I want to convert to Judaism, but my husband is not Jewish…

Dear Allison-

I’d like to introduce myself first: my name is Elsie. I am from Germany and 26 years old. I am studying for a PhD in English Literature at the moment and came across your site while browsing. Since many years I have been searching for MY religion – a girl from the southern German countryside, raised a Roman Catholic… And so very often I feel that spiritual connection with judaism. When I hear a “Shalom Aleichem” I get goose pimples, it touches my soul deeply.

There were times when I celebrated Kabbalat Shabbat, read a lot about judaism and went into it. But still I lacked the Jewish background – and the Jewish infrastructure. In the end I left it. But it came up again, so I contacted both the Rabbis here in Munich to be allowed to go to synagogue and talk to them. The Orthodox rabbi unfortunately told me that there was no way for me to judaism as I was together with a Roman Catholic who wanted to stay so. I am now happily married to that man whom I love deeply.

The liberal rabbi also rejected me, also because of my Christian boyfriend.  Then I thought I should forget judaism, as there is no space for me… and it has begun creeping back into my life. My thoughts wander around “what if I were jewish?” I get a peace of mind if I think about it, I browse the net for jewish reources… and I don’t know how to talk to anybody or whom to ask for guidance or for an evaluation of my situation. I have absolutely no connection to jewish life, and unfortunately the jewish community here is very closed and rather for itself.

What can I do? How can I find out whether judaism is for me? Is there any way of you helping me? What is this all about?

I hope to hear from you soon! Thanks for everything and best regards,

Elsie

  

Dear Elsie,

Thanks for your email. I must say, I don’t envy the position you’re in. It is very complicated, to say the least. It’s true, if you were to stay married to a non-Jewish man who was unwilling to explore Judaism with you, you’d have no way to convert. So I see three options for you at this point:

1) Have you ever heard of the Seven Laws of Noah? Judaism believes that gentiles can have a place in the world to come and a connection with G-d too. We have no belief that the only way to “salvation” is to be Jewish. The Sheva Mitzvos Bnei Noach (as they’re called in Hebrew) are just basic laws that expand probably closer to around 40 laws about generally being a good person and having a relationship with G-d. There are communities of Bnei Noach (children of Noah) all around the world, they follow these commandments, learn Torah, go to synagogues, but remain gentiles. Perhaps this would be a happy medium – stay with your husband, but connect to other non-Jews who follow Torah law. For some resources on this subject, please see: http://www.noahide.org/ and http://www.beingjewish.com/conversion/becomingjewish.html   The second site recommends some books as well.

2) Does your husband know anything about Judaism? Would he be willing to expand his horizons and find out if he saw as much beauty in it as you do? Asking him to convert is a big thing to ask, but asking him to learn shouldn’t be too much trouble. Perhaps if he learned more he’d feel the same way you do and you could do this together. A book that I’ve seen recommended for non-Jews considering conversion (that would be useful for him and you) is called “Becoming a Jew” by Maurice Lamm http://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Jew-Maurice-Lamm/dp/0824603508

3) The third option, if you felt you had to become Jewish, but your husband was unwilling to explore it himself, would be to leave him. I wouldn’t recommend this though as you have a great marriage and have no obligation to become a Jew. However, if you were to learn about the Noahide concept and still felt unfulfilled by this and if your husband was completely unwilling to even explore the possibility of learning more, leaving him might be your only option.

I’m sorry that the local Jewish community in Germay is not too welcoming. I can’t speak for them personally, but we don’t encourage conversion. While living a Jewish life is extremely rewarding, it also is an undertaking, so the policy is to stay aloof and let the would be convert keep coming back – a sign that he or she is really sincere about the conversion.

 In terms of trying out Judaism for yourself – would going to Israel be an option for you? There are several programs in Israel that take a small number of students wishing to convert each year. You can get a list of beginner seminaries here (StudyinIsrael.org). The only thing, though, is that if your husband is not willing to open himself up to the idea of learning, getting to see Judaism so up close might unfortunately mean an end to your marriage – or maybe it would show you that it’s not the right thing for you after all, and you could happily live following the Noahide Laws staying married to him. But I think you will have to explore at least one of these options, because no matter how much you love your husband, if you keep feeling the need to explore Judaism and keep ignoring it for the sake of your marriage, you could end up resenting your husband down the road. Like I said, I don’t envy your situation.

No matter what you end up doing, I wish you every blessing and much success and happiness in the future.

All the best,

Allison

 

My boyfriend is becoming Orthodox and it's scaring me, what should I do?

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  1. I am in a similar predicament, so I would like to ask specifically: If my husband is willing to learn about Judaism, is that enough? I know he will never convert to any religion, but he would be willing to learn, as he supports my pursuing what I need to spiritually. Please elaborate for me as this is something I have longed for for over thirty years. Thanks, Dee

    • Thanks for your question, Dee. I’m sorry to say that learning alone is not enough for your husband. When I wrote that, what I was getting to is that perhaps if the spouse learns, s/he might be inspired to convert as well. When a person lives as an observant Jew, Jewish law is involved in every detail of life – from the foods we eat, to our marital relations – there’s even an order of putting on your shoes! It’s because we’re supposed to ideally be connecting with God at every moment that Jewish law pervades every aspect of life.

  2. I am what is know as a “baales teshuva” – a woman born Jewish but not observant until recently. My husband is a non-Jew and not anything else either. In the 15-or-so years I’ve become more observant, and our daughter has become frum (as observant as you can be), I’ve arrived at the conclusion that no matter how nice a guy your husband is, and how upstanding and respectful and supportive, and even a Noahide, it is very, very lonely to be the only observant Jew in your household. As Allison says, Torah Judaism is a home-based faith that guides daily behaviors of all kinds. Making Shabbos or observing festivals for one – even if your husband is there as company- rings hollow. And if you are involved in community and have guests – as is the custom – your husband shrinks into a shadow like the only person at the party who does not understand the language being spoken. I advise young women making the transition to Judaism that – difficult as it may be – you have to choose a partner who can be a full partner if you want the Jewish home that truly
    rewarding Judaism requires.

  3. what if your husband is Jewish but not willing at all to connect to his heritage? what if he denies his Jewish identity?

    • Thanks for your question, mi. Unfortunately, if your husband is not willing to have a Jewish home with you, it makes converting complicated. I know a few women who want to convert to Judaism, but their secular husbands have no interest in living a life of observance and creating a Jewish home, and unfortunately they’re stuck. My advice would be to try and encourage him to learn – with no expectations. Learn just to be knowledgeable and informed. If the learning brings him to belief/desire to observe, that would obviously be very good for you, but the key is to just get him to learn and let him see where it takes him. (Also pray. Pray a LOT that he stops being so stubborn and gives learning the try!) If you need some advice on how to get started with learning, please email me!

  4. I am Jewish myself…:) the thing is, I have second thoughts of what is better when compared, a non jewish husband that has some knowledge or is open to have some knowledge, or a born jew that turns his back on everything?

  5. Thank you a lot for the reply, but I am starting to lose hope. if there are any ideas you could give me, or any tips (sounds funny, spirituality and Judaism should not be like a cake, in need of tips) please share:)

  6. I’ve got some questions. I was born and raised in Canada, and from a young age I started attending Sunday school, and then I started attending church services. I was baptized in 1976 at the age of 16, and I wanted to do that because the church I attended thought baptism meant full immersion in water as opposed to a few sprinkles of water. I have very strong faith in God, but as of about 20 years ago I decided that Jesus was not the Messiah, so I stopped attending church and have never been back. I was married for two years and then divorced, and the reason why the childless marriage ended so quickly was because I met her one year in March, and then married her in September. I never proposed to her at all, she just told me that she wanted me to be her husband, and I said okay. Then I got to know her after we were married. That was scary. I’ll boil down all my questions to one long one, and here it is. I’d like to get together with people who believe in God, but don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, in a formal setting as opposed to an informal one. Am I welcome to attend services at a synagogue, and would I be able to become a Jew ? If it’s any kind of a problem, then I’ll leave it alone, but I’m writing today because I have strong faith in God, and would like to know if Judaism would accept me.

    • Thanks for your comment, John. Judaism accepts any sincere convert. And not only that – once a person converts, we Jews are commanded to give him extra special treatment. I’d recommend getting in touch with a rabbi from the RCA to begin discussing the conversion process http://www.judaismconversion.org

      Also, another book I’ve heard is good to read is “Becoming a Jew” by Maurice Lamm. Good luck!

  7. Gail Ann Thompson says:

    Thank you for your kind, encouraging and insightful post on conversion. I was especially interested in the opportunities for women to study in Israel. In high school, I had a few Jewish friends and was drawn to the observant life. Never the less, I married a Christian man, more than 40 years ago, and I am, now, well past the age of 60. We raised our daughter in a G-d honoring, but not Torah Observant home. Still, my desire to convert has never left me. I suppose it’s too late for me, but I hope you have opened doors for other women.

  8. Mary Ruth Andrews says:

    Dear Allison,
    I am a Jew, a convert to Judaism later in life. My husband is not Jewish. I studied for a year with a Reform rabbi, had a Beit Din, entered the mikveh and came out a Jew. I keep Shabbat and kosher as best as I can, more observant every day. My husband is supportive of me and encourages me to keep kosher. We have seders at Passover, I worship in a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I do not attend a synagogue regularly since I live a good distance from any conservative or orthodox groups. I have been looking into a Chabad group, but after reading your postings on conversion, I am thinking that perhaps I would never be welcome or encouraged there, or anywhere there are Orthodox Jews. I was a member in good standing with a Reform congregation, but left in search of a more observant community. My heart aches as I read what you have written. I am a Jew, and my husband is a good husband who chooses not to be Jewish, but supports me in every way possible. He embraces the Noahide laws, and has never stood in my way, and allowed his household to be a Jewish home.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mary. I am so sorry about your situation and how your heart aches. My heart aches for you and so many others. You don’t know HOW many people – it’s almost always women – are in your exact situation. They want to live lives according to Jewish law – they do not feel fulfilled in their non-Orthodox Jewish community – but because they’re married to a non-Jew they’re not able to convert according to halacha. Here’s the thing – as you may have seen in our recent Q&A, for the Jews who are born Jewish, while they do not have to observe to “prove” their Jewishness, they’re also stuck being Jewish no matter what – we give them no way out.

      For the converts, we expect a complete commitment. That’s not to say a person cannot make mistakes or fall short – we’re human – we all do. But in terms of lifestyle, we expect a lifestyle of observance. And I’m sure your husband is a WONDERFUL man, but being intermarried doesn’t fit into that expectation of making your lifestyle a Jewishly observant one. So it’s not that any Orthodox group would (or should) be rude to you or that it’s anything personal – it’s that halacha has certain expectations of what a convert must do in order to be recognized as a Jew and those requirements must be met in order for the conversion to happen.

      Would your husband be open to learning more about Judaism? Perhaps if he learned more, something might speak to him? I am truly sorry that you’re in this situation, but you are SO not alone.

  9. I am in a very very similar situation as Elsie (and probably countless others). However I was wondering if you received an update or would be willing to ask Elsie what has happened after all these years?

    I would truly like to hear what evolved.

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Hi Emily,

      I am Elsie and would like to answer your question (of course the name was changed, but that should not invalidate my answer). Well, I kept on struggling with my inner Jewish side. When living in NYC for half a year two years ago, I found a very nice and welcoming reform congregation I worshipped with on a regular basis. My husband accompanied me often and felt at home in the synagogue, liked the staff. When we returned to Germany, I missed “my” synagogue that accepted both of us without any questions. Finally, after a bit of search, a reform friend of mine suggested to found a chavurah on a private basis that is open to anyone wanting to pray Jewishly. Last December, we founded our chavurah were I pray every Friday evening. At home, I try to become more and more observant, doing one step at a time. I read a lot about Jewish practice, learn torah here and there and if someone asks what my religion is, I answer that I am still a Catholic but practice Judaism. I think that this comes closest to truth.

      @hadar: I checked my roots as far as I could. Only good Roman Catholics to be found. But it might also be that records were forged during the Nazi times. It was not very fortunate if Jews were found in your genealogy… So I don’t know.

  10. hi!
    i think thet if Elsie really want to become a jewish she need to check her roots, who was her grandparents and check a few generations before. Many people are attracted to Judaism and then discovering that one of they familys are jewish.

  11. Victoria says:

    Thank you so so much for this discussion! I am from a Christian family, married to a wonderful Christian man. I too have a deep longing to convert to Orthodox Judaism, but have had the door closed (so gently and kindly) twice…. Oh how it hurt….. But we have a wonderful marriage and 4 dear children. As others have experienced, my husband is so supportive to me in my learning.
    Thank you Allison for giving women like us the opportunity to learn from each other’s experiences – we are so sincere in our faith and dearly need gentle guidance in such a painful area.
    Elsie, thank you for sharing your story – you have saved me from what would certainly have been a road of pain. I guess it’s time to thank Our Father for the wonderful family He has blessed me with, and accept that i may have to settle for something a little less than my dream 😉 Surely Reform Judaism + the family He has blessed me with is a better option than tearing my family apart…. Heaven forbid.
    So thank you both – you have saved me pain and given me hope 🙂

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Victoria. Is there any chance you have Jewish ancestry? I find that so often the people who feel the pull to be Jewish have a Jewish connection somewhere far back.

      • Victoria says:

        I tried that… No ancestry in the last 100 years…. I even had dna testing done 🙁 And yet the strange thing is this – in times of great distress i have cried out to G-d and begged Him, ‘help me to find the path! And if this isn’t Your desire for me, then please, Father, take this longing out of my heart!’ And still He answers me, you ARE Jewish!’ Last Shabbat I was talking to two wonderful sweet ladies in an orthodox synagogue. By the end of the conversation we were all in tears and one said to me, ‘ i can see a Jewish neshama in you, you just have to dig it out!’ Over the years so many orthodox Jewish women have said the same to me….. I can only imagine that somewhere, far, far back in my family’s past, must be a maternal convert.
        To turn away from Jewish ways and take the easy path out would be as foreign to my soul as waking up tomorrow and deciding to give up being a woman and live the rest of my life as a man. I simply cannot be what i am not. I can trace this feeling back to my early childhood, before i even knew what Judaism was!
        So what can i do? Every rule that keeps me out of Orthodox Judaism is a rule that i see to be sensible and right. And yet to break apart the blessings my Father has given me here – husband, childen, aging parents and in-laws to care for – goes against every moral fibre in my being. I cannot tear the feathers from my wings and expect to fly! No. I stand alone before my Father and know that trusting in Him, I shall walk the path before me, whether it makes sence or not. What if i turned my back and spent my life walking in the shadow of my husband’s faith, only to find as i meet my Creator that i am indeed the descendant of a convert? What a wasted life! No, i can only live a life that pours out of my soul. I cannot pretend to be what i am not. So when people ask me if i am Jewish, I tell them with a big smile, ‘i don’t know, but one day i will be!’ I shall hold my head high and try every day to live a life worthy of the neshama my Father has placed within me. As i sang in church as a child, ‘I will hold Your people in my heart’. I shall love the Jewish people and seek every opportunity to be a blessing to them. I shall continue to learn Hebrew and teach it to my children, and even if it never makes sence in this lifetime, I know that my Father is bigger than this.
        I remember the story of the weaving. My life is like a tapestry. I see the threads as they are woven in – some in pretty colours, some in shining gold, but some are darker colours i wish were not there, but i see only the underside of the weaving. When the day comes when my time here is done, my Father will show me the upper side of the tapestry and i will rejoice at the beautiful picture. As any artist knows, a picture without shadows has no depth.
        Besides, the journey isn’t just about me, it’s about my children too. Even as i write this, my youngest daughter has marched up to me with a wooden havdalah set and demanded some spices for her spice box – she tells me in a reproving voice that she needs to do havdalah because i ‘forgot’ to do it after shabbat! Perhaps they hold keys to doors i must show them – even if i myself cannot enter.
        I shall wear my tichel as a crown, even if i am a princess in exile, and I shall live my life in such a way that my Father, the King will be proud to call me His daughter, and the Jewish women i have met and so dearly miss, will one day be my beloved sisters….. One day…..

        • I can relate so much to your story and would love to talk more closely and personally with you.

          Allison, would you mind e-connecting Victiria and me? That would be great!

  12. What about legally seperated and non residing with the wife? It must be a clean divorce?

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      It’s not always black-and-white. The beis din must evaluate each candidate’s personal situation and try to determine which factors are likely to impede the candidate’s chances for success. Still being married, even if legally separated, certainly doesn’t help matters any but I can’t promise that it’s necessarily a deal-breaker.

      Think of it like dating – everyone agrees that it’s wrong to date a married woman. (Even gigolos who actually do it are aware that it’s wrong to do so!) But some men might be comfortable dating a woman who’s legally separated while others might not be.

      While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, I would guess that if the situation (or the husband) is causing drama, a beis din would probably want the candidate to resolve that before proceeding. After all, there’s only so much that a person can handle at once! If nothing else, I think it might be problematic because it would impede the candidate from being able to marry and start a family. But I’d still recommend speaking with the beis din in such a case and seeing what they have to say.

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