Contact Us

Does Intermarriage Work?

Does Intermarriage Work?

 Email

Question:

I am Baptist and my boyfriend is Jewish. Can we still make it work? I am trying to learn about Judaism.

Answer:

I've had a lot of experience with these kinds of relationships. Real short, I'll try to describe what's involved:

There are two stages in a long term relationship between a man and a woman. First, they fall in love. That's a kind of insanity that befalls most of humanity at some point. Without it, no one would ever get married.

But--and this is the crucial point--that insanity almost never lasts too long. One day, you wake up and here's this guy that you've hitched up with forever and ever--and you can't for the life of you remember why. What got into you? This is nuts!

That's when real love has to enter. Real love is when you find you have common goals, a common vision in life, way of looking at things....and you put all that together to make a marriage.

What we find, over and over, is that when a couple marries that has a vastly different background, the first stage can go great--but that second stage is a disaster.

You have to keep in mind that being Jewish isn't just a religion or a faith, like being a Baptist. A person is Jewish because he shares a huge heritage of thousands of years, a big long story, with all the other Jews. Wherever he goes, he carries that story with him. There's no way, as hard as he may try, that he can escape it.

Right now, that story he's carrying is not getting in the way of your relationship. But inevitably it will. We've seen that over and over.

My advice? if you want what's best for yourself and what's best for him, make it a nice friendship. And then look for someone that you can build a home together with. A home that will last.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
© 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:
113 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous NY January 17, 2017

Not the right question Like all marriages, some intermarriages fail and some last. But I think "can an intermarriage last" is the wrong question. First of all, you have to consider the purpose of marriage. According to Jewish law, a Jew can only marry another Jew. This is not to discriminate against non-Jews, as many people unfortunately think, but reflects the Jewish belief on what a marriage is. A marriage is not a union of two separate souls, but a reunion of two halves of the same soul that were placed in different (male and female) bodies. Therefore a marriage in the true sense between a Jew and a non-Jew is impossible, because the other half of the soul of the Jew will be another Jew, and the same for the non-Jew. So the marriage will exist only according to a piece of paper from the government, and even if it lasts, there will be a tragedy in that the Jewish soul has not reunited with its other half, and neither has the non-Jewish soul. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI April 6, 2015

Does Intermarriage Work Converting to Judaism is the easiest way to avoid religious conflict, but you'll have to say goodbye to Easter and Christmas. Conversion can take a year or more, so you'll need patience.

Intermarriage CAN work if both sides are mature, but I don't recommend it. Reply

KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell Riverside, CA USA February 1, 2015

Answer: Yes, and no, both. Just like any other marriage, there are statistical chances of those marriages either working or not, depending on how flexible each partner is, and depending on if they can love each other totally and accept the differences as being normal. If they marry and then the non Jewish person insults the Jewish person, there is nothing worse (except, of course, physical abuse). If there is total love and compassion, and the two have good communication and negotiation skills, it can work. Reply

TJ Jeremy January 5, 2015

In my case it alienated part of my family of which I never knew. My mother had two jewish grandmothers (and 2 non jewish grandfathers) and from what I can gather had a happy upbringing with her aunts, uncles, cousins etc. When she married my father a non jew he disliked her family intensely and that part of her life fell away from her. We were brought up in a totally non religious household but did have the xmas tree, presents and easter eggs. I was 16 when I found out my true heritage and can honestly say it transformed my life. I know who and what I am. I've been to Israel and done the kibbutz two times. My siblings have not shared my enthusiasm, it's only myself and my mom's brother who have turned to this path.
43 years on my faith is still as strong as ever and after losing my non jewish partner of 37 years it's become more intense, so much so I follow this website on a daily basis. I know I'm not a prime example of our race but for those of you in the same position all I can say is go for it, discover your roots and reconnect to your Jewish faith. Reply

Hanalah Philadelphia November 4, 2014

When you convert, you ARE a Jew. What matters is that, before you converted, you were hanging out with Jews. You went to synagogue. They invited you home for Shabbos dinner on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. You enjoyed the conversation around the table. You enjoyed taking classes with them. You liked them.

If you liked the people, you liked their culture. You may or may not take in enough of the culture to feel that it is your culture.

What matters is that you do like the people. THAT is what makes the conversion work. You can't just like our books, which are our ideals. Nobody can fully live up to his own ideals. But if you like the flesh-and-blood attempts to live up to those ideals, instead of condemning the people for failing to be perfect, you are FINE.

And upon converting. you are absolutely totally a child of Abraham and Sarah. Maimnides said so.

Problem: your children will have non-Jewish grandparents. Can you handle that?

So do convert & marry a Jew. Go for it. Reply

Tony Bagofdonutsisdatingmydaughter November 4, 2014

The solution The best solution for parents who are worried that their Jewish kids will find like minded Jewish spouses is not to have had kids at all. If I would have known how hard it is for a jewish child to find a Jewish mate in today's world, I would never have had kids. The pressure non-orthodox children face to find a mate is enormous. The lack of decent Jewish males is amazing. They are either perverts or looking for sex and not a relationship. My advice for parents is to get your kids to understand that they MUST find a spouse in high school or college. Once they are out of college without a potential mate their odds of finding the right person will plummet! And if your boy or girl is not fashion model material or extremely wealthy, forget it. You, the parent, will start to wonder if a Jewish mate is more important than your kid's happiness. It is so freaking sad! I agree with the article, but then there's reality. And reality is tough to accept. Reply

Anonymous U K November 4, 2014

Are you honestly able to tell me you feel nothing for your Jewish Identity. I am Jewish and miss my family on Shabbat, the High Holidays, the tradition and the Jewish interaction I enjoyed. So yes, 23 and a half years with my non practicing catholic partner whom I love dearly but we do not share our faith and to make it worse there is no shul in the area and due to anti-Semitic feeling in the area we do not even associate with each other.

Now, How sad is that? Reply

Anonymous November 2, 2014

There is Nothing Wrong with Intermarriage I am Jewish and have been married for 35 years to my spouse who is not. We have wonderful children and grandchildren.

It is discriminatory to say that Jews should only marry Jews. Marry someone you fall in love with, not only someone you share a faith with. The rest will sort it self out in the end.

Judaism needs to survive on its own in the world of ideas. If it can't compete, then it needs to be left behind. Reply

Anonymous April 29, 2014

I strongly disagree with you on this one Freeman! I am Jewish and my spouse Catholic. We have been together 23 years!!! My first engagement to a Jewish girl lasted 6 months my marriage to Jewish girl number 2 - 12 months before the problems started and eventually divorced.

23 years she has been there for me, and loves and cares for me. Considering what I have been through since my divorce, most Jewish women would have run a mile Reply

Anonymous March 13, 2014

Does intermarriage work? I don't even know why you asked that question...obviously the rabbi is going to say it is not going to work. Reply

Susan Minneapolis November 28, 2013

A marriage between ANY two Jews is a Torah marriage, not an intermarriage. A Jew is a Jew either by being the child of a Jewish mother (i.e., the mother's mother's mother is a Jew) or by learning Jewish practices, and going in the mikveh (and, if male, circumcision).

But if someone's mother is not the daughter of a Jew--if her mother's mother's mother was not a Jew--then that person may feel Jewish, but is not yet a member of the tribe. He/she can convert, and then s/he will be totally Jewish.

(It doesn't matter if the father is a Jew or not; the mother's Jewishness guarantees that the child is 100% Jewish. There is no such thing as being half Jewish.)

Finally, marriage with a person who was not born Jewish but became a Ger is not intermarriage. This is a marriage between two Jews.

If the wife keeps kosher the man can eat out when he wants pork. If she doesn't, he can never eat at home. So it depends. Reply

Ann New Orleans November 28, 2013

What does it mean for a marriage to work? It means husband and wife are partners with the same goals and values.
It means that when life presents its normal difficulties--sickness, heaven forbid, or money, heaven forbid--or whatever--the two will give each other moral support, emotional support, loving support, physical effort to do what needs to be done, rather than resenting one another for the difficulties, or opting out by not doing his'her share. Each is ready to literally do the hard work and endure the sacrifice that will get them through these difficult times. And the difficulties may last a lifetime. Each will offer the other appreciation and encouragement rather than criticism. The glow of infatuation is gone, but the deeper feeling of love and appreciation grows and supports them. True love feeds on itself and increases with every small success attained together.

If their values differ, if their goals differ, they will work at cross purposes, creating dissatisfaction and resentment. The marriage won't work. Reply

Anonymous DC August 23, 2013

Coversion intermarriage? I was raised roman catholic, yet I never really felt a part of the community. I spent years trying to connect to the messages that everyone else seemed to embrace so easily. When I started college, my Jewish roommate brought me to a Chabad house and I suddenly felt a connection that I never found in Catholicism and have converted.

Technically, by the definition of the author of this article, Judaism is a culture, not just a religion, so even with converting, it would still be an "intermarriage" because I am not a part of the cultural group, or at least that's the way that I interpret it. I find this view particularly off because it is explicitly stated that a convert is equal in every way to someone who was born Jewish and they cannot be discriminated against because they converted. I think if two people have the same religious outlook, it can work. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA USA February 17, 2013

A marriage is a marriage is a marriage. Until someone can GUARANTEE that a marriage ONLY between Jewish and Jewish is going to guarantee children who are not mixed up, I have seen both. I have seen where any marriage works or doesn't work. Granted, it is better if the couple can AGREE on most outlooks on life, because there will be fewer things about which to argue. So, in actuality, if you look at it in this way, the best marriages would be between Jews who believe in Judaic law similarly. If one is highly into halacha law, and his spouse not at all, how could that even work out? Both would have considerable angst that the other is not being supportive. Reply

Elaine Thompson Alpena, Michigan USA February 15, 2013

Change. I have a sweat shirt that reads: Freethinker. My husband and I married in the same fundamentalist interpretation of a religion. We had several children. One problem was that I changed. In time, I couldn't bear the contradictions, lack of logic, the dismissal of science, and the narrow world view, though I believe it is an advantage for children to grow up in and learn the dominant religion of their country or culture. This provides a good jumping-off place,and it will already have had its good effect (maybe.) My husband was disappointed that our children did not become devout, as he was, but I am very happy with them. They don't believe in magic! When our adult daughter was dying, she mentioned that she wished she had a religion. I said a few lines from the 23rd Psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...." She never mentioned faith again. Facing death, I will likely pray the same cultural prayer-- unbeliever that I am. Reply

Anonymous nj February 13, 2013

interfaith marriage I am married to a wonderful Jewish woman and I was raised Protestant but I don't practice it because I don't agree with it, I found Judaism to be what I believe in so I am planning to convert. It can work if each person respects the other. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA May 17, 2012

What do you mean by the word "work", Rabbi? That covers all sorts of areas. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA December 19, 2010

Dvorah, I heard that in Israel, A marriage between an Orthodox Jew and a Reform Jew is forbidden in the Synagogue. Is that true? In fact, they can't get a marriage license? Is that true? In those cases, this would be considered an intermarriage? A civil union, not religious? Reply

Dvorah Chanah Minneapolis, MN December 17, 2010

Definitions BS"D

There have been a couple of attempts at defining the terms by the commenters. Kalev Zalman did an excellent job and I took a stab at it, for example.

The vagueness of the question may have been to encourage dialogue. If Rabbi Freeman had defined terms too tightly, he would have answered the question in the question. At the same time, isn't it a given that on a Jewish website, intermarriage refers to Jewish/non-Jewish intermarriage?

It goes without saying that the Chabad position will be that there shouldn't be intermarriage. So we must move on to the next question: Why is it a problem according to Jewish law? Being deliberately vague gives us all a chance to see the various perceptions and misperceptions of what being Jewish is, what marriage is, what a successful marriage is etc. Only when we can figure out where our thinking is getting confused can we then figure out why we are having trouble with the idea that intermarriage is a mistake. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, Ca, USA December 17, 2010

Let's just analyze HOW the question is worded. DOES intermarriage work. Not SHOULD there be intermarriage. Not any definition of what kind of intermarriage. No definition of "work". I wish the rabbi would be more specific. We are going all over the board here with answers depending on how we read the question Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages