I converted to Jewish over 20 years ago, married a Jewish man and raised my daughter Jewish. I do not practice the Jewish religion anymore because after my divorce I felt no connection. My daughter's one and only grandfather wants her to stay connected to the Jewish religion. Please let me know how I can help her stay connected. Is it necessary for me to practice the religion even though I have no connection:? Please help
You have asked an important, and unfortunately, all too common question.
You do not supply much information about your original conversion in your question, but I am going to make the following assumptions based on what you did write:
1) Your original conversion was done primarily because you wanted to marry a Jewish man, and not so much because you had discovered Judaism for yourself independent of your relationship with him
2) Although I am sure you did practice some aspects of the religion, you were probably not observant in the manner that (Orthodox) Judaism expects, e.g. full observance of the restrictions of Shabbat.
3) (I am going out on a limb here) – You were probably not converted by an Orthodox Bet Din.
If I am correct in these assumptions, then from the perspective of classic Jewish law you never underwent a proper conversion, and thus are free to no longer practice Judaism.
(However, if you did in fact seriously observe Jewish law after your conversion, and you wish to know what Halacha would mandate, I suggest that you contact your local Orthodox Rabbi.)
As for your daughter, I certainly hope that she will maintain a relationship with her grandfather. If my assumptions above are correct, she is not legally Jewish either. If she chooses to explore that side of her lineage and undergo a proper conversion, she will certainly be welcome to do so.
Jewish tradition teaches the following: “Yisrael, af-al-pi she-chata, Yisrael hu – A person who is Jewish – even if s/he has gone astray from practicing the religion, s/he is still Jewish.” So this means that (provided that you finished a complete, halachic conversion twenty years ago), you are still Jewish.
Of course, this means that I would encourage both you and your daughter to connect to Judaism in as many ways as either of you find meaningful. It is easier to “do” Judaism in community – and so the best way to do this is within the context of family and/or a Jewish community.
Judaism is passed through the mother – so if you are her mother, and you converted before she was born, your daughter is Jewish. The next step for her to stay connected is to find and practice the rituals and actions of a Jewish life – and this will be most achievable if she does it with others. It is not mandatory for you to practice – but you, and a Jewish community (synagogue, JCC, etc.) would help her connect Jewishly.
Thank you for your question. I appreciate the struggle you are feeling between your own sense of religious identification and of supporting your daughter's identification. We know that when a person coverts to Judaism, they are making a lifetime commitment. And, as is true with those who are born Jewish, this commitment to being Jewish can never really be revoked. True, we can become apathetic toward Judaism and disconnected from Jewish life, but it does not take away our Jewish soul. One can never really cease being Jewish. Some may choose to convert to another religion, thereby suspending their connection to the Jewish community, but should such a person choose to recommit themselves solely to Jewish life, there is no special ceremony – they are already Jewish – and the community welcomes them back.
As I read it, your question is only in part about your own Jewish identification. Assuming you had asked only that question – “Is it necessary for me to practice the religion even though I have no connection?” – that answer is a personal matter. Yes, you are Jewish, and yes, you have the opportunity to affirm your Judaism through practice and mitzvot. But ultimately, you are responsible for those decisions. I cannot judge your level of commitment to Judaism and Jewish practice – but as a rabbi, I am a little biased toward the outcome. In my mind, there are always opportunities to re-connect with Judaism and re-energize your Jewish soul. I understand from your letter that your connection to Judaism was for a marriage that no longer exists. But the opportunity to re-engage always exists.
As for your daughter – what a wonderful mitzvah you have already done by raising a young Jewish woman. Ultimately, her connection to Judaism is also her personal choice. Of course her grandfather wants her to stay committed, and that triangulates you into the matter. But, your daughter is Jewish by birth and by personal commitment. And there are a myriad of ways to develop her Jewish identity – temple involvement, Religious School, Jewish friends, summer camps, trips to Israel, holiday observances, and so much more. Yet, her chief identifier will be always be her parents. She looks to you to affirm her Jewishness. I understand that this may place a stress on you – and your own sense of disconnect – and so my counsel would be twofold.
First, communicate openly with your daughter about your own spiritual journey. Tell her where you stand, what big questions you have, and what drives your own search for holiness.
Second, I hope that you would encourage her to remain committed to Jewish life. Not only for you, not only for her father, not only for her grandfather, not only for the sake of the Jewish people – but also for herself. Be clear with her that while you may not feel super-connected right now – her journey belongs to her – and she should seek out her own opportunities for Jewish involvement.
Your question is filled with both struggle and opportunity. Struggle for your own sense of connection and how that resonates with your daughter. But there is also opportunity – a chance to emerge from these questions with a renewed sense of wonder and commitment to the Jewish people. My prayers are with you as you continue this journey.
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