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Why Are My Non-Religious Parents Against My Marrying a Non-Jew?

Why Are My Non-Religious Parents Against My Marrying a Non-Jew?

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Question:

Rabbi, I am not asking for a sermon—I get enough of them from my parents. I am asking for an explanation.

I am seriously dating a girl who is everything I ever dreamed of. She is smart, pretty, funny . . . definitely marriage material. But—you guessed it—she isn’t Jewish. My parents have refused to even meet her, and have told me that if we get married, they won’t come to the wedding. My grandmother is beside herself.

My question is: my parents aren’t religious; we never kept kosher or any of the festivals. There was nothing very Jewish about our home. Why all of a sudden are they so Jewish when it comes to whom I marry? Isn’t that totally hypocritical? When I ask them this, they just answer, “This is different,” but that makes no sense to me. Why is this different?

Answer:

That is not just the question of the week; that’s the question of the generation. Why does intermarriage touch a nerve in so many people more than any other Jewish issue?

Your frustration is well-founded. It is unreasonable of your parents to expect Judaism to be important to you if it never seemed important to them. What’s more, they can’t explain to you why they feel the way they do. They probably can’t even explain it to themselves. But I have a theory.

There is a profound truth that somehow our parents learnt subconsciously from their parents, and that is: Jewishness is who you are, not what you do.

There is no such thing as one Jew who is more Jewish than another. Whether you practice Jewish customs or not, keep the festivals or not, live in Israel or not, eat chopped liver or not, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Jewishness is an irreversible status that is not defined by how you live your life.

A Jew may be sitting in a church eating bacon on Yom Kippur dressed up as Santa Claus, but he’s still 100% Jewish. Is he a good Jew? A faithful Jew? A proud Jew? G‑d knows. But a Jew he remains. Because Jewishness isn’t something you do; it’s something you are. Nothing you do can affect who you are.

Nothing, that is, with one exception: whom you marry.

The person you marry becomes a part of who you are. Getting married is not a hobby or a career move; it is making someone else a part of your identity, and becoming a part of theirs. Your spouse fills a void in your very being, and you fill the void in them. So marriage, like Jewishness, is not something you do; it is something you are.

There is nothing wrong with non-Jews. But they aren’t Jewish. If you marry a non-Jew, you’re still 100% Jewish, but a part of you—your other half—is not. You can be happy together. You can be in love with each other. But there is a part of you that you will never share.

Maybe this is the challenge of our generation: to face the questions of what it means to be in love, what it means to marry, and what it means to be Jewish. And—unlike any generation before us—to come up with real answers.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (193)
May 16, 2016
To Carol
We are not a religion.
We are not a race.
We are a covenant.
Those born to a Jewish mother are bound by the covenant.
A ger is also bound by the covenant.
You are a Jewish mother, so your children were at Sinai and promised Gd to live by Torah mitzvot--which includes irrational teachings such as keeping kosher--as a way to express their love for Gd. Being good & decent is good. For Jews to keep the other mitzvot [Shabbat, estivals, kashrut, etc] is part of Gd's plan to redeem the universe [tikkun olam].

You may still have time to teach your children to do more than being good & decent. Gd bless you.
George
Texas
May 16, 2016
Carol
It says in the Torah that Jews are not allowed to intermarry. The Torah is G-d's will, revealed to us a Mt. Sinai 3,330 years ago, in front of about three million people, on the holiday of Shavous, which is coming up soon. You are Jewish, your children are also Jewish, and are required to observe what it ways in the Torah.

We cannot decide what G-d wants us to do and what He cares about.
He has told us that Himself in His Torah, in the only national Divine revelation that ever occurred in the history of the world.

All our philosophies and rationalizations don't change one thing.
Shoshana
Jerusalem
May 16, 2016
The originals
I saw a chapter of the great and still beautiful actress Jane Fonda in her series "Grace and Frankie" (seson 2, "The Goodbyes"). Frankie´s foster son brought her girlfriend to meet his parents. She gave them, as a thoughtful detail, a little figure of Jesus playing football with some kids. Frankie pretended to like the little figurines and the girlfriend ask them: what kind of Christians are you ? Frankie said: the Jewish ones. And the girlfriend said: Ahhh… the originals !!
I strongly recommend this series, is very funny.
Alicia
Madrid
May 13, 2016
Intermarriage
I am a Jew. I was raised as a Jew. I have a different opinion than my brother on this subject. I say Jews are of a religion and my brother says no we are a race. I say there are black Jews, Hispanic Jews and even Asian Jews. Being Jewish us believing in one G-D. We don't worship the G-D that Buddhists worship or Muslims or Christians worship. We are a religion in my view. Intermarriage is not something I had a problem with. I married a man who would have been a priest at one time. A decent man, a good man who supports me. There are many negative remarks about non Jews on this subject. Cheating or bad treatment of a spouse is in every religion. Every race. My husband is Catholic. I celebrate my holidays and he his. Our children believe in G-d. They are good and decent. I think that's enough and G-D is,pleased with those who talk to him, appreciate his gifts and blessings and follow his laws. I doubt he gets angry about who you fall in love with. The heart wants what it wants.
Carol
NY
May 13, 2016
Not even close to 1%
Oh how I wish we were even close to 1% of the world's population. That would be about 80 million Jews in the world. I haven't seen the 2016 census but it would surprise me if at this point there were more than 14 million of us left and continuing to decline every year.

So my original point remains-- If King David and Solomon had Hebrew/Judean children regardless of the ancestry of pagan wives and Ruth became Judean simply by declaring her love for Naomi and our people, why on earth would we continue to have such high walls around the who is a Jew question-- I posited months ago that our blessed sages were wise in declaring matrilineal descent as D'rabbanan in order to save all the children and declaring them Jewish instead of Roman. Why would our blessed sages today not continue to want to save all the children. Perhaps if we did we would number 1% of the world's population. There is such beauty and spiritual grandeur to our Peoplehood and religion that many would join.
L'shalom
Anonymous
May 13, 2016
Sacrifice
Considering the facts that Jews are about 1% of the total world population and have been cruelly persecuted during History, being anti-Semitism still and sadly a reality, it might have to be considered as a truly sign of love the fact that someone wants to convert to Judaism for an intermarriage. Shabat Shalom.
Alicia
Madrid
May 10, 2016
P.S. To Fred and the rest of you
We Jews are about 1% of the total world population. We have been burned at the stake for not converting (Spanish Inquisition), burned alive and butchered during the Crusades (one million of us) for the crime of being Jewish, pogromed against with hundreds of thousands of us killed , if not millions, and finally the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is growing all over the world, and we have lost, according to the latest Pew report, %70 to intermarriage.

Would you kindly tell me, and your inner self as well, why you and the likes of you are so bothered by the fact that we Jews continue to exist that you can't stop writing about the nerve we remaining Jews have for not wanting to marry out?
Shoshana
Jerusalem
May 10, 2016
Fred- Apr. 14
It makes absolutely all the sense in the world for Jews to only want to marry Jews, even if they are not religious. Whoever is born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, religious or not. He is from our noble ancestors, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.
It is the most natural and normal thing that he wants to remain part of that great heritage. To break the chain is what is abnormal. Every Jew has within his soul a Divine spark, what is called the "pintaleh Yid". It has nothing to do with being a raciest or a superior gene pool.

We all stood together at Mt. Sinai and what we got there is our very life's blood. It is much more than a different background.

Also, if wanting to stay connected to my illustrious people makes me a "raciest", then that is a title I will happily and proudly wear. I am a Jew, and I am proud of it. My children, grandchildren and our first great-grandchild (who is just three days old!) are also Jewish.
Shoshana
Jerusalem
May 8, 2016
The word
You instead say, "there is by me..." The word "yesh" means there is. The word "lee" means "by me".
You can say, "I want to marry my beloved," but you cannot say "I have so-and-so". You can say, "So-and-so is by me."

You and your beloved can pray about whether s/he might consider converting. Maybe conversion would mean s/he would be disowned by his/her family. My fiance was not disowned by his family, and so he did convert and we did marry.

Being Jewish is neither a race nor a religion. It is an identity. However, most Christians expect to marry another Christian. St. Paul says, "do not be unequally yoked with non-believers" because he knows that worshipping together is important in any family. Spirituality is much more intimate and more powerful when shared.

To marry someone who does not know or care about making the Sabbath blessings, for example, would mean diluting the foundation of my personal spirituality.
Shulamit
Boston
May 5, 2016
Intermarriage and the problems involved
There is another option that might worth consideration - why not ask the love of your life to convert to Judaism. I have a cousin who converted and she & her husband are very happy indeed - it would not surprise me if their daughter became a Rabbi. It was because of Judaism that my cousin converted whilst she & her husband practised neither faiths till her husband's father's death. Pray about this and leave God to guide you but never abandon one's family. May you find true happiness and always remember and be proud of your Jewish heritage. Blessings Beryl
Beryl Shooter
Australia