I have a problem. In my senior year of college I fell in love with my best friend, Kevin, who is Catholic, although not practicing. We broke things off with the promise to remain friends forever when I finished school (he was still in graduate school). The main reason I broke things off was the religion issue. It has always been my wish to have a kosher home and raise my children Jewish. He was willing to do all of this and convert because of his love for me, but I didn't feel this was right.
Over the last two years I have dated many men and even one seriously enough to have considered engagement, but nothing felt as right as it did when I was with Kevin. To this day Kevin says he is still willing to convert for me. I am wrestling with the idea of saying that it is okay to convert for the love of a person. I want him to love being Jewish, too, and I don't want him to feel like I have forced him into this decision. I don't want him to resent me in years to come. However, after two years of being miserable, don't I deserve some happiness -- the type of happiness I found with Kevin?
Beth in San Diego
It's easy for us to give you platitudes when we answer your inquiry, but we know that they are not going to be much comfort when you've been going through a deep inner conflict. So, before we even talk about the dilemma you're facing, we'd like you to close your eyes and imagine yourself 10 years from now, hosting a holiday dinner in your home. Lets say it’s Passover. Visualize the Seder table, set with all of the traditional foods, decorations your children crafted themselves, and perhaps even your grandmother's Seder plate. Imagine the friends and relatives sitting around the table, dressed in their holiday clothes. Picture your children -- gleaming as they share the songs, stories and rituals they've learned in religious school.
Now, come back to the present. What clues did this small vision of the future give you about the role Judaism will play in your future? In the lifestyle you hope to lead? The friends you hope to have? The way you relate to other family members?
Now, see how your friend Kevin does or does not fit into this picture.
Husbands and wives in the most successful marriages have certain things in common. Above all, they share similar expectations of family lifestyle and the way they hope to raise children. They have goals that are compatible, not in terms of careers or accomplishments, but in terms of what they want out of life. A couple can sense that they know each other like a book and feel they are very much in love, but if they cannot share similar life goals, this will be a source of marital conflict and may keep them from growing together.
Your letter mentions keeping kosher and raising your children as Jews. Each of those evidences a considerable commitment to Judaism and a lifestyle that's different than the American norm. Think of the many differences such a lifestyle might entail. Will someone who doesn't feel a strong commitment to Judaism be willing to share this lifestyle wholeheartedly? Will he resent any efforts you may want to make to incorporate more Jewish spirituality and observance into your life and that of your family?
These questions may give you some insight into why traditional Judaism does not encourage conversion. A gentile who firmly believes in God is only expected to follow seven commandments, and if he does so he merits a full reward from Above. It's much easier to live as a good gentile than it is to live as a good Jew. The Torah requires Jews to live a lifestyle based on a different, higher value system than the rest of the world. Even the most learned and sincere among us sometimes find those values difficult to achieve. Why should we impose such high expectations on someone who is turning to Judaism not because he feels compelled to accept a new, stronger commitment to God, but because he simply wants to marry the woman he loves?
Some of our readers might think of friends or family members who converted to Judaism in order to marry, and in the process found great meaning in our faith and became committed Jews. This does happen on occasion, but it is quite risky going through the conversion process hoping he or she will get "hooked" on religion after the fact. (And it is not so simple to do so in Jewish law.)
We're convinced you'll have an easier time moving forward in your life if you let Kevin move out of it. Right now, Kevin is such an ideal -- your best friend and confidante, and who remained a constant in your life even after you tried to move onward -- that as long as he's still in the background nobody will ever be able to take his place. How could they?
Think about it. You and Kevin developed a friendship at the time you each moved into adulthood, and even after you felt that your religious differences would come between you, you continued to consider each other "friends forever." With such a strong platonic friendship, how could you have enough emotional energy to develop the kind of closeness you'd want to have with your future husband? If you always could rely on Kevin for emotional support, would you even be willing to invest the time and effort needed to develop an emotionally intimate relationship with another man?
Your friendship with Kevin probably developed very easily. Your next courtship will probably not develop that easily, even if the man may be ideal for you. If you keep comparing that man with Kevin, will you even have the chance to see what develops?
The bottom line? You have to make some hard decisions. And we hope that whatever choices you make, you find the peace of mind and happiness that we all strive for.
Rosie & Sherry