My son married a woman who converted to Judaism through the London Beth Din. She now refuses to follow any Jewish practice. Is her conversion still valid?
They have a baby boy who is now a year and a half; will he be considered Jewish?
By the way she forbids me to have any contact with the child. She is highly unstable and also prevents my son from having any contact with me or his brothers.
I am in regular email contact with him. We are a shomer mitzvot family, though I doubt my son keeps anything now.
The heartache of a grandparent cut off from a grandchild, no less a son, is one of life's greatest unnatural sufferings. You sound frustrated and sad. I wonder if you also feel betrayed? Are you experiencing the kind of anger that comes with extreme disappointment? How your daughter-in-law and son now relate to Judaism is so very inconsistent with your expectations, and lack congruity with how things stood when your daughter-in-aw was accepted by the London Beit Din. Your likely dream --of sharing a religious life with them-- is shattered. What are the implications, you ask.
Let's start with your basic question, is your grandson Jewish? Yes. So far as I am aware, once someone has been converted by a well-respected Beit Din, the conversion holds everywhere regardless of how the person's relationship to Jewish practice changes over time. Any children born to a woman so-converted are absolutely Jewish. Were someone born Jewish to cease following core Jewish practices, we would be still be considered Jewish, too. You don't mention if the parents had your grandson circumcised. Though this has no bearing on whether he is Jewish, he does become responsible for organizing this mitzvah for himself, when he is old enough to do.
Recently I coordinated a meeting with a ChaBaD Rabbi who is a licensed psychotherapist and known to me as a real mensch, with a family that was fracturing along Jewish religious lines due to what looked like the daughter-in-law's extreme religiosity. When we explored the issues involved, it turned out to be mostly about unfilled childhood needs. A healing plan is now in place and this is making all the difference to rebuilding that family's capacity for loving connection, regardless of their individual relationships to religious practice.
Please keep in mind that religious practice can vary widely during a life time. I encourage you to avoid showing the kind of aggressive disappointment or coercive threats that will provoke even greater distancing of your family, and your grandson, from you and from their Jewish roots. All is not lost if you have done so, the human capacity for healing is substantial.
To maintain this part of your extended family in your life, it is vital that do your best to be kind and supportive of the couple's secular life. Send appropriate gifts for birthdays. Acknowledge each person's strengths and avoid criticizing weaknesses. Offer financial support if you can afford to, if it is needed. Send photos of yourself at a young age with your own parents, perhaps, in the picture too, send family stories and inquire about photos of your grandson and his parents.
Don't hesitate to extend regular invitations to join you at any time and for Jewish holidays. If rebuffed, don't push the point. A simple: "Perhaps another time, I/we love and miss you" might increase receptivity over the years. Avoid creating dramas and painful encounters that will long-be remembered and traumatic to you, and to them. If they come and don't dress modestly enough, leave it alone rather than turning that into an issue.
Most frum families have relatives who are not; can each co-exist with the other? Kindness and accepting each person for who they are and where they are on the journey right now is the path, imho, to sustainable relationship and personal growth. Trust that your son's feeling for Judaism will gradually be able to return and his wife's Jewish practice spark will return when other family issues resolve in safety. Or, like a vast number of Israelis, perhaps they are content being "just Jewish."
Be careful not to override the parents' religious preferences with the child, while at the same time don't abandon who you are and your own Jewish practice. It's fine if your grandson knows about practices from contact with you and perhaps tells friends "grandma has her own dishes at our home and brings her own food when she visits because she keeps kosher and we don't." Your religious life will be a healthy source of curiosity for your grandchild, keep the door of connection open.
Sitting in our china closet here in Philadelphia is my grandfather Benjamin Fradin's blue bowl that he brought over from Eastern Europe. Only he could eat from it, for he used it to eat kosher dairy when he would visit my childhood home. I keep a kosher home, though my mother didn't (save for not bringing in shellfish or pork). Zeyde also had a Shabbat timer in his room for his bedside light, even though the rest of the house didn't. He never sacrificed the integrity of our family for religious practice, we all accommodated each other gracefully, so far as I could tell growing up. When there is a will for the mitzvah of a peaceful family -- shalom bayit, there are many ways to get there.
I hope you have a good professional counselor or mashpi'ah. If the situation brings you toxic shame, should it become known where you live, you can also seek hashpa'ah via Skype via an organization like ReclaimingJudaism.org. In the absolute worst case scenario, in the face of a failure of the strategies above, it is sometimes possible under civil law to file for regular visitation time with a grandchild—involved grandparents can be very significant to a healthy upbringing. If the physical distance is great, say another country, regular visits via a service like Skype are a worthy form of connection.
In conclusion, Yes, your daughter-in-law is Jewish, and your grandchild is Jewish. If you possibly can, refocus on a long-term plan to foster loving family connections. May your process be blessed.
Unfortunately, your very painful question may not be answerable without further detail about the specifics of your daughter-in-law’s decline in Jewish observance. However, I can offer some general guidance that may help you towards an answer.
First off, the London Beit Din is a reputable Beit Din and their conversions are accepted throughout the world. As you likely well know, Orthodox conversion requires a complete acceptance and commitment without exceptions to fulfillment of Torah and Rabbinic Law (based on Talmud Bechorot 30B). When a convert seemingly accepts the mitzvot with a Beit Din at the time of conversion and then ceases to be religiously observant afterwards, what arises is a distinction made between those who never really made this commitment and those who truly made this commitment and in the course of time declined in their Jewish observance.
So for example, imagine the case of a person who went through an Orthodox conversion and then lived an observant Orthodox life for ten years and then ceased to be observant. Such a person would (to the best of my knowledge) universally be considered a Jew, albeit a non-observant Jew, unless there was some specific reason to believe that their initial acceptance of the mitzvot ten years prior was somehow incomplete or insincere. In contrast, a person who celebrated the completion of their conversion process by eating at a non-kosher restaurant, or stopped keeping Shabbat right away, would be assumed lacking in their complete and sincere acceptance of these obligations.
The resulting question is then one of what evidence would be acceptable to establish this person as a bona fide Jew who was no longer observant, as opposed to someone who never really accepted the mitzvot in the first place. There are different opinions about this issue, and it is currently a very hotly debated topic within Israel and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. This is where the details of your daughter-in-law’s history become highly relevant.
With regard to your grandson, his status is a function of your daughter-in-law. If her history of observance qualifies her as a Jew who is no longer Orthodox, then your grandson is Jewish. If her history indicates that her acceptance was incomplete or insincere, then her conversion would not be valid and her children would not be considered Jewish.
On a personal level, alongside how disturbing your daughter-in-law’s lack of ongoing interest in Judaism is, her need to enforce barriers on communication with your family is also cause for alarm. I hope and pray that your family will be able to get the sort of meaningful counseling that could help bring it to healthier relationships and dynamics. A more healthy and functional relationship would not only enhance the possibilities for your grandson’s Jewish exposure, it would also better fulfill Jewish family values as well.
First of all, it sounds like this situation is causing significant personal pain for you and your family. Judaism regards the extended family unit as holy, and deeply important to the wellbeing of the child- l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. I hope and pray that you, your son and his wife can come to some understanding, such that there can be a restoration of relations for the whole family. The specific practices of Judaism that your son and his wife engage or do not engage in are secondary to establishing Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, for you and the entire extended family.
Regarding the status of your son’s wife, Jewish law regards a convert as a Jew in all respects once they have undergone conversion. It also regards any offspring as Jews. If a convert reverts to some earlier practices or seems to disregard some or even all of the Mitzvot, their status remains that of a Jew. Even if they openly engage in the practicing of another religion, whether their religion of origin or some other non-Jewish religion, they maintain their status as a Jew.
However, authorities in the Conservative movement agree with the traditional sources (the Teshuvot of R’ Zelizer  and R’ Abelson and R’ Hammer  according to Shulchan Aruch YD 268:12, Rema, Turei Zahav et al) that a convert who reverts to another religion, while still a Jew, must undergo Mikvah and Beit Din again. This is in order to re-affirm their allegiance to Judaism. A child of an apostate from Judaism must also undergo Mikvah and Beit Din.
From your question, it is unclear if your son’s wife is simply a non-practicing Jew, for which there are many, and would not need to “re-convert”, or whether she has truly abandoned Judaism altogether and might need to re-convert. For you family’s sake, this seems less important, though, than the need for all parties to reconcile so that your grandson can have contact with his extended family. If this means turning a blind eye to your son and his wife’s religious choices, I would suggest that this is preferable than a child growing up with no contact to his loving Jewish grandparents.
First, I’m sorry for how painful this is for you. For your own relationship with your son, and perhaps for his relationship with his wife, you may want to go to the Council For Relationships for guidance, or consult a local family therapist. http://www.councilforrelationships.org/. Likewise, your son may want to consult a doctor. If this is new behavior for her (perhaps postpartum?) it may be that there is something wrong with her medically and she should get a full workup.
The question is one of her intent in the process. Did she convert in order to ‘punch a ticket’ so that she could marry your son, or was this for her own personal nourishment on some level? After reviewing Reform Responsa, it is clear that, while conversion for marriage alone is not ideal, we recognize that many people are drawn to Judaism through their spouses-to-be, and embrace our people through them. Assuming that she was sincere in her intent through her process, and she has not explicitly chosen to embrace her former faith, then the conversion stands (and by extension, the Jewishness of your grandchildren). Having said that, it’s clear that she needs medical attention—for her own sake, as well as that of her family.
Chazak v’amatz: may you have strength and fortitude as you struggle through this terrible situation.
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