“My fiancé is Jewish and I’m not. We’ve been learning together about Judaism and we’ve agreed to raise our (future) children Jewish. Do I have to convert to Judaism to be Jewish?”
Yes, being Jewish requires a formal conversion. But doing Jewish does not.
A person is Jewish either because she has a Jewish parent or because she formally converts to Judaism. However, one does not need to convert to Judaism to participate in Jewish communal life, attend synagogue, celebrate holidays, enjoy Jewish traditions or share Jewish beliefs and practices. One can participate in almost all aspects of Judaism without going through a formal conversion. You can be part of a Jewish family, you can live your life Jewishly, you can “do Jewish,” all without conversion. In synagogue, there will likely be just a few roles reserved for Jews, such as serving as president of the congregation and reading from the Torah. These practices vary among congregations.
The Jewish community today embraces many, many individuals from other faith and cultural backgrounds. Some have formally converted. Many have not. Like you, they may be part of the Jewish community because their partner is Jewish, and they are raising children with Judaism. They may feel a personal connection to Judaism but not feel ready to formally convert.
Conversion to Judaism is a deeply personal act between you, your rabbinic mentor and God. It is not uncommon for a person to be part of the Jewish community for many years before deciding they are ready to take this step. There is no timetable for your spiritual journey; it is a decision only you can make.
Curious to learn more about conversion? The Jewish Discovery Institute is just one great resource in Boston.
For families where parents maintain more than one religious tradition, InterfaithFamily offers resources and community.
Rabbi Julie Zupan is the associate director at Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, which welcomes interfaith couples and individuals exploring Judaism. She is also an instructor for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, a program of Hebrew College.