised you. You do owe them respect and you should continue to be a respectful son or daughter. It would be a desecration of G-d's name for you not to. There are occasions where it is difficult and you cannot share in their celebrations and food. But there can be a mutual respect between the families. You don't need to ignore them or belittle or treat them as if they are less than you. You derech- path is your own choice. And the world has many other inhabitants besides the Jewish nation and their are righteous among them. You often see diplomacy between the Rabbis and the rulers and religious leaders . They are cordial and respectful to each other and their ways, without trespassing on the laws. It would be a gross insult to ignore a greeting from the Queen or the Pope and there is no reason why it cant be done nicely without bending any laws. Neglecting a parent Jewish or Non Jewish isn't nice anyway you look at it in my book. Reply

yehuda Beverly Hills June 23, 2014

What is the Question? Based on Talmudic Law or based on Modern Ethics?

Is the already Modern man not considering The Opposite of Honor so Perhaps the Question is If Honored your Biological Folks will be considered a Mitzvah? Reply