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Conversion and Marriage

Conversion and Marriage


Dear Rachel,

I am going through the process of an Orthodox conversion in order to marry the man I love, whose family wishes us to be married in an Orthodox synagogue.

However, I have found that the process is something I would have eventually done on my own. I have always gravitated towards this life prior to meeting him. I was born into a non-religious home. Now I find myself living a wonderful observant life, but my fiancé is not interested in living in such a way. He really only wanted me to go through this process for the wedding.

How do I reconcile this separation? While we do not live together yet, he has already expressed concerns about my desire to adhere to kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), family purity and the Sabbath laws. I am very confused and concerned about the future of our marriage.

I should mention that we are both making large sacrifices to be with each other. He is even moving to another country to be with me, and we do love each other very, very much.

Thank you,

Dear K.S.B.,

Thank you so much for sending in your question. You should know that what you are describing is actually a fairly common situation. I have heard a number of stories where the partner converting is actually the one who desires to adhere to the laws, whereas the Jewish partner doesn’t.

There are two different issues here, that are actually very connected as well. The first is the concept of conversion within Judaism, whereas the second issue is how you relate to your boyfriend and potential husband.

In terms of conversion, a person is allowed to convert, and is considered a true convert, only when there is no ulterior motive, and it is purely for the sake and desire of living a Torah-observant life. This is why an Orthodox conversion is so difficult to obtain, and why the potential convert is often pushed away. The goal is to ascertain that the person truly desires this way of life and will pursue it regardless of the difficulty.

From what you describe, it sounds like this is your situation. While perhaps your boyfriend was the actual push to make you think about conversion, it appears that your motives and reasons are because of your attachment to Judaism and its way of life, and not solely based on appeasing your boyfriend or his family.

In the Talmud a convert is called a “ger who nitgayer,” literally meaning “a convert who converted.” The question is asked: why doesn’t it say, as we might expect, “a non-Jew who converted”? The explanation given is that a Jew is one who was born to a Jewish mother, and therefore inherits that Jewish soul. A true convert has the greatest test of all, since that person was also born with a Jewish soul, but was born to a non-Jewish mother. Therefore, a true convert was born with this Jewish element and potential, and simply needed to undergo conversion to reveal it.

So, basically, if you are to convert for the sole sake of your boyfriend, with no intention or desire to live a Jewish life, in actuality your conversion is problematic and possibly invalid. Therefore, from the point of view of Jewish law, you have no option other than to mean what you say, and to convert if you feel that you truly have that Jewish soul and want to live a Jewish life.

The second issue is broader, in a way, and has to do with what happens when two people want very different things in life. From what you describe, it appears that the things you value, find attractive, would want to observe, keep, include and develop in your life vary greatly from those that your boyfriend would. Perhaps the problem is that he hasn’t had the opportunity to learn and find the beauty in Judaism himself, and therefore isn’t attached. But this is a real, serious issue.

As I am sure you know, while love is vital in a relationship, it is not enough to make a relationship thrive and grow. What is essential to a relationship is a common vision and goal, since even though we change as time passes, we need to know that we are headed in the same direction. This is going to be all the more relevant if you have children, as then it is not just about what each of you choose to do as individuals, but how you want to raise your family and how your home will be.

I think that it is vital that the two of you really speak about how you see your futures, what is important to you and why. It is not merely about whether or not you keep a kosher kitchen, but why this is something you would want to do. What is it about keeping kosher that you find beautiful? Because, ultimately, when it comes to these fundamental aspects of your life, you need to have a mutual respect and understanding. Granted, there are couples to whom this happens after they are married, and then they have to work through these differences, but that is very different than entering a marriage with such a gap.

I think you also need to really ask yourself if you would continue with the learning and the conversion if it were not for him. If you were to break up, would you still want to convert? Because if the answer is no, then you need to be honest with yourself and recognize that being deceitful about something like this is not a great way to start a marriage. Even if your boyfriend doesn’t care, you have to recognize that there is no purpose to “converting” if it is all based on falsehood.

And if you would convert regardless of your relationship, then your boyfriend and his family need to be aware of your interest in Judaism, and to understand that this is not a game, but a part of you and something that you want acknowledged and celebrated in your life.

I wish you much hatzlachah (good fortune) in this journey.

"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (58)
August 19, 2013
It's often said, and very true, that AM YISROEL, ERETZ YISROEL, TORAH and HASHEM are one. A true convert will find that every interaction with TORAH, other Jews, and HASHEM will, by degrees, bring him or her closer to revealing their divine root or Jewish neshamah. Eventually, they realize that there is no other path before them than the TORAH-true life of A Jew who wants to be as close to HASHEM as possible, while serving HIS/HER HOLY NAME. Baruch HASHEM.
Eleazar Shlomo ben Yakov Goldman
Guanajuato, MEXICO
August 12, 2013
A true convert has the greatest test of all, since that person was also born with a Jewish soul, but was born to a non-Jewish mother. Therefore, a true convert was born with this Jewish element and potential, and simply needed to undergo conversion to reveal it.?

Obviously the Masses reading this Don't understand that this is Not the Law but a Mystical Peshat, As the Judge (Beit Din) can only Judge by his own Eyes, Not some fact that is absolutely beyond and tool Including Imagination, But again, Religion is a Necessary Evil, so Good Luck!
Jacky Mason
Santa Monica
October 23, 2012
re Alternatives to Driving to Shul on Shabbos
Let me ask all who live far away from a synagogue if you can arrange a place close to the synagogue to stay with for Shabbat.
This can be arranged through the synagogue's Rabbi and or friends who live close to the synagogue. If you are planning to go to a certain shul even if you know no one there, you can always look up the phone book on Monday and call the shul office... by Thursday you'll be able to stay with someone for Shabbat.

PS some large cities have Jewish Directories that can be bought at their local Jewish bookstore that provide valuable information.not found in your local telephone book ...
David Aharon Lindsay-Lindzon
October 22, 2012

I am considering conversion, and the one thing I have learned, is that you have to live in a Jewish community, and this is essential, and I my sefl dont live within walking distance, so I know my self there is no other way around it, I have to move, and this is one of the many questions that anyone considering conversion has to ask them-selves, which is why an Orthodox conversion is so hard to obtain, but for very good reasons, I have learned so much from the Jewish faith, which has been such a comfort to me, and living an observant life is essential in the conversion process, but as I know myself these are not the only chanages the convert has to make, we have to be very honest with our selves, and along the way we will be faced with many obsticles, and the only one who can answer them are convert themselves. Concluding I wish everyone on this wonderful journey and also a very difficult one best wishes and prayer's and may God be with you.
Armagh, UK
March 29, 2012
Shalom Torahlove, from Queen Creek, AZ. It is a good thing I received back this comment blog and read your post directed to me. I am presently living a Torah Life, to the best of my knowledge. Studying from and other Jewish sources. I keep Shabbat, do not eat anything that is not Kosher. I have been instructing myself on all Jewish observance with books on the subject. And with the help of Hashem, blelssled be He, who revealed to me my Jewish root. I have the address & direct. to Chandler's shul, but am afraid of driving on Shabbat. Only a Rabbi can help me. None, so far wants to help me. 16.6 miles is a drive on Shabbat. I would not mind driving if I am allowed, but do not know what to do. I just want to obey. Returning to my roots to serve our G-d is the most important thing in my life. Hashem wants me to stand by His Precious Name. I received the message. May His will be done. Thank you so much. I will fast and pray for the answer. Blessings
Mesa, Arizona, USA
March 27, 2012
Dear 63 year old anonymous living in Mesa AZ:
My husband and I also live 30 minutes from the Chandler shul, but we are determined to attend Shabbat services there every week until out lease is up on our house next year. We are also in the process of conversion. I am sure that the Rabbi would be more than happy to see have you with us!
Queen Creek, AZ
February 15, 2012
Geirus in general
in light of the fact that the Rebbe of blessed Memory spoke on many occasions about the 7 Noachide Laws it would be wise to inform the convert of this option. Many a non-Jew has rejected christianity or any other per se and cannot come all the way to becoming a convert to Judaism might first be told the 2nd path for the entire world of the 7 Noahide laws .... and that his reward would be great.
David Aharon Lindsay-Lindzon
Toronto, ON Canada
February 14, 2012
You are not a convert: You were a convert! You should not be reminded of this any more than being reminded that one is w/o their parents. The big issue for a woman is that she remember that she may not marry a Kohain.
As a B'ER-SheV`A-ite & Philly (PA) born & bred; I have come into contact with people who remind me of virtually all of the stories above & then some. As a non-profit, non-prophet; I would not make any unreliable prdiction. So, I won't There is much advice based on specific experiences. Read it & sift it. Talk to your most trusted contacts. Let your answers come from HaShem. Just like when you raise a child, sometimes the greatest & most difficult act of love is to let go.It is oft better to have the bitter early and much swetness after as at the Passover Seder Meal or as as in the trad Bedouin hospitality of a bitter cup then a sweet cup rather than going from some sweet to much bitterness?
B''ER-SheV''A, ISRa-EL
February 13, 2012
Rabbi Rachael,
Shalom i love your article because it can help one to know some certain things about one who is not interested in this way of life.
And i thank you for your inspiration.
Victor fatherheart consoler
234, Nigeria
February 12, 2012
@Single Orthodox Convert Jerusalem
Please don't think that Orthodox Converts have the monopoly on being single and heartbroken because they cannot find their soulmate. There are plenty of lovely Orthodox born girls who are in their twenties and thirties and not married. There are girls with all their numerous aunts and uncles scouring the Jewish world looking for a suitable partner for them and they are still unmarried. With G-d's help they should and we all should we all find our soulmatr and if we don't, let us live full and productive Jewish lives whatever happens and pray.
Ilana Leeds
Melbourne , VIC