How do I tell my Christian parents I'm converting?

October 14, 2010

Question: How should I explain to my deeply Christian parents that I want to convert to Judaism? I don’t know how to tell them that I don’t believe in their religion without causing a rift that may be irreparable.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.

It takes a lot of courage to consider converting to Judaism and I commend you for that. I also commend you for the sensitivity you display towards your parents. One of the Ten Commandments is to “honour your father and mother” and this is clearly important to you.

Having to explain to others why you have chosen to convert can be a very useful exercise in clarifying for yourself your reasons for such a monumental move. Conversion is a serious business and conversion to Judaism is particularly challenging so it is useful to articulate the reasons behind your motivation.

I am not sure if it would be any easier trying to explain your conversion to ardently secular parents. In some ways that might be even more difficult as their entire frame of reference would be different. As committed Christians, your parents have the benefit of a religious mindset and while that is deeply Christian in nature, it also encompasses some of the key elements that comprise all faiths. Hopefully, this should make it easier to explain to them what you are experiencing.

I am not sure there is a delicate way to tell your parents that their faith does not appeal to you. However you word it they are bound to feel hurt, confused and rejected. This is to be expected and you must be as understanding as possible during this difficult transition.

It is important, though, that you credit your parents with giving you the spiritual awareness to embark on your conversion journey. It is also important to acknowledge that while you are abandoning your parents’ Christian faith, you are not abandoning faith in God. It is just that you have found a new path to serve Him.

Finally, it is not just theology that you parents will worry about but, perhaps more importantly, they will worry about how your conversion will affect their relationship with you in a practical sense. Will they still be part of your life? Will you eat in their home? Will your children relate to them as grandparents? Assure them that they will always retain their special place in your heart and that you will always be proud to be their child. You will have to learn how to navigate around each other’s rituals beliefs and practices but it is certainly possible to achieve a state of mutual respect and maintain familial love.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

It would be fascinating to know if some people reading this feel sympathetic towards your dilemma and start thinking of ways in which you could approach your parents, yet would have been horrified if you had posed the same issue as a Jew wishing to convert to Christianity. 

It highlights the fact that religious identity is intensely personal, and although we often feel tribally about it —“someone wants to join or leave our club” — we have to respect the right of an individual to choose their own religious direction. 

As for speaking to your parents — and likewise someone converting away from Judaism — you should do it face to face, at a time when neither you nor they are in a rush, and in a place where you will have no interruptions. You then need to make clear three important points.

First, that your choice of a new faith is not a rejection of them personally. You may not share their belief system anymore, but you still love them. They may feel that your conversion is a slap in the face, but you have to persuade them that you still value and appreciate them as parents. 

Second, that they have not done anything wrong or failed in their upbringing, it is just that you have positive reasons for being attracted to Judaism and explain what they are. You could follow this up by giving them a Jewish book that you had enjoyed. You could also take them to a service so that they understand what it is like, rather than have erroneous ideas of what happens at them. 

Third, that you are still the same person and will continue to have a relationship with them. Converting to Judaism does not mean converting away from them. Similarly, reassure them that they can still come to your house, you to theirs, and they will have full access to any children you may have. 

It is vital to address these emotional aspects at the very beginning. Only afterwards — when they feel they have not lost you, nor that they have sinned in some way — can you then discuss the many tenets the two faiths share, such as belief in God and an ethical lifestyle, along with the differences. 

If you can show your parents why Judaism makes you fulfilled, hopefully they will be happy for you and accept it.

Last updated: 11:40am, October 14 2010