I must admit to being a little annoyed with your son.
To give him credit (before I give him a hard time), conversations about personal religious status are tricky; they can bruise or wound; people remember what’s said for a very long time.
But I’ve also learned that, when it’s clear that you love another person and will stay invested in her no matter what path she chooses, talking through decisions about conversion, or matrilineal and patrilineal descent, or the status of kids – the opportunity to actually speak about it with another person – the chance to do that is often met with gratitude.
The unintended effect of your son’s not wanting to talk about it may mean that your daughter in law doesn’t get to talk about it. People wonder about these questions in silence for years, decades even.
I think the argument that people will make is that conversion and the status of children are highly personal decisions, and that is obviously true. But as personal as the decision may be, the conversations themselves are communal. The couples I work with often speak about Judaism as a tool to bring their immediate family together, to bind and bond them in important moments – again, beautiful and true. But what is left out of that equation is that Judaism, if it is anything, is the claim that we are an extended family, that we possess a connection that exists beyond our nuclear circle.
What I mean is that when people decide what Jewish life is best for their family, they should talk with people and about issues that extend further than their immediate family. That environment should be supportive, welcoming, open. But community, by definition, requires a connection to people, purposes, and actions larger than our immediate sphere. By opening up that conversation with her, and accepting her regardless of the result, you bring her into community.
Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.