Contact Us

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

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

 Email

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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
241 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Shoshana Jerusalem November 21, 2017

I think that anonymous, L.A. made an excellent comment., which explains one of the reasons that people should not intermarry.
Because the "equally important" things she mentioned will be missing. And that will also cause many conflicts later on. Even if here and there someone says that his/her non-Jewish spouse brought him/her closer to Judaism, that is a rare exception. Also, children from these mixed-marriages are usually not well adjusted.

G-d, our Creator and "Manufacturer" gave us, along with this magnificent world, the "manufacturer's manual", the Torah, telling us how to run it and how to live our lives. We would do well to listen to Him, realize that He knows best, and follow His great instruction book. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles September 8, 2017

Love is the worst reason in the world to get married. You can (and most of us do) love more than one person in life, but you only expect to marry one. Equally important are expectations, goals in life, how you want to raise children, how you yourself were raised, how your prospective mate was raised - all the thing that shape a human being into an adult. Reply

Alicia Madrid September 8, 2017

I want to marry a Jewish man and I have been converting myself into Judaism for quite a long time. Following the learning and inspiring myself with people from Israel or Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, I became a better person now. And what is my surprise, my relatives and friends do not want to help me in my way to finally became a Jew officially because they think I am a better person because of them, crazy world. Reply

Anonymous Location October 26, 2017
in response to Alicia:

You can talk till you are blue in the face because this is a problem of built in prejudice that even the people who suffer from it don't realize - or want to realize - that bigotry is what they are suffering in. You are about to join a new Jewish family where your birth relatives are welcome to visit, participate, love, join - and it has nothing to do with making yourself a better person. It has to do with God and how you envision God and how God chooses to touch your heart. You don't need help from your friends or relatives - you need help from the community you are about to join. And it is waiting for you with open arms. Your real friends and your family will be happy because you will be happy. Your new community will be happy because you are one of them. You can't convert yourself without help from your about-to-become community. Go visit a Rabbi who inspires you. Discuss your conversion and how you feel. And go for it. Reply

Alicia Madrid October 31, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Thanks a lot. You are right. I am going for it with all my best. Have a good day, Reply

Chaim Brooklyn September 8, 2017

We Jews are 0.1% of the population. Those who live in New York City are a greater per cent, which means that we who live outside of New York City are a much smaller percent.

We never see a single Jew at work. We never see a single Jew anywhere except at synagogue. If we don't attend services, we never see any at all--and if we do attend services, it does not help us identify who is single and interested.

Our only hope is college. There are Jewish sororities and fraternities. But if we finish college without meeting our mate, we have small chance of encountering a Jewish significant other.

We are not to blame if we connect with non-Jews. They are the only people we encounter--they outnumber us 1000 to one. Most of them are nice lovable people. So naturally we love them. The next step becomes almost inevitable: we marry them.

It's up to community leaders to enable Jewish singles to encounter each other. Well? What are the leaders doing about it? Nothing much.

Don't blame us. Reply

Vivian Warshaw Los Angeles September 10, 2017
in response to Chaim:

God helps those who help themselves. Go on line and sign up on J-Date, a matchmaking website for Jewish people. I don't agree that it is up to community leaders to act as matchmakers. Go join a synagogue - join B'nai Brith or another charitable organization that supports Jewish charities. If you want to be religiously observant, go on line and sign up on Frum Date. I live in Los Angeles and have belonged to several synagogues. I go to services regularly. Ask the Rabbi if there are any single men or even better if they have a singles group. And if you are serious that there are no single Jewish men where you live or work, move! You are not joined at the hip to where you currently live. Nor are you attached to your workplace. God help them who help themselves! Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem September 10, 2017
in response to Vivian Warshaw:

Excellent comment. Everyone has free choice. If you live and work in a basically non-Jewish place it will be very hard to find a Jew to marry. But still the choice is up to you, as the above comment says.
But I do think t might be a good idea to ask the community leaders to organize some type of get-together.
This is the month of Elul, we are just before Rosh Hashana. Pray with all your hearts to find a Jewish spouse. Pray and beg H-shem and then pray and beg some more. Sincere prayer is very powerful. May H-shem answer all your prayers. May you all have a good and blessed year. Reply

Chaim Brooklyn September 17, 2017
in response to Vivian Warshaw:

Forget me. Think of the Jewish community. People are marrying out, and it is because Jews are outnumbered 1000 to one (and more, in cities outside New York or LA). It therefore does need an effort on the part of the Jewish community & its leadership. Not every Jew cares enough to seek out other Jews. But the community needs to stem the tide of intermarriage. It is a community problem, and it requires community action to make a difference--not to be matchmakers, but merely to throw Jews together as a community at cultural events (not just at "Jewish" events)--events such as art, music, theater, etc. It needs to create Jewish togetherness that will influence those Jews who do not care enough to seek out other Jews--and that means events that are not "Jewish". Once they meet and marry other Jews, their Jewish involvement will increase. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles CA October 26, 2017
in response to Chaim:

Jews marry out because they do not feel attached to the Jewish community. Perhaps they were not raised in a family where religion mattered. Perhaps they were raised in a gentile community. If you want to have Judaism as a vital part of your life, talk to a Rabbi who you admire. Don't have one? Get up and go find one. Jews tend to live in large metropolises because they prefer to live among other Jews. I have dear friends - observant Jewish friends - who come from Iowa. They were active in the Jewish community there. I have family who live in Minnesota and others who live in Wisconsin and Georgia. They are involved in the Jewish community - small as it may be - because Judaism is important to them. I have Orthodox friends from Alabama. In short, if Judaism is important to people all the opportunities for involvement are meaningless. Reply

Stephanie Canada September 5, 2017

This would be just fine if Jews would marry Jews and not seek out (against their own culture, ethnicity, and religion) non-Jews, and then have the audacity to complain that non-Jews are not Jews. The expectation is that a non-Jew should put up with this attitude from friends and family, convert and keep it up out of obligation, throw out his or her own religion, language, history, and ethnicity, and then raise the children Jewish while the whole time his family disapproves, and they will probably fight you on getting a share of money in divorce or keeping/sharing custody of children (for not being Jewish). Don't marry outsiders and save us all the trouble. You end up being unhappy and saying your spouse, extended family, and kids are not Jewish, but who is making this decision? The Jew! Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem September 9, 2017
in response to Stephanie:

This is a very strange and hard to understand comment. 1- Who are you referring to that has the "audacity" to complain that non-Jews are not Jews? The Jewish spouse? That doesn't make sense at all. 2-Who expects that non-Jews should put up with this attitude? Nobody expects anything from the non-Jew. You write as if he is being forced into something against his/her will.
Your comment should be written on non-Jewish web cites, warning the non-Jew what he is getting into,.not here. There are plenty of non-Jews in the world for the not-Jew to marry.
3- It seems that the non-Jew is also making this decision, as well as the Jew. And intermarriage is always the wrong decision. Reply

Anonymous los angeles August 22, 2017

You can love many people in your life but you don't marry everyone you love. Far more important than love is commonality of beliefs, goals, objectives, plans for family and the kind of home you want to run. I have a lot of cousins who married via arranged introductions to people who fit the bill. There has not been one divorce among them because their objectives in life were the same. Do they love each other? I would say yes - they are all American-born, highly educated people and knew exactly what they wanted in a spouse. If you use love as a word synonymous with lust, learn the difference. For the rest of your life depends on that. Reply

Alicia Madrid August 28, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Dear Anonymous, I am fed up with so many obstacles to cope with for marrying the man I love and want to run a family with. Conversion is difficult enought to be fully respected while the process is happening by everyone specially when the real goal is getting a better understanding and coexistance in a unique religion for the whole family. Many people has to do pre marrying courses to prepare their minds for the wedding and future, and they do not have to deal with criticisms, bad opinions or assumptions or presumption of greed. They are helped in their ways of love by G-d. Reply

Stephanie Canada September 17, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

My point exactly. Jews should marry Jews and their divorce rate would be lower, their children would be Jewish, their parents would be happy, nobody would be forced to convert (and requiring someone to convert for the sake of marriage is coercive and exploitative, not of free will, and self-serving at best, if not deceptive at worst), no conversions of this nature would be inauthentic (conversion for marriage is inauthentic and against Judaism's protocols on conversion), and guarantee a Jewish community. People do not just marry for love. You could love five or six people in life but only one or two would be suited for marriage-intimacy, common values, shared lifestyle, domestic skills, personality, looks, age, desire for children, and so many other factors (criminal history, credit, education, health, mental stability, physical mobility, credentials, income, fertility, religion, politics, eating habits, cleanliness, hobbies, job, credit history, std profile, sexual history, legal). Reply

Vivian Warshaw Los Angeles November 10, 2017
in response to Stephanie:

If Judaism is not part of your life - a very important part -marry anyone you want. You don't marry a Jewish spouse to please your parents - don't ask a non-jew to convert to satisfy your parents. if you care about being Jewish, having a Jewish home and raising Jewish children, the answer is obvious. How do you avoid falling in love with a non-Jew? That answer, too, is obvious. Restrict your dating to Jews. Reply

Alicia Madrid August 22, 2017

Shoshana, I like very much your name. Reply

goodoldrebel south florida August 8, 2017

Being 100% Jewish, I still find all religion and politics to be a way to keep humans brainwashed and down on the farm like sheep prevented from independent cognition. Just because I'm in Shul on Shabbos doesn't mean I can identify with a liberal just because he's davening right next to me. All religion is about obsessive compulsive rituals. As Jews though we should always remember the victims of the holocaust and all the pogroms committed mostly in the name of religion. Live every day to the fullest as it doesn't matter how many times a day you bend your knees and rock back and forth, when your dead, your just dead. Humans find it hard to accept the finality of death so all this pie in the sky stuff is created. Reply

Anonymous Arlington, VA August 22, 2017
in response to goodoldrebel:

goodoldrebel, This is a thread about intermarriage. People of all levels of religious practice are posting thoughtful comments and asking thoughtful questions on the subject. I'm not the least bit uncomfortable with your atheism. But I do hope you'll ask yourself what it is that compels you to bring your atheism up, and to state it as an unqualified and absolute truth to which any objection must derive from a failure of "independent cognition," in a forum, sponsored by Chabad, that's about intermarriage. Perhaps you'll find that even as an atheist, you can derive more joy from expressing your Judaism positively than negatively. Reply

Vivian Warshaw los angeles August 22, 2017
in response to goodoldrebel:

I am sad for you that you think it's all pie in the sky. Rituals are important - do you stand for the National Anthem? It's just a song, after all. Do you feel strongly about an issue at all? it won't matter because when you are dead you are dead. That is so depressing. Might as well not bother living at all if that's all it's about. Reply

Michael Boston September 8, 2017
in response to goodoldrebel:

I won't say what "religion" is--but Jewishness is not a "religion."

Being a Jew is about Torah, and Torah is about living together in community to the maximum benefit of all, including enemies, children and animals. "If you see your enemy's donkey fallen under its burden, help him reload it." "If you see your enemy's ox gone astray, you shall surely restore it to him." Most of Leviticus is about the temple rituals which we have been unable to keep for nearly 2000 years--but Leviticus 19 includes "Love thy neighbor as thyself" and other non-ritual commandments. Notice that the Torah says very little about the afterlife. Jacob remarks that he expects to experience this afterlife. Look and tell me if you can find one verse where the Torah says that the afterlife is a place of reward. Instead it emphasizes earthly rewards. So the question of an afterlife is irrelevant. What matters is creating a viable community. Reply

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

Bill h Berkeley August 31, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

So if you plant a watermelon seed in a wet napkin and it sprouts it's no longer a watermelon? That's man's law. A black man gets a Jewish woman pregnant that child is black even in the Jewish community. Please explain Reply

Josh Houston September 17, 2017
in response to Bill h:

So the child is a black Jew. A black Jew IS a JEW!

We have lots of black Jews in our orthodox congregation. They love the congregation and they enjoy the other Jews. 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

Charlene Mountain View October 26, 2017
in response to Hirsch:

Beautifully worded...what more can I say? 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

Vivian Warshaw Los Angeles CA September 8, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I agree with you in theory but not in practice. The fact -sadly - is that there are three divisions in Judaism with different practices and indeed different takes on halacha. A person who converts according to Reform practice is has not yet fulfilled the requirements or Orthodox or Conservative conversion. The simplest thing for a convert to do is convert per Orthodox halaca -- the other branches all accept that. 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

Vivian Warshaw Los Angeles August 22, 2017
in response to Shoshana:

you love - or can love - many people you meet but you don't marry everyone you love. You marry someone whose ideas and ideals, whose goals and objectives, whose thoughts and beliefs are compatible with yours. Like comes before love. And life is based on a lot more than lust. 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

Vivian Los Angeles November 22, 2017
in response to Kim:

if love is the most important thing, how come there are so many divorces? I have been married for 54 years - to the same man. I loved other men before him but I would not have ever married them because we were not on the same page regarding beliefs, thoughts, upbringing - life in general. Human rules and regulations are an important part of life. Why get married if you don't think marriage is important? Why think love is going to last if you don't think the same way about what you want out of life. Love lasts only when deepened by being on the same page regarding your future and your future family. 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

Vivian Warshaw Los Angeles November 22, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

My congregation - which is Conservative - welcomes the whole family, whether the spouse is Jewish or not. As so often happens, many intermarried families choose Judaism for the family and we welcome their conversion as well. A conversion for convenience - or converting to placate parents - is no conversion at all. The convert should really want to join theJewish community, married or not married. If you only convert to please parents or some other party, don't do it. God wants your heart - not lip service to some other human beings wishes. Reply

Alicia Madrid October 27, 2016

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

Related Topics