While it is certainly not unusual for people to convert to a faith other than the one to which they were born, often that decision is made later in one's life. That is not the case for a ten-year-old Jewish girl from the U.K., however, who has been granted permission by a court to convert to Christianity -- the faith her father himself converted to following the breakdown of his marriage -- despite her tender age.
The debate arose when the schoolgirl, who has not been named for legal reasons, started attending religious services with her father and expressed a desire to be baptized into the Christian faith. Her mother, on the other hand, wanted her daughter to wait until she turned 16 to make such a major life decision and even took the matter to court in the hopes of stopping the conversion from taking place imminently.
According to court testimony, the girl's parents divorced in 2010 and were never "observant" Jews. Regardless, the girl's mother believes her daughter is being pressured -- even "brainwashed" -- by her ex-husband into seeking the conversion. The father denied the claim.
After a lengthy battle, Judge John Platt ruled that the girl is mature enough to choose her own religion, penning a letter directly to the girl explaining his decision. The Telegraph provides a portion of the transcript:
“Sometimes parents simply cannot agree on what is best for their child, but they can’t both be right. Your father thinks it is right for you to be baptised as a Christian now. Your mother wants you to wait until you are older, so they have asked me to decide for them. That is my job.” [...]
“My job is to decide simply what is best for you and I have decided that the best thing for you is that you are allowed to start your baptism classes as soon as they can be arranged and that you are baptised as a Christian as soon as your minister feels you are ready.”
The judge stressed, however, that his decision did not mean that the girl would lose her Jewish heritage and that her baptism would in no way change or diminish the love both of her parents feel for her.
The Telegraph explains that in November the girl’s mother, unbeknownst to others, applied for a court order forbidding the father from baptising or confirming her child into the Christian faith and claimed her ex-husband had forbid their daughter from practicing Judaism.
For his part, the girl's father said he was actually surprised, even skeptical, when his daughter announced that she had "experienced an encounter with God," following an Evangelical rally they both had attended earlier in that day. According to reports, the girl went behind her father's back to talk to a Sunday school teacher about baptism -- a move her father said he was "unhappy" about.
The Telegraph adds additional context:
The girl’s grandparents accused her father of forcing her to give up her Jewish heritage, while a rabbi told the court that it would be “unnatural to their soul” to make a child change religion. The judge was scathing about these claims, saying that neither the mother nor the grandparents had made “any real effort” to consider what was best for the girl while the rabbi’s letter was made in “inflammatory terms without any supporting evidence”.
Judge Platt also said it was “wholly wrong” for the mother to go to court without discussing the matter first with the girl's father or his priest. He concluded that while he has no power to order the girl’s baptism, he could dismiss the application seeking to prevent it from happening.
The rabbi's sentiments are not shocking, however, given Jewish history, theology and culture, which believes that one's Judaism is inherent in the soul and ascribed by God himself. Thus, the thought of relinquishing one's Judaism is often difficult for rabbis and observant Jews to accept.
Whether the girl chooses to go through with the conversion remains to be seen, but given her Jewish heritage and her father's Christian faith, she is likely to have a greater respect and understanding of both faiths moving forward.