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.