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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 (180)
December 25, 2015
Intermarriage
We have to really ask ourselves what is most important. Is being a Jew a religion or is it a culture. if its a culture then do that. if its a religion then practice that. Reading some of the comments, it comes across as though to be Jewish is to be racist. Who is the better Jew will be the next topic. Russians with their mink hats or Ethiopians with their turbans. Ask, is being black a race, a religion or is it culture? Who determines what it is man or G-d? We will all be judged by what we do. Not what we claim to be. If we know what is righteous, and believe Torah shows us then we have a duty to perform. Instructed by G-d not by man. For it it written "You shall know the truth.." not, You shall be taught!
bh
Califonia
December 25, 2015
Respect
If only G-d decides who is Jews and who is not, then conversion is the human step to make in agreement what G-d wishes. Marriage is allowed in between Jews and G-d´s willing, children and grandchildren from these marriages will be Jews as well. That´s all.
Alicia
Madrid
December 24, 2015
See the article, The Pew Survey Reanalyzed: More Bad News, but a Glimmer of Hope, in which the degree of disaffiliation is made clear. The illusion is that accommodating the congregation to intermarried members helps to retain these folks. The statistical fact is that intermarried Jews have nonJewish children and/or grandchildren. It really does matter for a child to have two Jewishly involved parents. Them's the statistics, folks. If we want to have any Jews left 30 years from now, we need for Jews to marry Jews and rear Jewish children. Period.
Miriam
Indianapolis
November 24, 2015
Intermarriage
I married a catholic woman and went through 2 years of hell and heartache. She slept around and treated me like a Dog to boss around, finally we split and I lost everything. Years later I met a Jewish lady and fell in love on the phone just talking to her. When we married it was the happiest time of my life, such love, such devotion and a heart of gold, she passed away just under 5 years later. To this day I will have nobody else in my life. If I ever decide to marry she will be Jewish because we will be able to relate and understand each other.
I will never marry out of my religion.
Aaron Solomon
London
November 19, 2015
Written and Oral Laws = Torah
To Mike, 11/17/15: "Where does it say in the Torah about the mother determining Jewishness of the children"? It's important to be aware that the Torah is made up of both the Written Law and the Oral Law, both given to the nation of Israel at Sinai. Without one, the other cannot be. (The body without the soul). The Oral Law interprets the Written Law; otherwise, the Written Laws would be incomprehensible. How would a man know how to put on Tefilin, is one example. The Jews are Jews because of our Matriarchs. Sarah is the original mother of the Jewish people. We see the difference in that Yishmael's mother was Hagar and so throughout our history, it is the mother who determines the Jewishness in the offspring.
bracha
usa
November 18, 2015
B"H
Let me begin by saying that I was a child of the 50s, a teen of the 60s and an adult from then forward. As I recall my parents saying that marrying a gentile would put an end to Jewish blood line. Should my wife and I want children, agreeably raised Jewish, they would have to convert to Jewish. What would occur in our household, 2 religions that would be ongoing or do we declare it an atheist household.
I just couldn't get to sleep with an idol hanging over my headboard.

Among friends and acquaintances of mixed marriages, I just never saw a completely satisfying and adjusted household even when compromises have been made. I will never compromise with my Jewishness and Yiddishkeit. Btw, I was married for the first time at age 63. Today, I am Baal Teshuva.
Ron
Westchester County, NY
November 18, 2015
I appreciate your position and I have read the PEW report and am also dismayed at its findings. However, what I cannot fathom is why it is ok for Rabbis Hillel and Akiva and their peers to create Rabbinic Judaism out of our destroyed community and destruction of the Priesthood by the Romans, and create Halachah which was sometimes radically different than Temple Biblical Judaism, and yet it is not ok for us to be creative in solving problems today. I would never advocate for going against Torah Law. However, our Sages created laws to solve problems of 2,000 years like the Rape of Judean women by Romans and our need to save all our children. Yet we today are not willing to save all our children simply because many of us believe Matrilineal descent is Torah Law. I do not believe it is.
And yes Ruth did convert but note she did so out of deep conviction and love for Naomi and simply saying your people are now my people. She didn't have to jump over the steep walls that exist today.
Mike
November 18, 2015
to Mike
Ruth converted and was therefore %100 Jewish.
Talmudic sages would not be "appalled". They would be proud that their descendants are not gong along with the whims of the times and are strong enough to continue following Jewish law. Otherwise Judaism would have disappeared long ago, as you see in certain sectors that stopped keeping Judaism and their "rabbis" changed so much of Judaism that they have an %80 intermarriage rate, with 50 million church -going Jews. See recent Pew report.
There is a wide-spread misconception that every "problem" cam be solved by simply obliterating large areas of Jewish law and then you have no problem because you can do whatever you want. But as I said, the proof of the pudding is in the pie, and you can see the results of this in the Pew report. Utter destruction.
Shoshana
Jerusalem
November 18, 2015
You say one percent.
But this is world wide, and Jews are not distributed evenly throughout the world
In some areas, we are 2% or more. And in other areas, there are no other Jews at all. So in those areas, we cannot find anyone. We must look elsewhere.
Unless we live in New York or Israel, it takes a great deal of searching to find another Jew. Meanwhile we are surrounded by gentiles, many of whom are bound to be attractive.
If we were similarly surrounded by Jews, we would easily find someone Jewish to love. But instead we have difficulty finding each other, and it is simply easier to let ourselves love the ones who surround us.

Many of us love singing Shabbos songs on Friday night after lighting the candles and making the sanctification over the wine, and sharing the sacred meal with friends, kin, and strangers every week, and again on Saturday at lunch. To have a mate who doesn't light the candles with the blessing, or who doesn't make the blessing over the wine, is a loss.
Miriam
Rochester
November 17, 2015
Indeed, the tribal affiliation always followed the father. This is clear throughout the Torah.

Jewish identity, however, is different. Ever since Sinai, this has followed the mother.

This tradition is written in the Mishneh and alluded to in a verse in Devarim 7:3.

More here: and here
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC