I converted to Judaism with a Reform rabbi, and my husband is not Jewish. We have two children, a daughter and a son, whom we have raised Jewish; they each had a bar/bat mitzvah, and my son attends a Jewish high school. As they begin to date, would there be any reason I or they should inform the other parents that I converted?
You raise a difficult and complicated question. However, your thinking about it shows a concern and caring that I think means you are well equipped to deal with the situation. Thank you!
The issue being raised here is the variety of rabbis and movements in American Jewish life. Because some denominations don't recognize the conversions of other denominations, in some circles (namely orthodox and perhaps some conservative) your conversion would be considered invalid, or at the least incomplete. Because of that, those rabbis would not consider your child to be Jewish. Although within the majority of the Jewish community there would be no concern, this is something to know and understand.
However, the question for me comes down to whose responsibility is it to speak with parents of a partner (if we would in fact agree that we should speak with them about this). In my mind, I think if your daughter or son knows that this question may exist somewhere down the line, you do not need to speak with the parents. That is really a question for your child and his/her partner.
I would encourage you to speak with your children - openly and honestly - about your experience of conversion. Let them understand where you are coming from. If you do that, I believe they will make wise choices that support their own Jewish identity, and support their partners. Good luck with dating. I am not yet there with my own daughters, but I can see it coming over the horizon!
Members of different denominations in Judaism will not all view the legitimacy of your conversion in the same manner. Consequently, when your children eventually choose to have relationships with Jews that could lead to marriage, depending upon who the other person is and the family that s/he comes from, it is possible that strong objections will be raised to such a marriage either by the person with whom your child has become involved, or the members of that person’s family. It would be potentially heartbreaking for both you and your child if such objections would result in either the necessity to redefine his/her religious status or the abandonment of the relationship altogether. At the very least, I think that it is a parental responsibility to assure that when your children begin to date, they are alerted to such possibilities so that they can be forewarned and take such potential dynamics into consideration with respect to the development of their future serious dating relationships.
There is absolutely no reason to disclose this—nor is there any reason to hide it. However, your conversion should be something that comes out—if it does—when your son or daughter decide to talk about it. From your question I hear a hesitation about considering yourself Jewish or a fear that others might not consider you Jewish. You were converted by a rabbi, and you accepted membership in the Jewish people with the rights and responsibilities that come with that, in good faith. You are Jewish. If you converted before your children were born, then they too are Jewish. If your children decide to join a community that has different conversion standards then that will be their choice and they will deal with that.
When your children decide to marry they will tell their intended life partners what is necessary and then will make decisions based on that. Right now they should enjoy themselves in this, the month of liberation.
You pose a complicated question and a precise answer might depend on details you have not shared in your post. For the most reliable response I would consult a rabbi you trust can hear all of your concerns. I can offer a more general response.
On one hand you want to be sure to do no harm to your children. The best path, then, is to be transparent to them. To let them know the process you went through on your path of conversion. Once they are armed with that information, they can decide when and how they need to share that with others.
On the other hand it is important to honor the decision you made to convert and the basic principles our tradition holds concerning that process.
Once one converts they are 100% Jewish for all purposes. The Talmud, B. Yevamot 22a, states categorically that “a convert is considered as a newborn child.” Once a Bet Din, a rabbinic court, has confirmed their status they are fully Jewish – without any further limitation or definition. This principle is reinforced when the Talmud, Baba Metzia 58b, states:
If one was a child of proselytes, one may not say to him/her, “Remember what your ancestors used to do.” If one was a proselyte who came to study the Torah, one may not say, “Look who's coming to study Torah which was given by the mouth of the Almighty! This one, who ate carrion and teref-keat, abominations and creeping things.”
This citation comes in the midst of a discussion of the Talmudic principle of ona'at devarim, wrongs committed by acts of speech. It is based on one of Leviticus 25:15, “You will not wrong one another.”
Sadly, the principle is often observed in the breach. Too often people ask when they shouldn't, and rabbinic leaders, who should know better, act as if they need to be universal gatekeepers for the Jewish people as a whole. Challenges to this or that conversion have become more common. The result is that no conversion – regardless of whether it was conducted by a Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox Bet Din – can be considered universally acceptable.
I share this to underscore the point, regardless of how one entered the Jewish world there are those who will ignore our traditions and raise questions. But we do not need to be held hostage by them.
I understand that the reality is that your children may one day find themselves in a situation where they need to speak openly and lovingly to a potential mate and share their whole family story. They will want to enter into an intimate relationship without secrets that potentially may be divisive. For that reason they need to know the journey by which you entered under the tent of the Jewish people. But they, and you, are a long way from that moment. For now they need to know that you are fully, unquestionably, Jewish with all your heart and soul, and that you have raised them to take their own place in the long lineage that extends from Abraham and Sarah to you and them.
Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online
N O T I C E
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED IN ANSWERS PROVIDED HEREIN ARE THOSE OF THE INDIVIDUAL JVO PANEL MEMBERS, AND DO NOT
NECESSARILY REFLECT OR REPRESENT THE VIEWS OF THE ORTHODOX, CONSERVATIVE OR REFORM MOVEMENTS, RESPECTIVELY.