Convert's Mother-in-Law: Conversion Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Convert's Mother-in-Law

My husband is a convert and I'm studying for conversion, too. When I told my parents I was converting my mother's response was joyful – she feels that the one thing she regrets in her life was that she did not find a community of faith that she could feel comfortable in. My parents know very little about Judaism, but their general impression is good and welcoming.

The most difficult concept in Judaism for my mother is Shabbat. She loves her work and has said she can't imagine a day without it. My parents try to respect our need to keep Shabbat even when we visit them, but it has proved challenging. Twice we have tried to solve the problem of trying to keep them entertained during Shabbat by driving to the beach where at least there's no money exchanged. My husband has felt bad about driving on Shabbat and has decided not to do it again.

Our problem is this: My mother has decided that for her 70th birthday she would like to fly the entire family (children, spouses and grandchildren) to New York for a Broadway show. We asked her to get tickets on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. She tried but was unable. She managed to get tickets for all 10 of us on Saturday afternoon. She is very excited and this is a big event for her. She cannot understand how going to a show can be a violation of Shabbat, if she is paying for the tickets, cabs, etc. When I told her we might not be able to go, she almost started crying.

My husband feels he cannot go on Shabbat afternoon and that the children should not go either, although he says that I should go because I need to honor my mother. I think it would be an empty gesture for me to go alone and it would ruin the weekend for her, cause a fissure between us and cause her to back away from her support of my conversion.

What do you say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You sound like a caring, sincere woman, and I am sure you will have success in handling this situation.

It appears clear that your husband should not go on Saturday. As you describe it, he is serious about observing the Torah, which instructs a Jew not to drive on Shabbat (see Exodus 35:3). There are other problems even with just being a passenger, handling tickets, etc.

I believe one of the foundations of marriage is that a husband and wife should always encourage each other in a direction of spiritual growth.

As for yourself, since you are not Jewish, you and your children can attend on Saturday, and have your husband join in for the rest of the weekend activities.

In terms of honoring your mother, here's what I suggest: I think your husband should think of a very special way to honor your mother on her birthday – for example organizing a tribute video, memory book, etc. Or buying her some especially meaningful gift that he gives her from himself, separate from whatever gift you all give her together. And he should write a note praising her and thanking her for being so wonderful and raising his beautiful wife.

The card can express how heart-broken he is not to be able to attend the show on Saturday, but how much he is looking forward to Sunday. And he hopes that she will understand and forgive him for any inconvenience he has caused to her celebration weekend, due to circumstances beyond his control.

And he should give her this a week or so beforehand, so she has time to absorb the message.

That's my suggestion. Please let me know how things turn out.

READER REPLY:

Your suggestion was a beautiful one and my husband has begun to collect photographs and other mementos for a tribute book for my mother. This whole problem has caused some friction between them and I think the book will bring them closer and, in the long run, will be something she treasures. Thank you again.

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