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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 (205)
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.
Shoshana
Jerusalem
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.
Hirsch
Seattle
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.
Anonymous
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
Stephen
Houston
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.
Shoshana
Jerusalem
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
Kim
Los Angeles
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
Anonymous
October 27, 2016
Answering a person in USA (Annonymous): something difficult might mean extra trainning, but not impossible.
Alicia
Madrid
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.
Anonymous
USA
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.
Shoshana
Jerusalem