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