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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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Hanalah Houston, Tx March 8, 2017

Stephen--me, too You are a man after my own heart.
Yes, I always loved Gd.
Somehow my parents communicated their love of Jewish observance.
I have become more observant as time goes by.
Somehow I have been drawn to Jewish living. It feels good.
Better than a vague spirituality. Reply

Phil Newark March 8, 2017

If a Jewish woman marries a non-Jewish man, the children are born to be Jews.
She may care about Jewish ways & light Friday night candles. She may buy kosher food & maintain separate dishes for meat and dairy. Or she may not. Let's say she does everything she can.

But will she be able to provide the children with the masculine side of a Jewish home?

Obviously her husband will not know how to make the Sabbath blessings before dinner on Friday night. And, since he has chosen not to convert, the odds are he will not learn to make these blessings.

Will he attend synagogue on Saturday mornings? Or at least on the various festivals (there are about six). Will he give a manly example of eating kosher food? Will he demand a tree in December? Will he help to build a Sukkah in October? If she manages to build it herself, will he eat in the sukkah? Will he pay for the children to attend a Jewish school to learn Hebrew prayers? Will the kids grow up to live Jewishly? Or confused? Or resentful? Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem March 8, 2017

Dear Friend (March 7) The basis for Jewish objection to intermarriage is the Biblical commandment forbidding it, in Duet.7:3. Even if the genders are reversed it is still forbidden. This prohibition carries the same weight as any other Torah commandment-Shabbos, kosher, etc. Even if a person would past child-bearing age it is still forbidden.

P.S. Your friend is right, though, that Jewishness is passed down though the mother, not the father. Reply

A non-Jewish person Brookline March 7, 2017

A Jewish friend of mine gave me the impression that one's Jewishness existed as a matrilineal thing. That is, if your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish, regardless of the father. Obviously the blurb above involves a Jewish man and a non-Jewish girl, but is the attitude against inter-marriage the same if the genders are reversed? Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem November 12, 2016

American conversions American conversions are certainly accepted here if the rabbi doing the conversion is an approved Orthodox rabbi who is doing the conversion according to Halacha. The Rabbinate knows who's who and who is each rabbi.

If a would-be convert is really sincere why doesn't he/she check out her rabbi before beginning? I have a sister-in-law who converted and they checked very carefully into the matter and made sure that their rabbi and beis din is accepted also here in Israel although she lives in the States. Isn't that a normal way of doing things? If you wanted to take a course in any subject under the sun and get a degree in it, isn't is wise to first find out if your place of study is on the approved list in any give university? Like wise, let the would-be convert take a rabbi on the approved list instead of doing it all wrong and then complaining. Reply

Hirsch Seattle November 6, 2016

For the first year or so, it is not love but infatuation. Infatuation is the linking of neuroses. Such "love" fades when real life intrudes--and Jewishness is a vital ingredient of real life. When he realizes how she feels about Jews in general, when he hears her use expressions as "He tried to Jew me down" (which I have heard from people I thought were friends), when she doesn't want to hear about the pogrom in which his great-grandmother was killed in 1919, well before Hitler (and, yes, my grandmother and my great-grandmother were killed in two of those pogroms, as were many ancestors of American Jews), when she realizes that Jewish history is full of such murders for the past thousand years and more, the "love" that they thought they shared takes a terrible beating and may not survive.
But if she converts and accepts the sad facts of Jewish history, along with the sanctity of Jewish observance, the whole story is transformed. Now they can marry with shared ethnicity and worship and a shared desire to teach Torah to their own children. Reply

Anonymous November 6, 2016

We are not driving people away Dear Shoshana,
We are definitely driving people away. I appreciate your comments about Ruth. It was not up to Naomi to accept Ruth's sincere and beautiful conversion. That was between Ruth and Hashem. But today Israeli Rabbis don't even accept the conversion performed by American Rabbis. The whole who is a Jew question is ugly and divisive on an issue that should be beautiful and inclusive. Rabbi Meir a direct convert and Rabbi Akiva, and as you note King David, descendants of converts would be ashamed. How dare Rabbis today to not accept converts for political reasons because they don't like the authority doing the conversion when as in the case of Ruth-- that is between a person and Hashem. We create man-made walls to drive people away. It is a shame that the entire Am Israel isn't outraged at this exclusory practice by our Rabbinate. Reply

Stephen Houston November 6, 2016

Shoshana, you said exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Loyalty to Hashem and true love for Him are close to the same for me, but have one distinct difference. I used to love Hashem but I wasn't loyal, so my happiness was diminished. Happiness is a byproduct of right living, it's not a searching, it's one thing at a time action.

Baruch Hashem Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem October 30, 2016

There is no "racial pure bloodline belief" We Jews are not driving people away. Whoever wants to really convert and take on the 613 mitzvos is welcome. Sincere converts have always been welcomed with love. We learn many of the laws of conversion from the Book of Ruth. Naomi tried three times to gently persuade Ruth not to convert. When Ruth persisted Naomi saw she was sincere and let her accompany her to Eretz Yisrael, where she converted. Ruth became the great great grandmother of King David, from whom the Moshiach will descend. What greater proof could there be that converts are accepted?

P.S. to Kim
Love is not the most important thing. The most important thing is loyalty. Loyalty to one's past, his ancestors, his people and to G-d. It is %100 possible to find true love within these guidelines. A person has to remain loyal, and not become a traitor in the name of love. Reply

Kim Los Angeles October 30, 2016

She can convert. Love is the most important thing, above race or religion. I love Jews, I am a gentile. The Jews have taught me many things and I believe in their beliefs. However, love is love. Anything else is set forth by human rules and regulations Reply

Anonymous October 28, 2016

We are not a race Dear Anonymous,
We are not a race-- of all the commenters George was closest that we are a covenant-- we are a people. We are B'nai Israel, the Children of Israel, and as Rabbi Meir, a Roman convert and student of Rabbi Akivah noted in the Talmud, all are welcome to join. I am the writer who noted earlier how sad I am over the Who is a Jew question and the loss of so many of our children and families-- we should be welcoming those who see the beauty of our covenant with Hashem and take on the Mitzvot-- not driving people away out of some mistaken racial pure bloodline belief as described by this writer.
B'shalom,
Anonmymous Reply

Alicia Madrid October 27, 2016

Answering a person in USA (Annonymous): something difficult might mean extra trainning, but not impossible. Reply

Anonymous USA October 11, 2016

I'm a Gentile and believe with complete confidence that Jews are a race and as such have a completely different perspective and set of values compared with Gentiles. A totally different mind. Jews should marry Jews and Gentiles marry Gentiles. Even if the Jew and Gentile are both secular in their beliefs they should not marry. I wish it were different as I've seen many Jewish girls and women who I find extremely attractive. It is hard enough to make a same race relationship work. Gentiles and Jews are not the same. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem August 3, 2016

To Anonymous, Toronto I am very happy to hear that you are dating a Jewish girl and that this is so important to you. You are absolutely %100 right, and may G-d bless for your choice.

Perhaps while you are on this website, look up about the holiness of Yom Kippur. There are many articles about the High Holy Days which are coming up very soon.

And so many Jews gave up their lives not to eat bacon, even during the Holocaust. Perhaps within your own family as well.

I think you have a special soul which is for sure longing for you to start keeping some mitzvos. Maybe decide, at least for this Yom Kippur, to fast. You have no idea how much happiness this will bring to your family who died during the holocaust And if you will also stop eating bacon, etc., for sure their souls will be rejoicing and dancing for joy. I have heard many stories of people having dreams of their deceased relatives, who were given permission to come in a dream to say thank you.

And it is for sure the best thing for you. Reply

Alicia Madrid August 3, 2016

I think it might be a matter of respect. Those who are not Jewish, who does not give anything of human value and who think are losing something, feel free to "vomit" their nasty opinions without any sort of consideration. A sincere conversion uses to deal with this difficultties. Continuity in the way is a probe of faith. Reply

Anonymous Toronto August 1, 2016

Marrying Jewish I am the furthest thing from being a practicing jew. I went to hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah and attend synagogue on high holidays. I eat bacon, drive on Saturday without second thought, and eat on yom kippur. Every single one of my grandparents was a holocaust survivor. My grandfather's entire family was murdered in the holocaust. One had his family taken to a mass grave to be shot while my other grandfather's brothers were beheaded and the rest of the family was sent to the grave. This was engrained in me since a young age. I understand the scarcity of Jews in this world.

I have been dating a Jewish girl for 8 years now. I recently attended a wedding of her first cousin in Cleveland and was very upset. The entire other side of the family through marriage had 3 boys, all dating Non Jewish women. Would you rather sit down at a dinner table and make Hamotzi or say grace instead? Would you like a Reverend to lead your ceremony? Try dating a Jewish girl and you'll see why it's important. Reply

George Texas 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. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem 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. Reply

Alicia Madrid 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. Reply

Carol NY 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. Reply