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Oct 14 2010

Mayim Bialik’s Husband, Mike, was a Mormon

By at 10:10 am

It was on our first date that I told my gentile friend Mike that I could only marry a Jew.

So I guess he wasn’t technically my boyfriend yet. He was just my longtime racquetball partner and calculus buddy.  And I guess it also wasn’t really a first date, because if he didn’t want to do what he did from that day on, it would’ve just been a really awkward night, which two friends would have had to pretend hadn’t happened when they played racquetball the next morning.

Soon, Mike started coming to Temple with me and celebrating holidays with my family. His kippah looked at home atop his dark curls. His intellect was sharp and keen as a Talmudic scholar, noted my Rabbi. He understood the importance I placed on raising Jewish children with two Jewish parents.

On our first meeting with the Rabbi, though, he asked Mike point blank, “What religion were you raised and what’s wrong with it?” Came the answer: “Nothing’s really wrong with it. I was raised Mormon.”

Yes, you heard me right: my husband was raised Mormon. How Mormon? Well, let’s see… Sunday school, accepting the priesthood, baptizing the dead, family in Utah who don’t drink hot beverages and strongly disapprove of “Big Love.” Should I stop now? Yes. Very Mormon.

Mike’s decision to convert to Judaism after five years of dating “SuperJew” (that would be one of my nicknames) was welcomed by his family. They saw his identification with any religion better than the identification with none that he had happily had since he left the Church due to disbelief and disinterest at the age of 12. In addition, an understanding and appreciation of Judaism is integral to the Mormon religion, and the Jews are regarded as a people chosen by G-d to receive the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament.

However, I would be naïve to assume that my Mormon in-laws would not love to see us find and love Jesus Christ, since a key element of Christianity is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the son of G-d. Additionally, a core Mormon belief is that you can only be united with your family in the afterlife if you are all on the same page–the same page of the Book of Mormon, to be specific.

Mormon missionaries going to see Star Wars. Photo by Wm Jas/Flickr

My husband’s Mormon family came to our wedding enthusiastically–with the women dressed modestly and the men in dark suits with starched white shirts, very much like my religious Jewish family. I don’t think they had ever met a Jewish person before that they knew of, so I felt a bit under pressure to make us look good. In general, they ask a lot of excellent questions about Judaism, and although their story begins where ours ends,  I marvel at some of our similarities: their Sabbath is a day of family, study, and avoiding technology. They place a strong emphasis on outreach to their community, and I guarantee you that their food, social, clothing, and media restrictions rival those of observant Judaism.

There are times that I feel very much an outsider among my Mormon in-laws, though. Prayers before and after meals are recited in unfamiliar ways, with heads bowed and hands linked, thanking not a general “G-d,” but specifically Jesus Christ. And when I wore somber funeral black to my husband’s grandmother’s funeral, I was in the minority, as funerals in Mormon communities are often festive and colorful celebrations of one’s imminent and joyous reunion with Christ. In addition, at some family meals in the past 10 years, it has sometimes literally been impossible for me to find something to eat that does not contain pork. Now that I’m a complete vegan and dairy and eggs are out, too, forget it.

My husband can still feel okay in both worlds. In most Jewish circles, he can “pass” as a Jew, since he has studied enough to manage a Kosher kitchen, to say basic prayers, to understand the value of mikveh to the Jewish community, to sing our boys to sleep with the Shema, and to remind me that Maimonides stated that once someone converts, they are not to be referred to as a convert ever again; they are simply to be known as a Jew.

Maimonides also pointed out (Mike reminds me frequently) that converts are awarded the rights and privileges open to all Jews by birth: to decide for themselves how to observe Judaism. Unfortunately, there is a place in the Jewish world where my husband is not awarded this right; where he is not seen as a convert. That is with my religious family. You see, they do not view Mike’s non-Orthodox conversion as legally binding by Jewish law. They still consider him a gentile even though they love him and respect our fairly observant lifestyle. Some of my family had to obtain permission from their Rabbis to attend our wedding, since it was technically that of a Jew and a non-Jew, which traditional Jews can’t attend by Jewish law. Mike is not counted in a minyan, and he does not receive honors in any Temple that does not accept his conversion. Mike’s Mormon family sees him as 100% Jewish, and my family sees him as 100% gentile. What a difference a few thousand years makes.

And so I must apologize to Maimonides for “outing” my husband. For the record, he gave me his blessing to write this despite Maimonides’ guidelines. The way Mike has handled my family’s rejection of his conversion has taught me a lot about being a mentsch. It might make someone else bitter or angry. But not Mike. He is patient and levelheaded and, as many would joke, very “gentile” about it. He is okay with being an outsider even when he is inside.

The next time you are in Temple, you may be able to pick Mike out of a crowd even though on first glance he blends in with his black suede kippah atop dark curls, his guttural “ch”s blending well with the native “ch”s around him, his body wrapped in a tallis among our faithful. He’s the guy who loves meringue, can fix anything broken within a 30 mile radius, knows a lot about Mormonism, and knows even more about being an outsider on the inside.


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28 Responses to Mayim Bialik’s Husband, Mike, was a Mormon

  1. Button says:

    This was wonderfully written and I have to say gracious of your husband to have his story shared.

  2. Stephanie says:

    As a Mormon married to a Catholic and a personal admirer of you, this article gave me hope. So many people focus on the negative of other religions. You and your husbands faith in FAITH and love for God made me happy today. Thank you.

  3. Deborah Simone says:

    that was lovely. I am an observant lesbian in a sanctified kiddushin w/a butch woman who was raised Armenian Apostolic, who while not undergoing formal conversion, labels herself a “practicing Jew”. As in “I am practicing to become a Jew”. And yeah, we know from the looks….
    Altho not in our shul, which is Neo-Hasidic, but not patriarchal!

  4. Tiffany says:

    As someone in the process of conversion (along with my husband; we’re both coming to Judaism with no connection to it whatsoever), I loved reading this. I appreciate how accepting Mike’s family, and yours, has been, and am glad that it hasn’t turned into something that has been difficult for your families to deal with.

    I love reading stories from Jews by choice and wish there were more of them, regardless of what Maimonides says! :) The paths we take to get where we are hold importance. Those who convert to Judaism bring their own cultures and histories to the table. I see conversion as a sign of strength of spirit, and it is inspiring to me to hear about others’ journeys to Judaism.

  5. I am passing to share this news my friends! thanks a lot

  6. jenjen says:

    I am surprised that a Mormon family accepted a Jewish girl into their family. Mormons are married in temples for eternity, and they usually get their partners to convert if they are not already LDS. I know as an LDS woman that his parents are seething inside, no matter what Mayim feels.

    Totally unacceptable for a Mormon (especially a man) to convert

    • There is a part of me that would like to do a discussion on Mormonism as Christian apologitics is one of my hobbies, however I will refrain and simply leave it with what God has joined togather, let no man tear asunder. There are a multitude of Bible scriptures which would bear this out.

  7. jenjen says:

    I am surprised that a Mormon family accepted a Jewish girl into their family. Mormons are married in temples for eternity, and they usually get their partners to convert. I know as an LDS woman that his parents are seething inside, no matter what Mayim feels.

    Totally unacceptable for a Mormon (especially a man) to convert

  8. Regina says:

    Hi Mayim,

    thank you so much for sharing your story. I remember having a quick glance of you at the UCLA Hillel, and seeing you on TV, of course. Never thought I would be relating to you so personally, as I find myself in a deep friendship with a non-Jew, considering marriage, and wondering where to go from here. Reading what the Orthodox have to say doesn’t do much besides piling on more guilt and fear. Would you be willing to share which specific rabbi you were dealing with asa far as your husband’s conversion?

  9. Richard Joachim says:

    Here, tropical northern Australia, our little Jewish community (maybe the most remote in the world as our nearest shul is nearly 2,000kls to the south) has a number of ‘mixed’ marriages the most common being Jewish-Buddhist, European-Asian. Kosher’s not a problem as the Buddhists won’t eat any animal products, and look with horror on Jews who eat chicken and other meats. When the Buddhists ‘convert’ to Judaism they bring their strict ethics and universal compassion with them. And yes, Asian bubba’s are every bit as fierce and protective of their grandchildren as Ashkenas and Shepardis.

  10. Elisabeth says:

    what a terrific story! I was raised somewhat orthodox jewish and my father didn’t come to my wedding (to a non-Jew). I never knew there was a rule about attending a wedding of a jew to a non-Jew! thank you for this tidbit, which has changed my perspective on his decision.

  11. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    Mayim: Thanks for another fascinating insight into your very original life. You might be interested in the blog http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/, written by Jana Reiss, a Mormon married to a Protestant, who is a book editor and author. Because so many Mormons are converts from other denominations, many have relatives in other religions. My experience is that the many Mormons who have served two years as volunteer missionaries as young men or women are even more accepting of the diversities of religious faith, precisely because such acceptance of people as they are is a prerequisite to being able to teach those who are interested in something different.

    As you note, Mormons in general are very accepting of Jews. The Book of Mormon states on its title page that one of its missions is to reassure the Jews that G-d remembers His covenant with the descendents of Abraham, and it contains vast quotations of Isaiah, emphasizing the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem. Back in 1840, one of the original Mormon apostles, Orson Hyde, traveled to Palestine to pray for the return of the Jews, at a time when Zionism was just getting started. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hired Joshua Seixas, a Sephardic Jew, to teach a class in Hebrew at the then Mormon headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio back in the 1830s, a class Smith attended. When Utah attained statehood in 1896, one of the first governors elected by the predominantly Mormon citizens was a Jew, Simon Bamberger, who took office in 1917, one of only three Jewish governors in US history.

    One of the special rituals of Mormonism involves going to an elder who is designated a “patriarch” in order to receive a designation as to which tribe of Israel you are assigned to, fulfilling the Mormon belief that all the people who are “saved” will need to be adopted into Israel.

    One of the remarkable scholarly developments of the last 50 years (much of it led by the late Professor Hugh Nibley, PhD from UC Berkeley and the grandson of a Jew who converted to Mormonism) has been the identification in the Book of Mormon of the characteristics of Hebraic literature, including the presence of complex multi-level examples of Chiasmus, an inverted parallelism that states concepts in an order and then repeats them in reverse order. Identifying this pattern has been a means of confirming the Hebrew identity of the author of the Gospel of Matthew, but it was not generally appreciated among scholars until the 20th Century. Yet it is clearly present in the Book of Mormon, where it was not identified until the 1970s.

    Reading Isaiah and the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures is a basic part of Mormon teaching, including in Sunday School (which is looking at the Old Testament this year and every fourth year) and in the religious study classes which Mormon high school and college students are encouraged to attend every day.

    Brigham Young University has a branch campus in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives where many BYU students go for a semester to study Hebrew and the history of the Bible.

    A former associate of mine in the Air Force is head of Information Technology for UCLA Medical Center and a leader in the Jewish Genealogical Society. I met him a couple of years ago when they held one of their annual conventions in Salt Lake City, where they had a tour of the vault in the Wasatch Mountains where microfiche of family history records are stored, and had other joint activities with the LDS Church Family History Library, the largest of its kind in the world, much of the information for which is available for free online.

    • Barry Solomon says:

      This was such an interesting article.
      IN my 74 years of being a Jew…I was not aware
      of what it means to be a Mormon except
      the little I learned from another pharmacist who was
      Mormon.

  12. Tony Ex-Mormon says:

    Interesting that his family was able to attend your wedding. If the the tables were turned (i.e., if you had converted to the LDS church) your family would NOT have been allowed to attend your wedding if it were held in any of the LDS temples.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Mayim, this was an excellent post. I’m Mormon, and you’re quite right about the natural phil-Semitism of Mormons. In many ways it’s more natural for a Mormon to convert to Judaism than to another Christian faith. If you were going to marry a gentile, you picked well, as your essay demonstrates. Blessings to you both.

  14. Jill says:

    I’m Mormon too, but I live in Brooklyn surrounded by Orthodox Jews, so this piece was interesting to me. John F., I don’t see how Alison is being anal just by clarifying a few things.

    That being said, it is definitely taboo to admit to watching Big Love in some Mormon circles. I don’t know how you could escape receiving all of the boycott emails-I even got one imploring people to pray for the HBO satellite to go down (that was from a crazy person).

  15. Cynthia L. says:

    What a nice piece. I don’t have much to add except that it is interesting to see my Mormonness from the outside in this way. I don’t know what some of the others are complaining about–all your observations of Mormon family all seem fair to me (with the proviso, of course, that there are as many ways of being Mormon as there are Mormons).

    Your husband sounds like a great guy– many happy years together to you.

  16. john f. says:

    Mayim, don’t worry about Alison’s list of corrections. I guess being a bit anal and obsessive is also part of being Mormon that you’ve come to recognize with your husband’s Mormon family. But from what I’ve seen, she’s relatively harmless, unless continual posts about the hardships of downsizing from an 11,000 sq ft house to a 5,000 sq ft house bother you!

    As to your post, I found it very interesting and your husband sounds like a great guy. I also thought your relationship sounds very strong.

    I had one question. It wasn’t clear to me from the post what it was about your husband’s conversion to Judaism that was not considered orthodox or conventional enough for the orthodox community (and your family) to consider him a Jew under the Maimonides dictum. I’d be fascinated to hear that.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t want to speak for Mayim or her family, but my background and experience may be similar to the situation you are wondering about. The Beit Din that convened to accept me as a Jew consisted of rabbis affiliated with the Conservative Judaism movement. Since their teachings differ than the rabbis of Orthodox groups, they would tend to be seen as not qualified to oversee and perform a conversion.

      But I may not have the same family issues that Mayim spoke about in her article. Partly because most my in-laws feel comfortable within Conservative movement and would consider their rabbis as a rabbi. It is also partly because we were at first considered an interfaith couple for a little more than the first dozen years of marriage. After that amount of time, whether they consider me Jewish or not isn’t going to change how they interact with me.

  17. Ploni Almoni says:

    Two questions:

    #1: Why do you use the word Temple when you mean synagogue or shul? I’ve never heard of an Orthodox Jewish congregation that used the word Temple, out of deference to the Temple in Jerusalem.

    #2: Why doesn’t Mike convert according to halacha?

    There’s a logical flaw in his quoting Maimonides: If the Rambam was commenting on the “rights and privileges” of converts, certainly he meant those who converted according to Jewish law. So those rights and privileges wouldn’t extend to Mike.

  18. Susanne says:

    I grew up a Jew amongst Mormons on my cul-de-sac in Orange County, CA, a major LDS community. Neighbor was Bishop of the local Temple. I never failed to recognize the similarities between our faiths, especially in regard to the Sabbath, a day for prayer and family. I enjoyed this post thoroughly Mayim. Thanks to you (and Mike) for sharing your story!

    • Judy says:

      My husband grew up in Orange County, CA and his best friend is still Mormon. They actually hit it off really well because of their religions.
      As my husband grew up and became orthodox, his Mormon best friend was the one who accepted him first and stood by him.

      Mayim – my husband actually attended some shabbos meals with you at college — I’m sure he’d appreciate reading this :-)

      Thanks for the post!

  19. jks says:

    I loved reading this story of your marriage and your religions.

  20. Dana Repouille says:

    “since he left the Church due to disbelief and disinterest at the age of 12″

    If that is true, I would not consider him “very Mormon” at all.

    “Sunday school, accepting the priesthood, baptizing the dead”

    Attending Sunday School, being ordained a Deacon at the age of 12, and being baptized for the dead also do not make him “very Mormon” at all.

    I would like to hear more details of his “very Mormon” life.

    Dana Repouille
    Bellevue, NE

  21. Chino Blanco says:

    I’ve arrived here by way of the blog Alison mentioned above.

    Your husband sounds like he’s 100% mentsch.

    And, yeah, if my wife ever decided to pen such a glowing report about me, I’d probably be OK with setting aside Maimonides’ guidelines just this once, too.

  22. Mayim, this is an interesting post. Appreciate the respectful tone. Amy sent me a link and I’ll be linking from an LDS blog I perm on. :)

    We lived in Boca Raton for ten years — and literally were sometimes the only non-Jews in a neighborhood. The traditions and culture are fascinating. I was confused about what makes Mike’s conversion unacceptable to your family. Could you clarify that? And I wonder if there would be some action that would change that status?

    Just wanted to clarify a couple of things that may be misconstrued as being generally LDS dogma as opposed to the particular practice of your in-laws. We get so much weird press and the slightest misunderstanding can mean years of answering questions. :)

    (1) Mormons drink hot beverages. They don’t drink tea and coffee, specifically. I can’t get through winter without massive amounts of cocoa. :) (We also drink soda, but don’t drink alcohol or use tobacco.)

    (2) Big Love? I’ve never seen it — but I don’t watch much TV. And I actually know a number of Mormons who like it and watch it.

    (3) “a core Mormon belief is that you can only be united with your family in the afterlife if you are all on the same page.” “United” is a fuzzy word. The doctrine is about sealing as families. We believe that families who are “sealed” through temple covenants can remain families after death. So no “till death do you part” stuff.

    (4) There is nothing doctrinal about avoiding technology on Sunday. The longest running continuous radio/TV broadcast in the world is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sunday broadcast. The church also broadcasts Sunday meetings twice per year and other firesides as well. Computerized genealogy classes are also given on Sundays in many churches around the world. Some members choose not to watch much on Sunday.

    (5) Blessings before meals, yes. Never heard a prayer after a meal in my life.

    (6) ” thanking not a general “G-d,” but specifically Jesus Christ.” Actually, we don’t pray to Jesus. We pray to our Heavenly Father and end the prayers in Christ’s name. (We believe they are two, distinct beings.)

    Thanks again for an interesting read today. Best to your and your family.

  23. Talia says:

    Beautiful.

    We often forget how our actions affect others, especially negatively.

    I wish for you and your family continued joy and success!

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