Should I Convert So His Parents Will Come to the Wedding?


by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

chuppah at an outdoor wedding

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for three years and have been talking about getting engaged and married within the next year or so. The problem is, he was raised Jewish and both of his parents are very religious (they keep kosher, strictly observe the Sabbath and holidays, etc.) and neither he nor I are religious at all. His parents know that I am not Jewish, which is going to be more of a problem for them as our relationship progresses.

When we first started dating, I told my boyfriend that I was open to considering conversion (since I don’t care about religion at all, if converting to Judaism would make things easier with his parents then that was fine with me). However, in researching the conversion process, I realized it is much more involved than just saying to a rabbi, “Ok, I want to be Jewish now,” and so I have taken conversion off the table. I would have to take at least a year’s worth of classes, meet with a rabbi, live kosher, and other requirements that I don’t feel comfortable taking on if I am not actually intending to live a Jewish life post-conversion.

I’ve talked to my boyfriend and explained the reasons above why I don’t think conversion is the right choice. He understands, but told me that if I’m not Jewish when we get married, that his parents won’t attend the wedding. If I am Jewish but the ceremony isn’t performed by an orthodox rabbi, they won’t attend. If it’s not in Hebrew, they won’t attend. While I’m not sure that he’s not exaggerating about those points, I am sure that if they do attend the wedding that they will likely be a source of negativity during our “big day.”

My question is, how do we resolve this situation? We would have to hold the wedding on a Sunday (which I don’t love but would be willing to do to appease his parents). Obviously I am unwilling to convert to please them. Since neither my boyfriend nor myself is religious in the slightest, having the ceremony performed by a rabbi is out of the question. How do we make them happy (so that their negativity doesn’t affect our wedding)?

—Anonymous Shiksa

A:

Dear AS,

I hate when I have to be the bad guy. But I’m gonna be the bad guy. You probably can’t do anything to make your in-laws happy.

Even if you did everything on your partner’s bullet list. Even if you converted. Even still, you’re not religious people, and his parents wish you were. They’re probably deeply concerned about assimilation, about the loss of their Jewish practices (and frankly, that’s what’s happening after all). So you could try, you know? Add this or that in an attempt to appease them (maybe incorporate a rabbi or some Hebrew into the ceremony without that being the only part), but there’s a good chance they’ll never be happy. They want you (and their son) to be practicing in the orthodox tradition, and you just aren’t those people.

Rather than trying to figure out what you can do to smooth this over, you and your partner have to determine if it’s okay with you that it can’t be smoothed. You guys are both signing on for this—you’re marrying into this family, and he’s making a clear step away from his parents’ faith, forcing them to acknowledge that he already doesn’t practice the way they wished. It probably won’t be cozy from here on out. After this, it’ll be disagreements about holidays, raising possible children, and on and on. Marriage is a long road, and this is only the beginning.

Are you both alright with that? If so, you need to start from a place of respectfully accommodating their beliefs, even if you won’t be adopting them yourselves. That means, for example, having the wedding on a Sunday since they won’t be able to attend on a Saturday. More than that, it’ll be on you to learn something about that culture, even if it’s not your own. (For example, if you don’t know why a Saturday wedding isn’t possible for them, now’s the time to ask.)

But I do have a quick question. Your partner is listing all these things his parents will want at the wedding—does he want them? I’m only going off of an email here, but it sounds like he’s making these demands into your responsibility, for you to okay or veto (not cool). He’s not a particularly religious guy—is he really okay with incorporating all of this? Does he think this pressure will end at the wedding day? How does he feel about the clear strain this will put on his relationship with his parents and their community? It sounds like he might be turning a blind eye to just how deep some of these divisions go, and how they will affect his life. That’s not something you want your partner realizing a year or two into forever.

There’s a point where you have to live your own life. And for your partner, that means deciding how much of his parents’ faith he wants to incorporate into his life, or coming to grips with their absence if he opts not to. For you, it means deciding if you’re willing to sign on for this tension.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

H/T to Meg for collaborating on this post, Using her experiance as a convert to Judaism

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Christina McPants

    There was a lot of goal-post moving in that statement. Convert, then Jewish wedding, then Orthodox rabbi, then in Hebrew. What are their requirements going to be if/when children come onto the field? Because I guarantee you that any crazy your parents have around your wedding is going to be doubled and sustained around children (ASK ME HOW I KNOW). This is a really good time to think about boundary setting as a couple and what lines you will and will not cross to make your in-laws happy.

    Other question – those wedding requirements your partner says they need. Does he know that because they told him or is that what he thinks is necessary? I found that a lot of the things I thought my family would need / want around a wedding (and then my daughter) were based on my assumptions around them and not necessarily in reality.

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. Re: goal post moving, I completely agree! The two of us will have to come up with what we want to do, and then tell them our decision (ie. not give them any opportunity for input). I’ve thought about the kid thing too–like, if we have to jump through a million hoops to get them to come to the wedding, how many will we have to jump through once we have kids??

      That’s a good question (whether the ‘wedding requirements’ are known or just assumed). He has told me that that is what his parents would request; however we have not asked his parents about anything wedding-related so as not to force a confrontation before we even get engaged. So it is possible that if we were firm and said “we’ll have some readings in Hebrew, but that’s it” or whatever, that they would be okay with that. Worst case scenario is they don’t come to the wedding; I would be okay with that but I can’t imagine that my boyfriend would be (even though he says he would be).

      • Amy March

        This will sound so much harsher than I mean it, but do you often assume he is lying to you about his feelings? Is there a reason for that? Because refusing to believe what he tells you isn’t great, and alternatively if you don’t believe him because he often isn’t honest about his feelings, that’s also something to deal with.

        • CP2011

          That seems like kind of a big jump to think the LW is assuming her partner is lying. I took it more as “it’s almost universally sad to not have your parents attend your wedding, so therefore even if he says/thinks he’ll be ok with it, he will likely still feel sad if that’s the case.”

          • S

            Yup, agree. I think it’s also not uncommon to say you’re fine with things because that’s the emotion you WANT to feel or think you should feel. Also you can be fine with the hypothetical idea of your parents not being at your wedding and then very much not fine on the day when that’s the reality. I think the LW is right to sort of mentally translate “I’m fine with this thing that most people wouldn’t be fine with” to “I think I’m fine about this thing now, but that emotion could change at any moment, and maybe I won’t know how to express that because I’ve already said I’m fine, and think I should be fine.” I think part of a partnership is sometimes NOT taking someone at their word. If my partner said he was fine with getting married without his parents, knowing him the way I do, I’d acknowledge that but I wouldn’t rush into planning a wedding that they couldn’t attend. I’d sit on it, interrogate it, and do my job as his partner not just to take care not just of current-him but also future-him.

        • Eh, sometimes partners think they’re telling the truth, but then they’re just wrong. He may think his parents will ask for this…and then just be pleasantly surprised that they’re more lenient. If he has the standard self-confidence of a mediocre white man this is probably a common enough occurrence.

          • AtHomeInWA

            “If he has the standard self-confidence of a mediocre white man …”

            Harsh. Also Lolz.

      • Meredith

        My husband and I are former Catholics who did not want to get married at a church or by a priest. My MIL called it a new age circus wedding and said we’d go to hell if we didn’t get married by a priest. We compromised and found a priest we liked who was willing to give us our outdoor ceremony sans mass. We still had to get bishop approval for that, but it was worth it for a wedding that satisfied everyone. TO SUM IT UP: Find out what you and your fiance want, tell the parents, fight it out and maybe there’s a compromise in there somewhere! Good Luck!!!!

        • Jane

          I’m sure having your FMIL call the wedding you were actually planning a “new age circus wedding” was rough at the time, but it sounds like a pretty good theme.

    • Amanda

      You guys should definitely start talking now about expectations around kids. My mother was fine about my non-Catholic wedding but was angry/disappointed that we didn’t baptize our daughter and aren’t planning on having her in Sunday school. She thinks you need religious education to learn morals and ethics. I don’t. The arguments she uses are actually somewhat amusing because she doesn’t really believe in the Catholic Church God either.

  • Katharine Parker

    Do your partner’s parents know he isn’t observant? I can’t tell from your letter, but that seems to be a major issue. It might not change anything about how you approach the wedding and marriage, but he should emphasize to his parents that he isn’t religious and doesn’t intend to lead an observant life, regardless of what you as his partner believe or do.

    I agree with Liz that his parents are not going to be placated. You are not the spouse they want for their son, as hard as that is to hear. You and your partner have to work on navigating the relationship knowing that, and trying to move forward gracefully. Having the wedding on Sunday (or after sundown on Saturday) is a start. Hopefully, they don’t want to be estranged from their son or his family, and are willing to try to act gracefully, too.

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. His parents “know” he isn’t religious but they have never consciously acknowledged it. Just like they “know” we live together but never talk about it/ask about our house/etc when we see them. You’re right that he needs to talk to his parents, but I think he doesn’t want to force a conflict with them.

      • Amy March

        You keep repeating that he doesn’t want to force a conflict with them, but he’s actually shifting that conflict off on you. By refusing to be honest with his parents about his own beliefs, and dealing with their feelings about it, he’s essentially throwing you under the bus. All of a sudden you are the problem and you are the conflict. That would disturb me. Especially because religion tends to flare up at marriage, births, and deaths and those are already hard situations. I’d be hesitant to sign up for a lifetime of being the default bad guy because he refuses to take ownership of his own religious choices.

        • Cleo

          Yes, this!

          • z

            It seems like having any conversation at all about this would be considered “forcing a conflict” by the LW or her fiance or his parents. Is it not possible to have a civil discussion at all?

        • emilyg25

          Yeah, it sounds like he has a little growing up to do. He needs to own his own choices, including to his parents. Keep in mind that these issues do not end with the wedding–they are just beginning. And having children tends to do funny things to people’s faith.

      • Katharine Parker

        I don’t want to pile on, but I think something I haven’t seen someone already say is that his parents may “know” he isn’t observant but not believe that he intends to stay unobservant for the rest of his life. Without your partner talking to them and making clear his intentions, they might be making assumptions based on their own hopes. They may think that when he gets married, he’ll realize he wants a Jewish wedding or a Jewish wife, or that when he has kids, he’ll want to raise them Jewish. Ignoring that to avoid conflict is only putting the conflict off.

        • RJ

          Yes! There is a big difference between “knowing” something (if you stop to think about it but it’s better to avoid thinking about it and maybe it will go away anyway la la la – would you like some hummus?) and being faced with the cold hard committed reality that something you don’t in your heart of hearts want (your son not being fully observant/gay/catholic/not catholic/jewish/not jewish/marrying out of the faith) is actually being solidified into an unavoidable truth.

      • AtHomeInWA

        I’d like to point out that the conflict is already there.

        He would not be “forcing” a conflict. He would be acknowledging it. Which is necessary first step to possibly resolving it.

  • Cleo

    Hi LW,

    As a Jew, I’d like to applaud how thoughtfully you considered conversion and then backed off when you discovered what it would mean and generally how seriously you took the process. Not that I wouldn’t want you to be an MOT if you wanted to be, but the way you handled your research and decision feels very respectful of Judaism.

    I wonder what your fiance means when he talks about the fact that his parents won’t attend the wedding. Does he want them to attend? Is it important to him that they do? If so, isn’t that his job to discuss it with them, as well as defending the fact that he’s marrying someone outside of the religion and culture?

    Also something else to consider… Judaism, as a religion and culture is anti-evangelism. Heavily.

    I broke up with a non-Jew a while ago, in part because I realized I wanted to marry a Jew. When my ex was trying to bargain to end the break-up, he offered to convert “if I wanted him to.” Because the conversion process is serious business and people’s religious beliefs are as well, AND because of the anti-evangelism messages that had been communicated to me throughout my life, I told him that I didn’t want him to convert unless he wanted to convert. This was genuine. No reverse psychology or passive aggression. If he had come back to me and said – “You know, I’ve given serious thought to converting, I’ve researched and spoken to a rabbi, and this is something I WANT to do…” (well, frankly, I probably would have still broken up with him because there were other issues, but if there weren’t), I would have said, “Great! Do it! Let’s stay together!” Instead, he told me he’d only do it if I wanted him to and because I didn’t, that’s where our story ended.

    LW, I don’t know you or your situation beyond this letter, but because I’ve been in a similar situation to your fiance before… Is it possible that your not being Jewish has suddenly become a dealbreaker? Or that his Judaism, as he’s picturing his life laid out in front of him, as an impending wedding can do, has suddenly become more important to him?

    I hope I’m wrong, but I think it might be worth a talk with him in case his feelings are shifting…

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. Part of my problem is that family is so important to me, while my boyfriend is not close to his family at all. So when he says that they wouldn’t attend the wedding, he says that he’s fine with that. But I know that if I were in his position, I would be devastated not to have my parents there. My not being Jewish is not a dealbreaker, I think he just doesn’t want to force a conflict with his parents (understandably). But as we move towards marriage a conflict with them is seemingly inevitable.

      • Cleo

        I would double up on the “He needs to talk to his parents about his life,” advice. I worry that unless he is very clear, firm, and up front with his parents, you’ll be perceived as the “bad guy” (the one who made him stop practicing/who doesn’t value his culture and religion) all in completely unfair ways.

        Good luck as you navigate these difficult waters!

      • Leah

        I think this response – explaining that you are close to family while he is not – clarifies the situation for me quite a bit. For me it lines up work that you both have to do:

        1) As others have said, yeah, he’s gotta talk to his parents about religion, and about you, and not push that conflict-avoidance onto your plate. Also, he needs to clarify what HE wants out of this wedding. How much does he
        want to accommodate his parents’ wishes, within reason, vs completely
        eschewing the trappings of Jewish wedding?

        1) But, maybe just as importantly, YOU need to decide whether not being one big happy cozy family with your in-laws is dealbreaker. Because it doesn’t sound like that’s in the picture. Who knows (things can always change, ahem, grandkids) but if he already isn’t close to them, and then him marrying a non-Jew just compounds that, it doesn’t seem too likely. Is that OK with you? It sounds like it’s ok with him. I think there’s an extent to which he already knows the answer to all these questions (which is: nope, his parents just aren’t down with it), and you are trying to find ways to have the big happy family you’ve envisioned for yourself. Are you able to let that go?

        Good luck!

  • Elinor

    Totally agree with Liz’s advice, it’s sound and measured in my opinion.
    Just adding my two cents to say that I get the impression from the LW (not sure if it is edited down for space) that she thinks that being a religious person is solely about what a person does and not about their faith. They go hand in hand and to me, the faith is really the main factor.

    My first question would be to your boyfriend to ask.. ‘okay just because you aren’t observant, do you still believe? Do you want to have this ceremony performed with faith or would you prefer a civil ceremony?’

    The parents come second… they are his parents, so he needs to address his lack of faith / uncertainty about his faith / satisfaction that he’s okay with you not being Jewish directly to them, by himself.

    Once he has his own feeling squared away (I’m assuming that they aren’t only because it seems that you’re picking up his mess, but forgive me if he’s gone with this with them clearly already), you just need to be respectful of your future in-laws religion in the same way that anyone would respect a new family’s beliefs and culture and traditions.

    • I think you are approaching religion and faith from a very Christian perspective and much your script likely won’t resonate with the LW’s boyfriend. Which is not to say that Jews don’t have faith, but being Jewish is very much wrapped up in *doing* Jewish. There’s also the cultural aspect of being Jewish where some religious practices become cultural over time and hold significant meaning even for those without faith– having a chuppah or hebrew at the wedding could certainly be part of this. (My sister who scrubbed all mentions of God from her wedding ceremony still had a chuppah.)

      You’re right that the LW should encourage her bf to get to the bottom of what he wants first and consider what his parents want second, but the emphasis on faith is not necessarily the right way to approach a Jewish person in this matter.

      • savannnah

        I agree with this entirely- my Jewish parents have never onced asked me if I believe in god and I’ve never asked them but I know we are all religious and culturally very Jewish through our practices.

      • Katharine Parker

        I was coming here to comment on this! Even more so, this seems like a Protestant Christian perspective, that justification by faith alone–the importance of faith vs actions was a central component of the Protestant Reformation.

        Generally, the centrality of faith is different in Christianity than Judaism, though. I used to attend a lovely atheist shabbat dinner in college. (I’m not Jewish, to be clear.)

      • Elinor

        Thanks for your reply Stephanie. Its always good to learn.
        ‘… but being Jewish is very much wrapped up in *doing* Jewish’ – this is very interesting to me in particular as it’s so different to what I’m used to.

      • RJ

        Thanks Stephanie – that’s a really helpful distinction you’ve explained there

  • CatHerder

    You can’t make them happy. They are asking you and your husband to lie in a religious/community OR to live a life they don’t want. But beyond that, you can’t MAKE anyone happy. You can be nice and be you but if people are unhappy how you are living your life (and you aren’t stabbing them), then that is really on them and not you.

    The big thing in this case: get it straight with your partner about how you both want your wedding to be and how you want your life to be in regard to your partner’s parents and their religiously oriented lives. Once you are on the same page (even if it’s a few pages away from where you as an individual want to be, but hey, life is compromise), then you communicate that to them. Making them happy in this case will make you unhappy and probably wreck your relationship. Making them unhappy will mean that they learn the lesson that all parents learn, children are adults who make their own choices and sometimes they make choices parents don’t want them to make (Yes Mom, I’m still an over-educated gay liberal who likes cats. I know you hate cats.)

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. Thank you for the thoughtful response. I think part of my problem with everything is that I am suuuuuper close with my family, and my boyfriend is not at all close with his. I really want to make them happy because family is so important to me, but you’re right that you can’t please everyone.

      • Amy Sigmon

        I agree that your partner needs to have some conversations with his parents here. At the same time, and I hate to sound really negative here, because I’m sure you love your partner, maybe you need to have a serious conversation with yourself. All your replies say that family is very important to you. Are you ok marrying into a family that you may be estranged from? Is it enough to be close with your family of origin and the baby family that you and your partner will create? If you think you may have children, are you ok with them growing up distanced from a set of grandparents? I would never want to assume things about your feelings for your partner, but making the decision to marry means examining yourself as well as those around you.

        • Cleo

          seconding this SO HARD.

      • lamarsh

        I am also very close with my family and my fiance is not at all close with his family, though they live much closer to us, so we still see them once a month. When we first started dating, it was very important to me to try and “fix” my fiance’s relationship with his family, but as I started to understand the situation more, I realized that I needed to accept that not everyone’s family is going to be the positive source of love and energy that mine is to me. I also realized that the boundaries my fiance had put up helped protect him from his family’s dysfunction.

        I think it can be hard to get to a place of acceptance with this if you did not come from a dysfunctional family and do not appreciate that sometimes space and limited interactions is the best way to deal with family time. I have definitely learned a lot through our relationship and his relationship with his family has also gotten better since we started dating, though by no means are they close. On the bright side, my fiance loves my family and the fact that he has been folded into my family unit so easily makes up for the lack of family support we get from his family.

      • Alexandra

        Yeah, this could be an issue. What is his lack of closeness with his family based on? That’s a big question. Is it that he doesn’t really care about family, or is it that he is estranged from them for a good reason? Is he going to be ok with the two of you making your family a priority during your marriage, even as his relationship with his own family weakens? Is their emphasis on religion a wedge between him and them? Is he ok with that wedge becoming more permanent/ingrained as your marriage progresses? They have made difference of religion into a deal-breaker, and he will be effectively choosing you over them.

        Does this reflect him not valuing family relationships, or just being part of a family that has made it untenable for him to have a close relationship with? If it’s the first, I think that’s a problem, due to your own values. If it’s the second, that’s unfortunate but not really his fault.

        • lamarsh

          Seconding everything in the last paragraph. That is a super important distinction to make.

  • SarahBet

    Firstly, AS, you have my total sympathy.

    My in-laws were very much the same way. It wasn’t until three days before our wedding that we actually knew they’d be coming (and even then, my FIL tried to make changes to the venue (asking them to remove a small statue in an adjoining garden etc.) during the rehearsal). They were pretty sour the entire time. It was not pleasant. But it wasn’t the end of the world either.

    During our planning they kept demanding we do it their way or no way at all. It wasn’t until I said to them “If you’re not going to be supportive of our desire to be married, you do not get to make demands on how we do it.” A year after the wedding we had to have a similar conversation. “If you’re not going to be supportive of us, you do not get to be involved. If all we ever hear from you is negativity, I can only conclude you wish us unhappiness, and that is not an attitude I need in my life.” (They’re VERY formal people.) Basically “get with the program or show yourself out. Your choice.” By putting it back on them, it forced them to recognize that we were whole people separate from them, and we could make our own choices. My MIL decided being involved in our lives was worth more than their discomfort that we went to a different (also christian) church etc, and made an effort to meet us, if not where we were, in the middle. In the 6 intervening years, she’s relaxed quite a bit, and we’ve gotten much closer.

    I wish you so much luck. This is never an easy thing to navigate.

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. I think what you said to your in-laws is what we will have to say to his parents–be respectful but firm. Thank you for the advice!

  • lottie

    Having watched a similar situation play out with a sibling, I think there are things you need to figure out in advance:
    1) What do his parents know about his observance and what he cares about?
    2) How does he talk about religion and values with his parents?
    3) What role will religion play in your lives — Judaism is a religion of practice, belief is there but much less important. There are plenty of nominally observant Jews who still want to marry under a chuppah or celebrate Rosh Hashanah. What does he want? What are you comfortable with?
    4) What rituals are meaningful to him? Can they be made meaningful to you?
    5) Conversion in Judaism is intentionally hard. But not everyone who converts live a “traditionally observant” life — there are Reform conversions too. I point this out not to suggest you should convert, but to gently suggest that you’re not necessarily getting the full spectrum of Jewish life from him, and it’s worth pushing him to articulate what matters to him, what seems “Jewish” to him, and what you might want or not within that.

    Something else to think about — not to change what you do, whatever that may be, but to think about how you talk to his parents/community and how to frame things to them: observant Jewish parents (who may be reform, conservative, or orthodox) often feel like they’ve messed up when their kids “marry out.” It can be really helpful for children to both explain what they value, how it comes from their parents, and how they make choices in their lives (yes, this assumes an otherwise decent relationship). Framing current practices as a living, rather than rejecting, their parenting values can really help. For example, “you taught me to be an independent thinker, like the rabbis who debated the Talmud were. This has led me….” or “While I may not keep the sabbath strictly according to Jewish law, I value a day of rest which I sanctify in different ways.” There are also *a lot* of books on interfaith marriages, might be time to suggest reading and discussing them. And they’re going to care a lot about the kids, so be ready to tell them what you’re planning, if you’re planning on kids (this doesn’t mean they get a say, but it’s super hard to learn later that your kid will be baptized or not circumcised or whatever).

    • MaryAnn

      LW here. Thank you for the advice on how to talk to his parents! I think a big reason why this whole religion thing is such a problem for us is because he doesn’t want to confront his parents about it. They “know” he isn’t observant but they have never consciously acknowledged it. I really like your suggestion about how to frame the conversation.

      • Danielle

        Hi Mary Ann! This is a hard thing, and is really up to your boyfriend to handle.

        One bit of context I will add, as Jewish woman from a non-religious family (married to a wonderful gentile guy): As a total generalization, sometimes Jewish families are more involved and connected with each other than Christian families. It is just a cultural difference that honestly, can confuse and upset people from non-Jewish backgrounds.

        Sometimes my parents can get really controlling in ways that I have to manage – and it is partly through my relationship with my husband that I’ve realized what my boundaries are and how to set them. It will surely be an ongoing process as we have children, etc.

        Again, this is a total generalization that may not even apply to both you and your boyfriend’s families of origin. But noting this (among other) cultural difference may be helpful; it has certainly helped me and my husband as we navigate our relationship.

        Best of luck!

        • MaryAnn

          Thanks! That is a good point about potential cultural differences. I hadn’t thought of that as a reason why he has difficulties setting boundaries with his parents. Not being Jewish myself I would not have thought of that as a potential problem.

          • Danielle

            I have a lot of Jewish friends. The relationships we have with our parents, and their expectations of us, is often different from that of my (usually white) Christian friends.

            This is in no way to excuse his parents’ behavior, or to diminish the role your boyfriend will need to play in setting boundaries with his parents. It’s really up to him, if he wants a relationship with you.

        • Meg Keene

          Oh girl. The number of fights we have had about this in 12 years. I cannot even.

          • Danielle

            Hoo boy. You have my sympathy.

            We haven’t told my parents yet that I’m pregnant because husband is convinced that my mom will take the next plane out here. I’m not totally sure that he’s wrong…

      • sofar

        “They “know” he isn’t observant but they have never consciously acknowledged it.”

        My husband’s parents were/are the same way. They “know” their son is an atheist, but were furious when they found out we weren’t having a religious wedding. Because then it would become clear to all their friends that they “let” their son lapse.

        I did not convert or go through any of the religious hoops necessary to get married in their church. They came to the wedding anyway.

        Honestly, I’m glad we did it this way because it really set a tone for the marriage: “I will respect your religion and attend services with you when I stay in your home. But I will not, myself, incorporate your religion’s rules into my personal life or marriage in any way.”

        I have friends/family who have converted to various faiths “just for the wedding.” And the phrase, “if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile” DEFINITELY applies when it comes to religious families. So be careful.

    • Leah

      In addition to all this good advice – if he is interested in keeping some aspects of Judaism in his life going forward, it could be to find a Rabbi who is supportive of interfaith marriage, and have some good ‘counseling’ sessions with him/her. A Rabbi who is a good fit for you should be really helpful in talking through what it means to have a Jewish wedding and a Jewish household, identifying the things that are important to your partner, and helping put it all in a context that will be helpful in bringing your (eventual, joint) decisions to his family.

      • lottie

        Indeed. Mychal Copeland, a rabbi who married a non-Jewish woman and directs Interfaith Family in the Bay Area, is one example of someone who is not only supportive of interfaith marriage but lives it and has thought a lot about how it works. There are others too, of course, but she’s a good starting point (and has some interesting blog posts to read through and think about).

        • Jen

          I’m Jewish (reform) and my husband is not. Our rabbi was a friend of a family friend, who herself officiated her daughter’s wedding to a gentile.

          She explained it to me thusly: She is a rabbi, and she is officiating our wedding. She is doing lots of the Jewish parts of a wedding for us (the parts we wanted). However, because my husband was not Jewish, she technically could not be a “rabbi officiant” but rather “an officiant, who is also a rabbi.” She could not, in good faith, do parts of the traditional Jewish wedding, such as binding us together as People of Israel (because my husband is not one). She could not officiate as a rabbi, because rabbis (even Reform ones) don’t do official Jewish weddings with non-Jews *as rabbis*. This, by the way, came from a very liberal female rabbi (see above, married her own daughter to a non-Jew).

          These are details that did not matter to me. I am reform, and I wanted my wedding to feel Jewish just like all the other weddings in my family. However, to an Orthodox family, it would be extremely important and it would likely not be “a Jewish wedding” to them, because, really, it’s not. It’s a Jewish wedding in feeling, a Jewish wedding in looks, it has a rabbi at the front, but it’s not official in the eyes of the People Israel.

          Sorry for the detail, but wanted you to know so you weren’t under any illusions about what would work for his Orthodox parents. For what it’s worth, I loved my wedding and it satisfied my Jewish family, and me.

          • lottie

            Oh I know. But sometimes the officiant still matters to parent even if the wedding is not. in an official religious way, Jewish. My sibling was married by a Reform rabbi who is also a hospital chaplain: the chaplain part satisfied the non-Jewish partner who didn’t want a rabbi, the rabbi part satisfied my parents who wanted a rabbi, and the totally secular language of the wedding satisfied my sibling who wanted a secular wedding. So, depending on what people are seeking, there are options, but it is important to be clear about what is what, as you note.

  • Lisa

    This won’t help with the in-law’s happiness, but if you’re partner finds upon reflection that having certain Jewish elements included in the wedding is important to him, there are plenty of resources.

    There are non-orthodox ketubot (the marriage contract) for interfaith couples and for humanists.
    Interfaithfamily.org has rabbis in many places that are willing to officiate.
    Ritualwell.org has a ton of examples of people creating their own rituals based off traditional ones.
    And of course, things like breaking the glass, dancing the hora, having a huppah (wedding canopy) etc can be done in conjunction with a secular ceremony.

    We’re having a secular ceremony, but we’ll still have some Jewish elements incorporated, just as we’ll have customs from our ethnic backgrounds.

    As a convert, I also am grateful that you recognized the gravity of the conversion process. It’s a lifelong journey, and it isn’t taken on in-name-only even in less observant communities. Marriage isn’t about changing who you are to meet another’s expectations, and you also don’t want to appropriate an identity without taking on the responsibilities that come with it.

    It would be really helpful, though, to have those conversations with your partner about his relationship to Judaism/kids/holidays/etc and work on boundary-setting. And remember that changing parental relationships & setting boundaries isn’t easy for anyone. You’re both doing a great job and you’re in it together.

  • sofar

    Converting for your partner is one thing. Converting for your partner’s parents is another thing entirely.

    If my husband wanted certain elements of his family’s religion in our wedding, I’d have done it. But he didn’t. And we weren’t about to twist ourselves to incorporate all of our parents’ religious customs into our wedding (especially because it never would have been “good enough” anyway).

    Yes, you need to respect your in-laws. But I don’t think that necessarily means converting for them. You need to make very clear that you and your partner make the decisions about your marriage (and that starts with the wedding). That holds true when it comes to religion, which cabinet you keep the cups in, when you’re going on vacation, how you decorate your home, where you live, how many kids you have, etc.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    This is between the dude dude and his parents. The letter writer considered converting, and decided not to. Assuming she’s still on board with marrying him (which sounds like the case), it’s his turn to decide if he wants to marry someone his parents don’t approve of, and risk not having their support during the wedding and beyond.My perspective on this comes from being an agnostic who was previously devout. I’m marrying an atheist who has never been religious. My mother is still devout, and assumes that I am. We are not having a religious ceremony, and I’ve been considering whether and to what degree I’m going to invite Mom to contribute something religious to the ceremony and/or reception. I expect at some point she and I will have to finally have a conversation about my failed faith. My fiancé is leaving it up to me to decide how to handle things, and aside from his supporting me in my choice, I see this as my issue to deal with.

  • It seems like a more fundamental and not religious issue you have is that you are wanting your bf’s relationship with his parents to be closer than it is. Some families are close and some are not. His relationship with them is likely already weakened by the fact that he is not observant, regardless of who he marries. You can’t force him to have a better relationship with his parents than he does. So if he’s ok with them not coming (really ok not just putting on a brave face) then you’re going to have to deal with that.

    Aside from that, as someone who is intermarried I can tell you that the wedding is your first but not your last of such conflicts. You and your bf need to get really good at talking about religion in terms of what EACH of you want first (seems like you are pretty good at that, going by your conversion discussion) and then in talking about what compromises you are willing to make for his parents vs. which you aren’t. In your letter, many things are missing from that discussion. Bf lists parents demands, but nobody actually knows how strong these demands are– would they really miss their son’s wedding over it? Maybe and maybe not. And then, of that list (if those demands are real) what of them is he willing to have to appease them? What are YOU willing to have? Conversion is a no, but what about a rabbi to officiate or co-officiate? What about some Hebrew?

    And once you do that for this occasion, you have to extrapolate that out to holidays, child rearing, etc. Have that conversation now, but also be ready to have it again and again for the rest of your lives.

    • And right on cue my husband and I had another discussion about Christmas traditions last night… at almost 4 years married and expecting our first child.
      Seriously, these conversations will never stop and they are never comfortable, so you both have to just sit in your discomfort and get used to it.

  • savannnah

    I have a thousand things to say and feel about this column (as the Jewish daughter of a old school conservative Jewish father and formerly-catholic now Shinto mother who never converted) but my main point is something my father often says about relationships. From your letter it seems like your boyfriend is not taking care of, considering and cultivating a relationship between you and his parents. I don’t mean a loving always comfortable call your in-laws mom and dad but simply one in which they understand who you are and you understand who they are and you have some shared expectations about your relationship with them. For instance your boyfriend really needs to navigate his own relationship with them first before thrusting you into this very complex and complicated situation which for any outsider would be difficult to navigate. He also could be sharing with you some of the more nuanced dynamics about being Jewish in the US if you want to better understand his parents and his past, like the way minority identity politics and Jewishness as culture play into all of this. Also there are many flavors of Judaism (ortho, conservative and reform but also hello atheist Jews) which have different relationships with non-jews and each other. For instance, the term shiksa, while perhaps playful in conservative and reform communities is straight up derogatory in Orthodox communities and often referred to Jewish girls and women who are not up to par religiously. I wish you the best- all of this is complicated and stressful- My atheist fiance and I are raising our kids Jewish and we know its going to be a lifetime of negotiation to be able to do that in the way we both want.

  • Nell

    Hey! I’m a Jewish lady who married a non-Jew, and I have a few thoughts:

    1) You’ve said downthread that family is really important to you, but not so much to your partner. It’s easier to remain close to your family when your ideas about your life choices align with theirs. If his family is Orthodox, then there are all sorts of ways that he’s choosing things that they would disapprove of (from eating cheeseburgers all the way up to marrying a non-Jew). Sometimes, distancing yourself from family is a way to protect yourself and your choices. He may feel the absence of family very strongly, but he may also need that absence to keep moving forward with a life that makes him happy. It’s something that a lot of LGBT folks deal with as well.

    But if part of the dream for YOUR future includes a cozy relationship with your in-laws, then maybe you want to think about whether this is a trade off that YOU are comfortable with. It’s ok to feel unhappy that someone is rejecting you as a partner for their child because of the tradition you were born into.

    2) Judaism is not just 1 thing. I’d encourage you to ask him what Judaism means to him, and what traditions he thinks are important to keep, and which ones he wants to jettison. There are a lot of ways to incorporate tradition and culture without conversion. Has he explored options for Jewish community outside the culture in which he was raised? There are a lot of temples in my area that are totally supportive of interfaith couples.

    3) I agree with Liz that you need to ask him a lot of questions. But, you can do research, too! I love it when my wife picks up a book about Jewish history, or figures out what something means in Yiddish. Even if the in laws aren’t a part of your day to day lives, your partner’s background and culture is likely to be a part of your relationship one way or another.

    • Angela’s Back

      Piggybacking on point number 2, it’s also important think about (for him) how his feelings might change if you all choose to have kids. A lot of Jewish kids will fall off in high school/college/young adulthood, but once they have kids, realize that in fact it *is* important to them to belong to a synagogue and raise their kids with Judaism, even if that just means having a seder and forcing them to go to religious school. Your partner might be very meh about being formally involved in Judaism now–completely honestly!–and feel differently later, similarly to what people were saying upthread about realizing you do want your parents at your wedding.

      Different people above as well as Nell have mentioned seeking out a Jewish community that’s a little more giving or flexible or open to interfaith families than your partner’s family shul, and the kids question is where it would really, really pay off to do some of that community seeking up front. If you find a welcoming community now then that can help so much in figuring out what, if any, kind of Jewish home you want to create together.

  • z

    Oh, the stories I could tell… It seems like you have a lot to consider here. I read some hints of conflict avoidance and people-pleasing in here. There doesn’t seem to be a way to discuss this without “forcing a conflict”, for one thing. I agree with a lot of posters that appeasement will be ultimately unsatisfying for everyone, and that the fiance needs to stand on his own two feet and own his personal religious choices.

    BUT. Just speaking from my own experience here, what if he actually isn’t as un-religious as he seems? What if he’s really not ready to commit to a non-religious family life and that’s actually the issue, rather than avoiding conflict with parents? My story is that I (an atheist) dated a guy from an enthusiastically observant Reform family for quite some time. He wasn’t very observant at the time– no services, no keeping Kosher, not even for Passover, didn’t ever turn off his phone or anything (which sounds so awesome to me). But he wasn’t able to close the door on having a Jewish family life as an adult, and eventually it became clear that he did, in fact, want it. He just didn’t want to do the WORK– he wanted a wife to do it for him. As did his parents, perhaps because they thought that was the only way it would happen and would cause him to become more observant. Raising children observantly Jewish, especially if you weren’t raised that way, can require quite a bit of time and effort (and cooking!). And I wasn’t really up for being the lead parent on that. So once I caught on to what was really going on in his head, I was outta there. Anyway, not saying this is what’s going on here, just food for thought.

  • Fundamentalist Anonymous

    As a strict Orthodox Jew (the kind they call ultra), I have a slightly different perspective here…For starters, is your boyfriend OK with the possibility that his parents will not attend the wedding at all? Are you? Let the idea sink in and maybe start resigning yourself to it.

    You didn’t specify your in-laws’ denomination, but you mention an Orthodox rabbi. Intermarriage is completely verboten in Orthodox communities; something like 98% marry in. People used to sit shivah when it happened because it was as painful as a death. While none of this is your fault on a personal level—your in-laws probably wish they could love and accept you with a full heart—in their eyes, your marriage represents a death blow to their son’s Jewish destiny. And in Orthodoxy, Judaism is matrilineal, so to them it’s also the end of an entire family. Having the wedding on Sunday as a concession is a bad joke. It’s a Band-Aid on a bullet hole.

    Had you looked into Judaism and found yourself sincerely attracted to it, I have no doubt that your in-laws would be delighted to attend. Without the rabbi and the Hebrew, they wouldn’t consider you formally married, but at least you’d be Jewish. But—and this is a big but—since you are not, your in-laws will not want their presence to lend tacit approval to a marriage they believe to be (a) forbidden, and (b) a tragedy.

    Second, third, fourthing what everyone else said: your boyfriend needs to have a talk with his parents. He’s an adult, and his spirituality is his own. They might have a hard time accepting that, and I am not sure that framing it in Jewish terms would be helpful. It might soften the blow to mention some of his parents’ practices and values that he appreciated (non-religious ones, so as not to pour salt on the wound) and how he plans to continue those in his own home. Let them know that even if he is not religious, they were still good parents, and they can still be good parents. To be honest, it sounds like that talk is way overdue.

    I know all of this sounds harsh. I am really sorry this is happening to you. But your last question—“How do we make them happy?”—might not have an answer.

    • IG

      As a Jew myself, I think this is a really critical comment for OP to read, sit with, and really try to digest. I’ve had a lot of friends and family members in this situation (including reform Jews marrying into families where one set of in-laws is Orthodox). When family members are Orthodox, there will often be no compromise, and the poster is going to have to really think about whether she can live with that. It only starts with the wedding — imagine how you’ll feel if his parents want no relationship with your future children because they don’t consider them Jewish. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but there may never been a meeting in the middle, or “agree to disagree” compromise reached.

      • Katharine Parker

        This also seems like a time to work from facts, rather than assumptions. The partner is assuming what the parents want, the LW doesn’t seem clear on what type of Judaism her in-laws follow, and none of them have discussed clearly the family’s expectations for their son and his wife or the son’s expectations for his own life. If there are no compromises to be made, the LW deserves to know that with certainty so she and her partner can figure out their lives under that knowledge.

        • lottie

          Yes. A lot of the religious conflict over my sibling’s marriage to a non-Jew stemmed less from the particular practices (or lack thereof) and more from the lack of communication over priorities, values, stances.

          Also, depending on one’s perspective, my parents look “very religious” or “not that religious” — kosher home, shabbat dinner every week, observe all the holidays, have separate passover dishes, but eat out, use the phone/electricity on shabbat/holidays, drive to shul, etc. I’d say about half their friends have kids who have married non-Jews which remains a struggle but is actually pretty normal. So much depends on specifics and particulars — depending on whether the LW’s partner’s family is ultru-Orthodox, modern Orthodox, liberal Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, observant Reform, etc, will make a huge difference in this situation. Won’t change the unhappiness necessarily, but will affect what the possibilities are and how it all plays out.

    • Yael

      Just out of curiosity, which sect do you align with? I’m Orthodox as well (Modern Orthodox, or what they call Dati Leumi in Israel, where I now live).

      I didn’t realize there are Haredim reading APW. Awesome! :)

      • Fundamentalist Anonymous

        Generally the Yeshivish/”black hat” community, but I lean very slightly RWMO in ideology.

        Yeah, some of us have Internet. Shhh! :)

        • Yael

          Ah, the “ultra” in front of orthodox always throws me off, mainly because frum people don’t use it when talking about themselves, and the (non-Jewish) media mainly uses it to sensationalize when discussing OTD memoirs from very insular groups.

          There goes my fantasy of this Satmar woman is Kiryas Joel logging onto APW on the regular! Haha

          • Fundamentalist Anonymous

            LOL, sorry. Until “yeshivish” and “haredi” go mainstream, we’re stuck with “ultra.” (Who am I kidding, nuance will never go mainstream.)

          • Dana East

            I read a lot of smart stuff on APW but “nuance will never go mainstream” might be the wisest.

  • laddibugg

    “You probably can’t do anything to make your in-laws happy.”

    Nope. This is their way of cementing the fact they aren’t happy he’s marrying a non Jewish woman. I’d bet money they don’t actually even care if the wedding is in Hebrew, they just wanted to add fuel to the fire.

    What happens with kids? Are they going be ok with them coming out the gate as non-Jews?

    Have his parents said anything about how they will interact with you after you get married? Are you invited to religious events and observances now? I totally understand them not eating at your house, but will they even come over?

  • eas56

    Culturally christian (agnostic/atheist) woman here who just married a culturally jewish man a year ago who first wants to say “you are wandering into a minefield – watch out.” I have the BEST possible scenario of this situation (his parents are fine with me being a non-jew, our parents get along swimmingly, we both construct our own hodgepodge traditions – including culturally jewish and christian celebrations), and it is still challenging. So, here’s my opinion:

    1- To sum up all points below:
    Since I have not seen this yet below, I think it would be a good time to get some PRE-MARRIAGE COUNSELLING for you two. You two have a lot of serious issues that you will have to deal with your whole life as a married couple. I don’t think you should become engaged until you both have a firm footing on how you will deal with family and religion.

    2-With regards to conversion:
    I was very up front with my husband and his family about NOT converting from the beginning. I don’t believe in a strictly judao-christian god, either in the jewish or christian faith. This may sound like a back-handed insult, but I feel that doing so would be violating my own sense of self, and the sanctity of the jewish religion.
    This should be YOUR decision, and NOT something you do just to smooth the past between him and his parents. That is not YOUR responsibility. To me, that’s kind of like getting a beloved tattoo removed to please your partner.

    3- I agree with the other commenters that your BF is going to do a lot soul searching, both alone and in talks with you, before making this decision.
    Your letter seem to be framing it as though BF will go along with whatever you decide, this has downstream consequences in just about EVERYTHING in your future life. At the very least, he is going to have to abandon celebrating life’s milestones in the community he grew up in. It’s going to affect everything from the people you hang out with, the events you celebrate, even where he can be buried – and that’s not something you can decide for him.

    4- Speaking as someone who married into a family MUCH more involved with each other’s affairs than my own family, this is another area you are going to have to navigate together. I love them dearly, but whenever I visit/vacation with my husband’s family, I need to be sure to work in some time for me to have some time to myself or I will go insane. My MIL wants to be MUCH more involved with my life than I am comfortable with, and my FIL wants to protect me from the world (which I find infantilizing).
    I just want to make sure that you are aware that you need to respect your BF limits with regards to your family as well. He may want to celebrate some holidays just the two of you, you may need to visit your family without him sometimes. Are you willing to somewhat limit your closeness with your immediate family to support his needs?

  • I’m a convert to Judaism and happy to see so many thoughtful comments have already been made. Instead of starting from scratch, I just want to say “THIS” and “co-sign” to a few things other people have said.

    1. Kudos to you for realizing that converting is more involved than signing a piece of paper. I converted under the Reform auspices, because I realized an Orthodox conversion would involve lying to rabbis about my future observance.

    2. The wedding is the tip of the interfaith iceberg. This will play out again and again through-out your marriage – even without children. Take the time now to really explore your lives together and his parents role in it. Finding a rabbi/marriage counselor that you like now will be helpful.

  • curlytop

    If this bride converted, the parents would go along with the wedding. However, she is not prepared to sincerely convert, and good for her for honesty. His parents aren’t the “bad guys” and it isn’t personal. They have always wanted and expected their son to marry a Jew for too many reasons to list. They have done all they could to ensure it. If the bride can sincerely convert, that would be best. Otherwise, the road will be rocky. Their son has rejected the parents’ total world view.

  • curlytop

    One more thing, our children know, and have since they were little, that the choice of whom to marry is theirs. If they choose to marry a person who is not Jewish (converts ARE Jewish!), that we will not attend the wedding or any affiliated events. In our 30 year marriage, we have never attended a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew though we have been invited. We politely decline. A rabbi is only empowered to marry two Jews, and to do otherwise is a sham. Also, as Judaism is at the very core of my and my husband’s existence, we do not wish to witness the destruction of our Jewish community. By the way, any other weddings, Catholic, Islamic, Hindu, we would love to attend.

    • curlytop

      To my own post, if this couple were to marry anyway, they should have a purely civil ceremony. To inject Jewish stuff into it is inauthentic, a lie. Have a true, civil wedding. The groom’s parents won’t come. People live. They are unlikely to cut off contact and you may all develop a warm relationship over time. If you decide to convert down the line, have a real Jewish wedding then.

      • curlytop

        You could both consider living a Jewish life post-conversion. A fully Jewish life is very very rewarding. Lots of people do it and the benefits are immeasurable.