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Intermarried

My husband, a convert, is more observant than I am

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Taffy and Claude Brodesser-Akner at their wedding. (© Marissa Roth)
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The Law Won

Hope that love could bend the rules of kosher observance only went so far

It is not because Claude was born Catholic that I consider us intermarried. No, it’s the conversion to Judaism that that did it. Though the smoke has cleared for a while—now that Shavuot is over, we are blissfully holiday-free until September—I know that when the High Holidays come, the differences between our commitment to religious practice will make themselves known once again.

When I first met Claude, in 2004, I wouldn’t date him. Though I was barely affiliated with any particular Jewish movement, I come from an Orthodox family and wasn’t about to give up my relationship with them— yes, it would come to that—for someone I didn’t yet love.

“I’ll convert,” he said.

“The only conversion my family would accept is an Orthodox one,” I said. “For that, you’d have to live an Orthodox life.”

“I’ll do it!” he said. (I am that good a kisser.)

“But if you were Orthodox, I wouldn’t want to go out with you anymore.”

My resistance was worn thin by this warm, witty man, and I found one day that I loved him very much. And so when he began the conversion process, he did it through the Modern Orthodox movement.

Two years later, after a morning in which rabbis grilled him on everything from how to make tea correctly on Shabbat to Maimonides’s 13 Principles, Claude emerged from the mikvah a new man. His conversion had taken: The first thing he wanted was Chinese food. I suggested a restaurant here in Los Angeles, where we had had our first date.

“Let’s go to the kosher one instead,” he answered.

We had never discussed keeping kosher. Through all the rigor and study that was involved in the conversion, I’d never thought that we would end up really and truly religious. We liked the Modern Orthodox synagogue we’d joined, we certainly loved the rabbi, and we had no intention of leaving. But when we began this conversion process, it was something we were doing for my family. We weren’t signing up for a life so different from our own. Sure, things would change: Claude would be Jewish, after all. But we’d make our rules, decide what constituted observance for us, and we certainly wouldn’t keep kosher; I’d had a lifetime of that, and I wasn’t interested in returning to it.

But by the time the conversion was completed, it was clear that something in Claude had changed, After his conversion, Claude began wearing a yarmulke every day. He wanted to keep kosher, to observe Shabbat.

I was proud of him. I was moved by his sincerity, glad that I had not betrayed my religion by bringing in a man who only kind of meant it. And I decided that if he was in, I was in. I spent Fridays preparing for sundown. I invited people over for meals on Shabbat afternoon. I joined the committees at our synagogue. I paid more for kosher meat.

When we got married in 2006, I had the wedding I never pictured. No kiss beneath the chuppah, gender-separated dancing for the first hour, nondairy creamer for coffee. My dress covered my elbows and my collarbone. When our son was born a year and a half later, I fought every protective instinct I had and allowed him to be circumcised. Claude cried when Ezra did, the memory of his own adult bris still fresh.

Our home was kosher, but I decided I would start keeping kosher outside the home as well, now that we had a child. I did it so that Ezra would have one less thing to be confused about as he got older. I also hoped that maybe the meaningfulness of observance would affect me once I participated in it: Accept these rules first, and then understand them; that’s what God told us at Sinai.

I started slowly, first giving up shellfish and pork, items that can’t be kosher no matter how hard they try. Later, I refused to eat even vegetarian dishes at non-kosher restaurants, leading me to become well acquainted with the 15 kosher joints in my neighborhood.

Then, two years later, I found myself out with a friend and our kids at a playground with a lunch menu. On a whim, I ordered a Cobb salad. I ate it and, much to my dismay, didn’t feel anything. Not guilt, not regret, not shame. It was just food, and it tasted delicious.

What am I keeping kosher for? I wondered. Sure, Claude had made accommodations to be with me. But he had also found something his soul had been looking for. I just had new rules to follow, ones I thought I’d done away with years earlier. It wasn’t that I was contemptuous of religion. It’s just that it’s not easy to live a life committed to ritual driven merely by the absence of contempt, as opposed to by the quest for and presence of meaning.

Claude’s zeal for religious practice also seemed to eclipse the fact that I was Jewish before I met him, that I had a practice and beliefs of my own. They weren’t big practices, and they certainly weren’t intense. But they were mine, and they were meaningful to me.

Things came to a head earlier this spring, as I got ready for Passover. When observed at the Orthodox level, Passover preparation becomes wholly unpleasant. There is the wasteful discarding of food, the cleaning of floorboards, the covering of counters, the days of shopping and cooking. As we prepare to celebrate our freedom, we become slaves to our homes, to cleanliness, to the kosher market. They’re fools errands, time wasted. I found myself asking my husband via text message to consider seriously how badly he wanted to continue this observance, and to please pick up a bag of walnuts on his way home.

It wasn’t that I was angry with God or the rabbis whose rules we follow. I was angry with Claude for what feels like a betrayal despite the fact that it isn’t. He converted for me. I willingly met him where he wanted to land. I just didn’t realize it would be quite so far from where we had started.

You just got here, I thought. I’ve been here all along. What makes you think you get to decide how we live?

Recently a Facebook friend made reference to my dread of Shabbat. (We spend a whole day preparing for a day of rest!) Another person asked me why I observe if I don’t want to. I thought about that for a long time and about all the decisions I’ve made over the years to enhance my life—from regular eyebrow waxes to registering for enough china that I can entertain eight people at once. Adulthood is about making compromises to allow others into your life, to be part of something bigger—like those compromises or not. Claude has made similar choices: to visit my family more often than he’d probably like, to work hard so that I can stay home with our son, to accept the loss of friends who abandoned him when he became religious.

“We don’t have to do things this way,” Claude said to me after the holiday, seeing how dejected I was from all the effort. “We can do whatever you can live with.”

But what can I live with? What do I want? I don’t necessarily want an utterly secular life. I love the community and the values Orthodoxy provides. I don’t have a better suggestion for how to live our lives. Do I really want to watch TV on Friday nights when I watch it every other night of the week? Do I see my friends so much that I can’t stand another day in which we eat together leisurely?

Maybe I want to know that my happiness is more important than ritual. Maybe I want to know that covenant between Claude and me is more meaningful to Claude than the one he shares with God. It is when he tells me that we can be as strict or loose as I want that he proves I am still most important to him. “Not to worry,” I can say then. “This is fine.” I mean it, too.

I am not entirely in the clear until September. From now until then, I will light Shabbat candles exactly 15 times, prepare all those Shabbat meals, and endure a very long fast for Tisha B’av, which falls this year in July. But when Claude reaches across to me, when he reminds me that it’s us first and foremost, I can approach religion with a new kindness, as something we do together, not something being done to me. I continue to pray that my acceptance will lead to understanding, as God once told us it would. And I pray that that understanding will lead to endurance and willingness, too. I’ve always prayed, long before I got to this place.

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Kim Phillips says:

I can so identify with this! I converted to Judaism, and I’m married to the Dalai Lama of the atheist movement. We almost got divorced, not because he suddenly got a Jewish wife but because he got a religious one. Nine years later, he’s the one who reminds me about candle-lighting time. Go figure.

Rebecca says:

When my first husband encouraged me to consider becoming Jewish, I did not realize that what he was suggesting was that I become Jewish like him — Jewish like I had been Christian — identified with a group, but otherwise utterly disinterested in it. When I took it on with full enthusiasm, began to attend Shabbat services, began to read Jewish books and make Jewish choices, even hard ones, he asked me with equal encouragement if I would consider throttling back. Shortly after this, we divorced, and I continued my study and ultimately completed my conversion by conviction, utterly on my own, to the amazement of friends, family, and a non-practicing Christian boyfriend.

When I met and began dating the man who is my husband through our synagogue, he joked that I was too Jewish for him. But realistically, who converts to be lukewarm about something? My adjustment, like the author’s husband’s, has been to integrate my enthusiasm for my chosen religion with the more secular practice of my born-Jewish husband and his family. Strange, that I would find myself struggling to keep my Jewish identity more, perhaps, in an “intermarriage” of this kind than I may have if I had actually intermarried.

VirginiaMary says:

Praise be to our Creator who has drawn you closer to Him. May your husband as he corrects him self in Love for you & our Creator continue your correction of your self that all my live in resemblance of form with our Creator & in untiy create the world He intended for us. Welcome home my friend. May Love for our Creator make all the work for September a pleasure for you.
Shalom
VirginiaMary

“But realistically, who converts to be lukewarm about something”

You nailed it Rebecca. Someone told me about a year after my conversion that he was surprised at how familiar I was with services and rituals and how knowledgeable I was about Judaism in general. I couldn’t figure out why he would think I would be anything less. It’s hard for me to imagine someone converting who wasn’t passionate about it and didn’t want to immerse herself into the faith, the tradition and the community in a significant way.

miriam chana says:

What a powerful story. I strongly believe that the souls that make serious conversions are souls that were at Sinai, regardless of their halachic status. I can see what trauma this has brought you and understand it completely because i too am not the most religious, although i am observant and i understand what a different proposition it is to do it and do believe it. we do it because our lives are better for it and that includes our community and our shul as well as some other things I will not name here.

personally, i have told my children that even more important than marrying jews, is marrying a jew who is on the same page as you are. or at least who is willing to go to where you are and want to be there.

by the way a solution for the whole passover prep thing is going away for pesach- even renting a condo hotel, or whatever. lock your door, sell your chamets and come home when it is all over. boom done. go away or just do it in your own town. we did it this year in florida and it was awesome. we cannot afford a pesach hotel programme, but found a great hotel with perfect amenities and even with flight the price was right!

i wish you much chizuk.

questioner says:

I am so pleased to see Tablet publish an article about someone who struggles with Jewish practice from the perspective of Orthodoxy. The vast majority of articles in this vein published on Tablet come at it from a position of secular hedonism v. observance of any sort. I like the subtlety of examining the degrees of actual observance – it meets many of us where we actually stand.

Thank you for this story. You provide an excellent example of how important it is for us to examine our own feelings about things and to discuss those feelings with our spouse. Instead of continuing practices that are meaningless to you and harboring resentment over it, you spoke with your husband about it and reached a solution that works for both of you.

Kudos to you both for your honesty and flexibility. They should serve you well in your many negotiations yet to come.

john says:

I wasn’t born Jewish I choose to be Jewish. I am a Messianic Jew, a Christian who finally came to the conclusion that I owe my salvation and my everlasting to a Jew (The Messiah)born of a Jew who was in fact the Son of G-d the Father. In my heart I am like Ruth who cried out “I want the G-d of your people to be my G-d.” Period. I am not learning how to be Jewish, I am learning how to do what Yeshua commanded me to do which was to follow Him. Life has gotten better.

Ken Besig Israel says:

I believe that the conversion experience, that is the granting by God of a Jewish soul to the convert, is so overpowering that it erases every other religious impulse and causes this newly created Jew to be and need to be entirely Jewish, just like the Jews at Sinai were all recreated. It always warms my heart to meet true Jewish converts who keep the mitzvot, observe Kashrut, who are shomer Shabbat, and for whom Judaism is living experience blessed by God.

Gary G says:

While I sympathize with Taffy I am sympathetic to her husband’s point of view and true conversion. He went all the way and that is truly admirable. I am one of those fiercely proud Brooklyn Jews who fight (at least with words) if I detect what I perceive even the slightest anti-semite (or anti-Brooklyn)remark, even from friends, yet I never attend synagogue and after my wife decided NOT to convert about 25 years ago or so nothing really changed in our relationship or in the way we brought up our son (now 24). We just try to be moral, ethical and decent. I am pretty sure God accepts that, though I know regular people of various faiths don’t. As we say in Brooklyn; “Screw ‘em if they don’t get it!”

Silvia says:

Great piece! I think that the danger comes when you start doing ritual for the sake of the relationship. The relationship – and more specifically, your spouse – becomes who you are essentially praying for. You are praying so that you two can relate on a religious/spiritual level. You are praying so that you two can have this shared experience. G-d is in a way taken out of the equation. And, put more crudely, there’s a danger of your spouse becoming your G-d.

Rebecca Shepard says:

I am a natural jew (blood wise) that was raised a gentile christian (my family hid their jewishness to protect us).

Then I discovered my natural ancestry and I wanted all things jewish. But what I found out was that most things jewish aren’t exactly what our ancestors in the Torah did. They are man made traditions during the diaspora and a lot of our “jewish” traditions are actually pagan based! I was so shocked! Our father Abraham would wonder why on earth we are doing some of the things we are doing!

So I decided if it wasn’t specifically mentioned in the Scriptures (WITHOUT rabbis ADDING their two cents worth), I was not going to lose sleep about keeping it. Our own people have made our religion as complicated as legalistic as the Muslims and Catholics. Shows mankind’s natural inclination to try to improve on G-d’s simple commandments!

miriam chana says:

john. you are not jewish. you are christian. no segment of jewish society would consider you jewish, whether you consider yourself so or not. converting to christianity, even the messianic type does not make you jewish.

i think personally, you sound confused. ruth would not have gone with jesus, because she DID become a jew. the two things are mutually exclusive for those who were not born jewish or who converted formally to judaism, without anything else mixed in.

a jew who is born a jew, and who becomes a messianic christian is technically a heretic. unless they renounce their christian beliefs they cannot be considered jewish, however if they give up those beliefs they are welcomed back into the fold without converting again. so, a born or converted jew never loses their jewishness, but you are not jewish at all.

that said, we need all the friends we can get, so thanks for thinking you are anyways.

Honest Broker says:

R. Eleazar also said: The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: And I will sow her unto Me in the land; surely a man sows a se’ah in order to harvest many kor Pesakhim 87b

Yehudit says:

“My husband, a convert, is more observant than I am”

So what else is new?

Louis Trachtman says:

Do the best you can – I am sure you will try. You also need to convince your husband that you may not be able to obey all 613 commandments all of the time, and neither will he. There’s room for compromise and that is what makes marriages last (succeed?). Interesting article and a good one!

tzip says:

Dear John:

Ruth became an Israelite, not a “Jew” as that term doesn’t even show up in Scripture until much later, with Esther I believe. (feel free y’all to correct me if wrong) “Jew” is a later reference to the tribe of Judah, Yehudah/Yehudim. All other tribes were “Israel” including Judah. It was when the Kingdoms split that the term “Jew” became more and more prevelant and “Israel” referred to the scattered tribes. As Ms. Shepard above noted, “But what I found out was that most things jewish aren’t exactly what our ancestors in the Torah did.” She’s right!! Our current system of ‘conversion’ is RABBINICAL, not Mosaic. Nowhere in Torah does it state you need two sets of dishes and a seder plate for Passover. Just matzah and fast feet. There was no time for Haggadah readings. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Passover, but it’s a latterly devised regimen that honors the mosaic tradition.

As far as conversion, nowhere in the Torah (again, correct me if I am wrong) do I see stated the requirement of “rabbis grill[ing] on everything from how to make tea correctly on Shabbat to Maimonides’s 13 Principles” … Beit Din, mandatory classes, and Maimonides are indeed “Jewish” but not Torah. That I am aware of. In Leviticus, TORAH states gives this as the method of conversion (Ruth’s):

“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be UNTO YOU AS ONE BORN AMONG YOU, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Back then G-d’s people were called Israel, not Jews. Avraham was a Chaldean who became a HEBREW, not a Jew. Y’tzchak was a HEBREW, not a Jew. Ya’acov was an ISRAELITE, not a Jew. Sarai was a Chaldean, not a Jew. Rivkah was a patrilateral cousin to Y’tzchak and therefore was a Chaldean/Hebrew, Raquel is the matrilateral cousin of Y’tzchak, and not a Jew. Until Ya’acov’s son Judah is born, there are no “Jews” and only Isaelites. Therefore, anyone who takes Torah into their hearts and “follows” the ways of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is an Israelite. Like Ruth.

Not all Israelites were Semetic, which is another reason why anti-Semetism is utterly ridiculous. Many Arabs are of Semetic origin. Some Indo-Europeans are of Semetic origin. Some Egyptians are of Semetic origin. Hitler would have needed a few decades to truly eradicate all Semites. And if some of the Lost Tribes were indeed scattered to Europe as DNA testing and arceology, etc, seem to indicate, then it’s possible that some of the Nazi Regime murdered their own relatives. Sadness upon sadness.

Current day Jewishness is basically based on Rabbinical Judaism (religion) and the entire cultural aspect of the original HEBREWS. Those who go further to get a certificate of rabbinical conversion are Jews as well as Israelites, thus joining the tribe of Judah. So John, you are an Isaelite. A son of Avraham. Welcome to Avraham’s tribe. The important thing is to have Torah in your heart… which is HOW one “dwelleths” …

Just a little nudge … no one can speak for Ruth as to whether she would have followed Jesus/Yehoshua or not as he wasn’t around then.

Baruch Hashem

tzip says:

P.S.- I adore Judaism in all it’s forms and love to study the sages …

Bryan says:

I am a convert (over 20 years now). I attend shabbat services every week and leyn Torah for almost every week. I love Judaism, even (maybe especially) all of the minhagim (customs) and rabbinic rules that have evolved over the centuries; if I didn’t, I would have become a Karaite (and there are still active Karaite communities today).

My grandmother kept trying to push me to consider “Messianic Judaism” until, after years of quietly listening to this, I finally asked her if she would consider a friend to be a Christian if s/he attended a Hindu temple that also worshiped Jesus. She replied, “Absolutely not.” And, I told her it’s the same for me (not that I would begrudge anyone their own choices in the matter; even though, and I realize this is contradictory, I feel saddened when Jews turn to other faiths, since I see so much of what they are looking for elsewhere in abundance in Jewish faith, culture, and traditions).

Suzanne says:

Although my position is different, I really understand where you are coming from. My children’s decision to become very observant has shaken my world. Fridays are totally devoted to preparing for Shabbat as we have no access to pre-prepared food. I keep wondering what the purpose of it all is. By the time Shabbat comes in we are all exhasted and ready for bed. As you mention I was very happy with my Judaism the way it was and now I have to adhere to requirements that have no meaning for me.

Yehudit Ilana says:

Sorry John, you are what you are, and God bless you, but you are not a Jew. Jesus, according to us Jews, was not the Messiah, was not divine, and if you believe he is/was, you can’t be a Jew.

Enjoy being a Christian though. Nothing wrong with that. You can still hang out with us, marry us, celebrate and study with us. Just know that we really hate the fake Jew thing, so you’re not going to make too many real Jewish friends if you call yourself a “messianic Jew” or other such terms.

Zipi says:

It’s rare for men to convert for their girlfriends or wives. It’s usually tghe women who make all the sacrifices in the relationship. It’s not just non-Jewish women who “convert” for their Jewish partners. I know of a couple Jewish women who converted to Christianity for their fiances. It’s nice to read about a man accomodating his woman. It’s about time!

Gary might be a “proud Brooklyn Jew” but neither his son or his descendents will be Jewish. He obviously doesn’t care but it’s still sad that most secular Jews don’t want Jewish children or grandchildren. It’s ironic that Claude, born and baptized Catholic, will have Jewish children, and hopefully Jewish grandchildren, unlike most secular Jews.

esthermiriam says:

Those here who are arguing for only Torah-based observance must be editing quite a bit!

John wrote: “I am learning how to do what Yeshua commanded me to do which was to follow Him”

Le-havdil,
You fail to distinguish between the historical Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) and the conunterfeit Jzus of the Christian Church.
A logical analysis (found in http://www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

The original words of the pro-Torah teacher Ribi Yehoshua were redacted by Roman Hellenists, and the redaction is found in the “gospels”. J…. is described in the “gospels”, and le-havdil the teachings of the historical Torah-teacher Ribi Yehoshua from Nazareth are found in the reconstruction (using a logical and scientific methodology to create the reconstruction), Netzarim Hebrew Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu (NHM).

The historical Jew Ribi Yehoshua is not the same as the Christian “J….” The historical Ribi Yehoshua was a human.
The only way to follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua, the Mashiakh ( Messiah ) (ben Yoseiph) prophecied in Tan’’kh (the Jewish Bible), is through Netzarim (www.netzarim.co.il)

You are not a Jew, nor an Israelite. You can become included in Israel if you subordinate to an Orthodox Jewish beit-din. For those whom believe Ribi Yehoshua is the Mashiakh ben Yoseiph, the beit din ha-Netzarim (see above Netzarim-website) is the only alternative.

Anders Branderud

J Carpenter says:

I’m surprised no one (yet) has suggested the Reform-ed alternative . . . .
Love and peace—JC

convert spouse says:

Taffy, I discovered how much my Jewish husband truly loved me when he consented to allowing me to make our kitchen strictly kosher, from our previous level of kosher in food (such as only hechshered meat) and preparation, but only truly kosher dairy cookware/plates/utensils for entertaining, and other cookware that was treif. I only had the courage to ask him to do it once I was finally studying for conversion over 20 years after we were married. I knew that it was not what he himself wanted, and although I pointed out how much easier it would be to have over our many friends who keep kosher, I know that the main reason he consented was because it was what I wanted. As my own observance continues to increase, I see his love for me in his acceptance of that even when it impacts him. I remind myself to not push too hard for changes since he was willing to marry me as a non-Jew and never asked me to convert even though it meant that we had to convert our kids since I was not Jewish when they were born. He understood that although I loved Judaism and knew from before we married that I would convert eventually, I needed a lot of time to become truly ready for the final step.

Zipi, I know of a few men who converted as I did many years after marrying their Jewish wives—one is a member of my lay-led minyan, one is my neighbor, and one was a person my sponsoring rabbi told me about when I asked him if any other convert who had studied with him had taken so many years. I also know a man who converted more than a decade after his wife converted (after they were married).

“It’s just that it’s not easy to live a life committed to ritual driven merely by the absence of contempt, as opposed to by the quest for and presence of meaning.”

That’s a great line. Rituals, in and of themselves, are behaviors that can lead to a spiritually and emotionally fulfilling life. However, rituals, depending on the individual, may just be mindless reactions; repetitive behaviors that don’t amount to anything.

It’s good to recognize how the performance of rituals actually affects us rather than simply going through the motions to appease some ambiguous sense of duty/guilt.

Jason says:

Taffy, it sounds to me like you have two problems. One is your discomfort with following traditions in which you no longer see a strong meaning. That is difficult to overcome, but perhaps you will, over time, begin to see the traditions as part of your family and important to you as well. Perhaps.

From your essay, it sounds like your other problem is that in your marriage you are the one who does all of the housework and cooking required to prepare for an observant Shabbat every week and holidays. That would tax anyone, and no wonder that you find yourself unhappy with the situation! I suggest that you find ways to try to balance the load; even if your husband works long hours he can take on some tasks and childcare.

Taffy says:

Jason, It’s so interesting you say that. In fact, I’m a terrible cook and Claude does most of it. However, he is at work all day, and I am writer and at home, and there are things that can only get done by someone who is at home (I’m also VERY pregnant right now, and I rely on Claude to put our toddler to bed when he gets home — bathtime, etc., so there isn’t much room for him to do much else). When I went to my Rabbi this year and discussed with him how I could possibly learn to enjoy Pesach a little more, he said the same thing: Is Claude doing any of the work? Claude is. He does much of it. Maybe even more than half. It might be a personality type, though. Claude does the cooking and finds it relaxing and enjoyable. I do the cooking and think I’m a martyr. It’s certainly one of my biggest flaws.
Taffy

Taffy says:

Rebecca,

I guess that’s what separates the Orthodox from some other sects (certainly the Karaites). Everyone agrees that religion would be much easier without the Rabbi’s interpretation, but that is to ignore that one of the Torah commandments is to take the Rabbi’s interpretations as if they were Torah law. Then again, I do sometimes look at the nature of my kitchen, or I see myself clearing fish plates before putting out meat plates, and I think to myself: Is God up there, laughing at us? Are we wasting our time?

That’s not what this is about, though, is it? It’s about any decision in which your spouse feels strongly and you feel the absence of that emotion. It’s about living in a place where you don’t hate it, but your spouse certainly loves it. It’s about having fewer children because your spouse thinks he can’t handle it. It’s about any decision you make because it’s more important to your spouse than to you. Claude has made so many more of those sacrifices than I have. But I’ve made what I think are the bigger ones — leaving New York to live in L.A., being Orthodox.

And I mean it when I say the following: If given the chance to be Conservative or to move to New York, I am not sure I’d jump at either. Your decisions sneak up on you, and all of a sudden, they’re your life. And your life could be very happy.

I can say this in May, with no holidays in sight. Ask me again in September how I feel about this.

Valerie says:

Hi Taffy,

I’m having some problems with this story. Did you not receive any instruction or guidance while Claude was undergoing the conversion process? I converted Orthodox in Montreal and our partners had to take classes as well. How is it possible that you and Claude didn’t discuss what your lives were going to be like post-conversion? My husband and I discussed it all the time. You must know that one cannot convert solely for the sake of marriage — it’s forbidden halachically. However, most people don’t pursue conversion until marriage is an issue, so those who run programs, especially Orthodox ones, tend to be extremely vigilant about ensuring that the candidate is converting out of a sincere personal desire to be a Jew for his/her own sake and that s/he will be supported by his/her partner post-conversion and be able to practice what s/he has learned. Otherwise, what is the point?
Being a Jew is not easy and I’m sorry you’re not happy. But I don’t get how you can say on the one hand that an Orthodox conversion is the only one your family would accept and that “for that you’d have to live an Orthodox life” and then be surprised by kippahs and kashrut. These pursuits do have to be shared. In the end, it isn’t about marrying a Jew. It’s about marrying a Jew who has the same priorities, who wants the same thing and who wants to grow in the same direction.
Mazel tov in advance on your new baby. I hope that you will be able to find some meaning and happiness in your family’s spiritual path one day. Be well :)

Taffy says:

Valerie,

I don’t know — I disagree. Of course I took classes. And obviously, Claude’s conversion was sincere. I think of myself more as an impetus for it rather than a cause. But to say that I should have seen this coming is to say that both Claude and I should have been able to predict the future. He honestly didn’t realize how important the things that are important to him would become until he went into the mikvah. A conversion is stressful on a couple. When you are in it, it’s about the rigor. I happen to be very happy being a Jew — even the religious side of it doesn’t bother me that much. I just don’t find some of the more rigorous ritual very gratifying, and it’s hard to do something hard and constant when it’s not very gratifying.

But honestly, if I were that into it, would I (or your husband) have been dating someone who wasn’t Jewish in the first place? This is the kind of statement that gets attacked sometimes. But there are ways for Orthodox Jews to ensure that they don’t get into a situation where they fall in love with someone who might not be appropriate. Your husband and I obviously weren’t doing a great and vigilant job of that.

But you should also realize that just because I have these feelings, doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Claude’s conversion or even my marriage. And, further, if, when your husband has these feelings, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your marriage, either. These are just feelings. A personal essay is a moment of your life, a way of mentioning a feeling (and how you’ve resolved it). I’d be surprised if anyone in my position didn’t have some of the same feelings I did. The 50 letters in my in-box yesterday seem to tell me I’ve hit a cord — that people feel the same way. That the intersection of feelings and religion and feelings about religion is a lot more complicated than you are giving anyone credit for. Of course I knew that Claude’s conversion would change him. My feelings are feelings.

Thanks for your feedback. I’m glad things are going well for you, and hope they continue to.

Taffy

J. Carpenter wrote:
“I’m surprised no one (yet) has suggested the Reform-ed alternative . . …”

I would like to contribute with some relevant quotes about Torah-observance and regarding “reform alternatives”:

”Tor•âh′ is an indivisible whole. One does his or her utmost to keep all of Tor•âh′ as an indivisible—perfect—whole or one is constructively rejecting the indivisible whole—perfectness—of Tor•âh′ . One who rejects even one mi•tzәw•âh′ of Tor•âh′ is rejecting Tor•âh′ in its a wholeness; i.e., (s)he rejects the whole of Tor•âh′ . Christians (and some Jews) who boast they keep Tor•âh′ while practicing selective observance are not keeping Tor•âh′ ; they are rejecting Tor•âh′ —and it is not Judaism.” (quote: http://www.netzarim.co.il)

“Recognizing logic as authority is the opposite of the chaos introduced by rule by intuitive opinion, where every rabbi has an intuitive, and often differing, opinion. Intuitive opinion ranges from Orthodox to Reform – all claiming the authority of Halakhah. Logic as authority locks in the latest logical and scientific understanding of Torah she-bikhtav irregardless of what the rest of society is doing. Thus, while Reform is embracing homosexuality, that’s impossible under a logical understanding of Torah she-bikhtav.”

(..)
To appeal to all educated and knowledgeable intellectuals (goyim as well as Yәhudim — as prophesied), the bәrit lә-am must define Halakhah by discrete mathematical logic that follows directly from the historical documentation of Har Sinai – especially written Torah. The consensus of the Sages, especially Rambam, is that logic is the ultimate earthly authority defining Halakhah. Therefore, this definition of Halakhah, because it relies upon discrete mathematical logic, supersedes any Medievalist and European-assimilated rabbis, whether Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox. In other words, this Halakhah ismeta-Orthodox (..)

Medieval-blinkered and European-assimilated middlemen preclude their resulting view of Torâh’ ever becoming intellectually viable and relevant to intelligent and educated people in the modern world. However, those who are meta-Orthodox eliminate the dead-ender intermediaries who have driven away 95% of the flock from Torâh’. Thus, meta-Orthodoxy presents Torâh as fresh, always up-to-date and relevant to everyone.”

“Neither Moses and the Israelis, nor the principles י–ה gave him on Har Sinai, were Medieval or European. Written Torâh’ explicitly prohibited additions to it or deletions from it (Dәvarim 4.2; 31.1). Rabbinic authority is limited to interpreting written Torâh’ logically. Logic, not the rabbis, is the ultimate authority in interpreting Torâh’. Rabbinic authority derived from, and is limited to, their logical skill. Rabbi originally meant a “master,” referring specifically to his training in logic (applied to interpretation, exegesis, etc.). The rabbi’s authority derived from his mastery of logic (relative to Torâh’). When rabbi and logic diverge, authority follows logic – not rabbi.

Therefore, those rabbinic traditions that either contradict written Torâh’ or trace only to medieval Europe, rather than having a demonstrated solid logical basis scientifically rooted in Torâh’ of Har Sinai, are prohibited by Torâh’ and, therefore, cannot be Halakhah! It then follows that when any rabbi presumes to displace Moses and the Israelis of Har Sinai with medievalism and Europe-Yәtziah it constitutes displacement theology – idolatry no less serious than the Egyptian-Yәtziah of the Golden Calf!
By definition, meta implies not a relaxing of Torah values like the Conservative and Reform (or its more extreme perversion, Christianity) but, rather, an even higher standard of adherence to Halakhah – but as defined to a more rigorous logical and scientific standard. Unlike the Medieval mindset of the European-assimilated Ultra-Orthodox, meta-Orthodox implies Halakhah derived logically and scientifically (according to historical documentation, archeology, etc.) — directly from Har Sinai. Derived thusly, Halakhah will always be as modern and relevant as tomorrow, to every person in their personal daily life practice and challenges.”

(quote: Pishtah Keihah; available at http://www.netzarim.co.il)

Taffy shalom,
You may want to learn the Teimani mesorah for Pesach. It will relieve some of the undue pressure put on you by the Azkenazi mesorah. A dirty little secret is that the Teimani mesorah is closest to Har Sinai. The halachah is necessary but tradition is not halachah. As you have noticed and some posters have mentioned the tradition of mostly Azkenazi Jews is pretty over done, and in enough cases contravenes Torah.
John,
You are not a Jew according to the Torah. You have missed Shemot 19:10 where all the Israelites were sanctified (wkeedashtem) and their clothing was to be washed before the giving of the Aseret HaDibrote, Ten Matters. The halachah from that point was that a convert must bring a korban (sacrifice), be circumcised (for a man), and be immersed in a mikveh. Today there is no Beit HaMikdash (Temple) so the latter two are all that can be done. You also must be admitted to Judaism by a Beit Din, an orthodox one, because the Torah established the courts and they have been continued from Har Sinai, think the 70 elders and the rulers of 1000, 100, and 10. This is straight from the written Torah. But you cannot reject the oral Torah because the written Torah does not explain how to keep the written Torah without the judgments (mishpatim) and the decrees (chukim) of the Beit Din. And besides times change and technology changes so the Beit Din needs to make logical judgments based on the current situation. OK so they haven’t for hundreds of years and look at the mess that has caused along with the young educated Jews leaving orthodoxy. Electricity is not fire, umbrellas are not shelters, kitniot is not chametz, seven literal days of creation is impossible, etc, ad nauseam. Anders is correct. You are outside the covenant with HaSheim as Ribi Yehoshua would have certainly taught. Your only recourse is to convert with a orthodox Beit Din or the Netzarim only in Raanana, Israel, via internet, who are the only ones recognized as orthodox Jews.
To the other posters,
One must do his best to keep the Torah according to the halacha. You are not allowed to pick and choose what you are comfortable with. Many times people follow what they think is halacha but are actually following an unnecessary tradition.

Valerie says:

Well, that was a nice gratuitous swipe at my husband. You may want to examine the tactic of rationalizing your feelings at somebody else’s expense. I never questioned your marriage or Claude’s conversion because it’s clear that it was sincere.

It’s the premise of your article, that you had no idea he was actually going to want to live as a Jew in the way he was taught that I wondered about. How can you go through a conversion program and not discuss whether you’re going to keep kosher or not? If you are, how are you going to do it? What’s the plan? And if you’re not, then what? What if one person wants to do it or at least remain open to it, and the other doesn’t?

You need to discuss this stuff beforehand, not after the fact. Why?
Because as the relationship evolves and as a person’s spirtuality evolves there will be other matters of observance that will have to be discussed and you need to know as best you can if you’re likely to be on the same page. Otherwise you wake up one day wondering how you wound up where you are.

You’re right that nobody can predict the future, but that wasn’t what I was suggesting. And even in the absence of conversion, a Jewish couple (any couple really) can have different feelings about observance and have personal experiences that lead them down a different spiritual path.

For the record, I was in an Orthodox conversion program that was supposed to take 18 months. I took me 5 years, so I know all about stress and the complexity of feelings and practice and how it never stops. We were expected, required actually, to keep kashrut, observe Shabbat and Yom Tov, learn Hebrew and a whole list of other things that just kept growing. Once one list was completed, another was drawn up. It was a draining, traumatic and unpleasant experience. I was taken hostage by a bunch of nuts who just wanted to get a sheitl on me. I eventually had to go elsewhere to convert. I made this decision after they started to teach us how to exclude my non-Jewish family from our lives (and then denied it after I complained) and because they adopted the practice of withholding conversion papers from those who had converted and married. Why? Because they wanted to make sure the level of observance was going to remain constant. Who wants to live under surveillance other than Hashem’s?

And yes, the mikvah is a very powerful, transformative experience and one does find oneself suddenly inspired to do things. Come to think of it, we also went for kosher Chinese. But we had already dealt with the question of kashrut because it made no sense to not talk about it before the immersion. A relationship isn’t all about feelings. There’s a lot of work and rational thought and planning required — completely unromantic, but there it is.

Valerie says:

By the way, Taffy, I understand that you just needed to know that your husband still loves you and that you matter. Much of what I wrote was a cautionary tale to others who might be following a similar path. You’re going to be great :)

Valerie says:

And also for the record, my husband went through a lot of what you went through. I was a possession and project for the conversion people. Nothing he did was appreciated, it was only a means to get him to do more. They actually wanted to break us up and never thought he was going to be a suitable partner for me.

I too hated my wedding dress and not being able to kiss underneath the chuppah. If I could do the wedding over again, I’d wear something fabulous with spaghetti straps and give my husband the tongue. I just keep reminding myself that there is something meritorious about doing mitzvot when you don’t really want to.

This is a fascinating article about more than just conversion. It is about Jewish identity in general and how external factors impact our level of observance.

Iris Koller says:

May you both find the joys of Judaism and find ways to minimize the stress of preparing for those moments of rest and celebration. Like you, I used to spend all day Friday preparing for Shabbat and realized something had to change when I was too tired to enjoy the gift of the day. So it is no longer a huge amount of food, but there is plenty of easier to prepare dishes and it delicious. My husband is a great sous chef when I let him, so I have learned to welcome him and he helps chop, dice, and clean the kitchen mess. We no longer invite company every week and enjoy the time and quiet of the day when we get home from synagogue.

Whatever works for you, find the ways to ensure you can enjoy the many gifts of our tradition and the rhythm of time, instead of feeling like a slave to it all.

L’shalom,

Gary G says:

Since I read Zipi’s reply to my comment last week, I have been depressed and feeling guilty about myself and how I have let down God, my Mom, Grandma and Grandpa probably (on my Mom’s side, since I was very young when my Dad’s parents died) and, quite possibly my son (not to mention Zipi). I cannot be what I am not, though. I will always be Jewish, but I remain unobservant. My Dad was not observant at all, my Mom “observed” the High Holy Days and was disappointed in my non-Jewish girlfriends and wife and I ponder what I believe in or not on different days. I came to the conclusion that it was pretty much nothing (beyond this world, anyway), so I cannot pass religion onto my darling son, and my wife also has no concrete beliefs, so it will be up to our son, eventually, to decide, if indeed he feels a need to choose a religion or not. I still feel badly and sad and Zipi you struck a chord in my heart, but I am what I am. This, too, is part of my Jewish guilt, I suppose. I know that Jews seem to be more likely to assimilate than other groups. So be it. I am still glad I call myself one of the chosen people or a member of the tribe, even if only in name only.
I was born Jewish; I will die Jewish. I think God might understand me better than I do myself. Zipi, thank you for your wise thoughts.

Daniel says:

First, your husband sounds like a true gem and quite the catch — a better husband than I, no doubt. I hope you are nice to him!
Second, although I am a Frum-from-birth married to another one, in a religion as detailed and challenging as ours, I note these issues can come up seriously even in those conventional circumstances. But I try to keep in mind that (a) its not all or nothing, and I don’t think we are all expected to be perfect (though I come pretty close), and (b) marriage is – at least partially – about differences. That’s why its not a good idea to marry cousins (or siblings).

a stein says:

Very interesting article. . .One topic you did not bring up that I imagine would be even more of a tough issue than keeping kosher or Shabbat observance was the taharat hamishpacha—laws regarding family purity. Perhaps it is of too intimate a nature for your article, but I can’t help but wonder if you would be willing to share whether you followed Orthodoxy on this or compromised for the sake of shalom bayit. . .Many people do not have the same issue as you on other things but have a similar dilemma when it comes to family purity laws. . .Because for example for some couples to follow strict Orthodoxy means having problems conceiving and having children, while compromising means to fail to be Orthodox. . .I understand if you don’t want to share how you worked these things out, just curious to know because I’ve heard many people in this dilemma. . .

Zipi says:

You really overdosed on the sarcasm Gary. I get your point but my comments were not about laying guilt on Jews who marry non-Jews. I just repeated the fact that secular Jews don’t care about marrying Jews and having Jewish children. Secular Jews advocate intermarriage and believe that assimilation is the way to a better future. I know many of my family and friends believe this too. More power to them. We all have a right to our opinions and to choose who we want to marry.

I’m sure you have a great wife and kid. I don’t care if they’re not Jewish either.

Zipi,
We all have freewill to keep Torah or not. But know that statements such as, “We all have a right to our opinions and to choose who we want to marry,” is the Torah equivalent to losing your place in Haolam Haba if a Jew chooses to marry a non-Jew. Devarim 7:3. Any Jew that continues in this relation willfully rejects Torah and therefore can not logically be in the Brit, the covenant between HaSheim and Israel. A Jew apart from Torah has no place in Haolam Haba. Parshat Balak is coming up in a few weeks. The intermingling of Midian with Israel is a capital offense. HaSheim commended Pinchas. HaSheim doesn’t change. It is not logical to assume that because their is no Beit Din to punish the pesha (felony), willful or not, that it is no longer a pesha.
Gary,
Take it for what it is worth. Your reacting against remarks that you perceive as anti-Semitic or anti-Brooklyn will not earn you points to override your situation married to a non-Jew. If she has any interest in Judaism you should both visit an orthodox Rav quickly. Supposed happiness in this life is not to be compared with the loss of HaOlam Haba.

Tziporah says:

I am a Jewish convert who would love to be more observant. My born Jewish husband, however, has several learning disabilities that have always prevented him from understanding even something as basic (though not simple) as kosher. So we do the best we can with what we have. I first came to Judaism through him but it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the whole spectrum of what it means to be a Jew. For him, however, being a Jew was always about exclusion. He didn’t have a bar mitzvah like all of his cousins because “it would have been too much.” He received very little religious training. Our oldest son was born 4 months before my conversion was complete so we had him converted at his bris. It was the first bris my husband, his parents, and THEIR PARENTS (in their 80s at the time) had ever been to. His family had become completely secular. Add in my husband’s learning disabilities and other problems and you have man very ambivalent about his religion, heritage and people.

And so although I wish to be more observant I see it as a continuing moving stream – we are moving in that direction slowly. We made sure both of our boys would be recognized in the Jewish community as Jews. I’ve worked closely with rabbis to be sure that I’m promoting as much peace in our home as possible while still observing the importance.

I have no advice for Taffy except to keep the communication open with her husband. While he has to do what he feels right so does she. A peaceful home where everyone is happy is very, very important.

What a great article; thank you so much for writing!

Eve says:

Great article! True in general, as well, whenever there is a large difference between the observance “comfort” level between spouses. Doesn’t have to be converts with born Jews, although that is pretty common. The “biggies” in marriage conflict are often related to money, but I bet religion ranks up there as well. I like that you shared this with us, without necessarily saying you had any answers. I’m not sure there ARE answers except the daily actions of finding a way to make things work. In any case, I resonate with you 100%.

Taffy, thank you for sharing your story. I think we all need to understand that Jewish observance is easy for some, but hard for others. Faith, and everything that goes along with it, is tricky as well. I think many would like to accept the Rambam’s Thirteen Articles of Faith verbatim, but it isn’t easy. Many claim publicly to do so, but have doubts in private.

I think the “answer,” if such a thing really exists, is found in a famous reply given by the great German Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig. When Rosenzweig was asked if he put on Tefillin every day, he didn’t answer “yes” or “no.” Instead, he said, “Not yet.” Rosenzweig recognized that some, like himself, just weren’t ready to take on mitzvot like this one. Instead of taking the attitude “I don’t believe in such and such and will never do it,” one should instead say, “I’m not ready to do such and such now, but I’ll learn more about it, keep an open mind, and consider doing it in the future.”

Please, let’s get away from the attitude of “You must observe all 613 commandments, accept without question all 13 of the Rambam’s Articles of Faith, and accept without question the concept of Torah Mi’Sinai, and if you don’t, you’re a flawed Jew.” Along with this, let’s get away from the opposing attitude of “I don’t believe any of this stuff, I’ll do whatever I want, and I’ll definitely not make an effort to learn more or do more.” Please, let’s all accept the wisdom of Franz Rosenzweig’s famous response.

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