Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday.
Q: I’m writing with a request that my conversion to Judaism be annulled. I would like to have the conversion annulled because I do not subscribe to any Jewish beliefs, nor have I ever. My conversion from Catholicism to Judaism was a lie. While I fully own that I went through with the conversion, it was 100 percent due to the pressure my fiancé put on me. I had expressed my feelings throughout our engagement that I was not ready to convert but he said he would not get married to me unless I converted. I was very young and meek. I had proudly stood up for myself but I was not heard and eventually I gave in. So I entered the marriage feeling angry about feeling forced to convert and so alone. There were no Jewish traditions in our home, nothing. My husband said that for him being Jewish is tribal, and that was enough for the house. Any attempts to even discuss how I was feeling were shut down. After many miserable years, we divorced. If I only had the strength to stand my ground for what I believed in and knew to be true for me, my life would look very different today. This annulment would be a hugely important act of healing for me and allow me to move forward and forgive myself. It’s also about reclaiming my life as I should be living it. Forgiving my ex-husband has been the easy part, compared with me struggling to forgive myself for being weak. I want and very much need to live an authentic life. I know in my heart that annulling this conversion will allow me to be true to myself again and finally move on and return the Catholic faith of my previous life. How can this happen?
A: My dear suffering soul, you were never converted to Judaism. Conversions like yours — performed under duress and false premises — are not sincere, and because they are not sincere or true they are not real or binding. Your pain has already annulled your coerced conversion to a religion that you never truly wanted to embrace as your own.
You don’t need to do anything. But if it would comfort your soul, you can contact the rabbi who converted you and the two additional rabbis who were part of the rabbinical court that authorized your conversion and tell him or her that you want your conversion formally annulled. Most conversions include documentation that is filed with the appropriate rabbinical associations. Ask for that documentation to be returned to you.
Now, as to your return to Catholicism, the question is whether or not you formally and actually renounced Catholicism or merely wandered away from the Church for a time and are returning. Canon law does not specify a particular ritual for return after renouncing the faith, but obviously your next step is to consult with your parish priest and follow his instructions as to whether confession or some formal rite would be required of you to solemnize the return to your religious roots. Don’t worry. One way or another, you are home again. I am so sorry for your pain but I am also inspired by your courage to get right with God and with your life after making a bad decision. You are surely not meek any longer.
I want to add a comment that broadens this painful question, because the issue of coerced conversion can occur between any two faiths as engaged couples are torn apart by the desire to have a single religion in the home. Such a desire is understandable and legitimate. I think it is highly desirable for families to have a single religion to avoid confusion and conflict among parents and children. However, I am not in favor of conversions obtained by emotional and familial blackmail. I am not in favor of conversions that do not arise from the free and loving desire of a person to try a different path up the same mountain.
This does not mean that anyone who converts to a religion for the sake of marriage is inauthentic or spiritually corrupt. One can be initially intrigued about a faith only because it is the religion of the person one has come to love deeply. But with time and exposure to its beliefs and rituals, one can make that faith their own. There are some things we ask those we love out of our love for them, but there are also things we should never ask of them out of the same love. How you name your faith is a unique personal right. Sometimes the most we can have in our marriage is a voyage apart in the same direction.