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I Asked The Rabbi and this was his honest answer & we are grateful

November 24, 2016 22:51

Question: Our mother was married in an Orthodox synagogue in the UK and buried next to my father in a Jewish cemetery. However, we discovered that she was not in fact Jewish - she only pretended to be - and never converted. What should we put on her headstone and how does this affect my siblings’ and my Jewish status?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.

Wow, that must have come as a shock. I cannot imagine how you must be feeling, believing in something as integral to your mother as her Jewish identity and then learning that it was all a lie. This is a form of the deepest betrayal not just to you and your siblings but to the Jewish community as a whole. If your father was also unaware of her true status, then his entire marriage was built on a lie. If he was aware, then he too is to blame.

Orthodox synagogues in this country have a fairly rigorous process for determining Jewish status before allowing a couple to marry so I find it difficult to imagine how she managed to slip through undetected. Although I do suspect that it must have involved some pretty devious machinations on her part. All this does is to reinforce the need for an Orthodox marriage authorisation process that is as thorough and rigorous as that of the London Beth Din.

As to your specific questions; the more significant of the two concerns your Jewish status. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that as your mother was not Jewish, neither are you. I realise this may sound brutal but it is also honest and I think you deserve some honesty at this point.

I cannot detect from your question just how observant of Judaism you are. If you practised Judaism all your life, you should find it relatively easy to convert. The most time-consuming aspect of the conversion process is absorbing the rhythm of Jewish life and practice. If you are already familiar and comfortable with Jewish observance and committed to it as well, a Beth Din may decide to convert you almost immediately. If however your knowledge of and commitment to Jewish practice is lacking, then it will require a significantly longer journey towards conversion.

Regarding the headstone, I would avoid any Hebrew words, dates or phrases. Instead I would just engrave her English name and her dates of birth and death. Living a lie is bad enough. The last thing you want to do is to perpetuate that lie even indirectly by engraving the kind of wording that might in any way indicate to future generations that your mother was Jewish.

On a personal note, I wish you success in whatever path you choose to take. You can not change the past but you can ensure that the future is shaped by honesty, clarity and truth.

November 24, 2016 22:51

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