Contact Us

Why Shouldn’t I Marry Someone Who Isn’t Jewish?

Why Shouldn’t I Marry Someone Who Isn’t Jewish?

 Email

The topic of intermarriage came up after I’d read a piece about my single days in my writers’ critique group.

“I’m not Jewish,” Frank said to me. “Does that mean you wouldn’t marry me?”

Feeling on the spot, I said in a mock serious tone, “I’m married. I can’t marry you. That would be bigamy.”

“That’s a political answer,” he said, smiling.

I wondered whether to explain further, as Barbara and Kate were listening intently.

Explaining is not necessarilyDoes that mean you wouldn't marry me? productive, as I’ve learned when the topic has come up in my family.

My return to Jewish observance is puzzling to my Jewish relatives, particularly to those in my generation whose daughters married non-Jews. Nice, well-educated men with good careers. Why would it matter if they weren’t Jewish? After all, two of my lovely aunts are not Jewish. My father’s brothers met them when stationed during World War II at different locations around the USA, far from their Brooklyn home.

Because it is against the Torah for Jews to marry non-Jews, I do not take part in wedding festivities of intermarried couples. This, naturally, causes hard feelings among family members whose Jewish identity is mainly cultural and gastronomical, because we grew up unaware of the concept of Torah and mitzvah observance. How can they be expected to understand why I wouldn’t fly across the country to celebrate with them?

How would Frank and the other critique group members respond if I told them the real reason why Jews are not supposed to marry non-Jews? Would they judge me as out of touch, clannish or behind the times?

I gave it a try, saying, “I follow the Torah that G‑d gave to Moses, which has been passed down to every generation since then.”

Barbara nodded in understanding. Weeks earlier, she had told us that when her husband proposed to her, she had insisted on a Catholic wedding. Objecting strongly, he stopped seeing her for a short time before agreeing to her terms.

Jewish people, collectively, have a unique spiritual mission: to make a dwelling place for G‑d. We can accomplish this only by following G‑d’s instructions, including the one that says a Jewish person may not marry someone who is not Jewish.

G‑d made an eternal commitment to all of us on Mt. Sinai, contingent on our keeping our end of the agreement. This has nothing to do with being clannish, old-fashioned or superior.

Rabbi Laibl Wolf explains that there are different soul groupings for each of the 70 nations of the world. He states that Jews are in the same soul grouping, which accounts for the special connection we feel with each other. This soul connection cannot be measured objectively; it’s something we feel on a visceral level because of our shared neshamah (Jewish soul).

Consequently, in a Jewish marriage, both partners are more able to express the full range of their essential selves. This is logistically impossible when a Jew marries someone from a different background, regardless of the advantages of such a union in partners’ minds. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, stated that the heart of every Jew, regardless of his or her personal level of observance of the mitzvahs, is perfectly bound with G‑d and His Torah.1This soul connection cannot be measured Perhaps this explains why Jewish people who claim to not be at all religious tend to gravitate to other Jews at social gatherings filled mostly with people from other backgrounds. I believe this occurs because of the soul connection implied by the Rebbe’s comment, even if we don’t consciously recognize it.

When such a connection is lacking, as happens in intermarriages, I’ve observed issues that arise. The Jewish partner may want to put up a mezuzah, light Shabbat candles, or in some other meaningful way express his or her innate, unique spirituality. But he or she refrains from doing so or makes only token gestures, such as attending a public menorah lighting but not bringing Jewish practices into the home. Many intermarried couples don’t educate their children about their Jewish heritage or even tell them, when the mother is Jewish, that they are Jewish. When the latter happens, the kids grow into confused adults, to whom the term “lost souls” applies.

My friend Sandra’s2 mother told her a “secret” when she was fifteen: “We’re Jewish.” Sandra, like her mother, intermarried, but she went a step further: She never told her children, now both in their forties and unmarried, that they are Jewish. She refuses to tell them because she does not want to “burden” them. I wonder if not knowing who they essentially are is having an effect on their lives.

And so what I tried to explain to Frank was that Jews shouldn’t marry someone who isn’t Jewish because of our spiritual needs—and even more so because of our agreement with G‑d, made at Mount Sinai with the sources of all Jewish souls in accord.

Footnotes
1.
Tackling Life’s Tasks: Every Day Energized with HaYom Yom, newly translated and edited by Uri Kaploun and Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, Brooklyn, New York: Sichos in English, Second Edition, 2010. Page 353.
2.
This is a changed name for purpose of confidentiality.
Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted, is a psychotherapist, speaker, and marriage and relationships educator.
© 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:
3 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Chabad.org October 20, 2016

All the laws of the Torah, including the fact that Jewishness is matrilineal, came into effect at Sinai, when the Torah was given to the Jewish people, making them into the Jewish people.

Now let's take a closer look at the four cases you cited, to see if any pose a problem to the law that Jewish identity is inherited through the female line. First, Joseph's wife. She did indeed marry Joseph in Egypt, and she is introduced to us as the daughter of Egyptian parents (Exodus 41:45), but her true identity is fascinating and enlightening.

Joseph's wife was Osnas, born to Dina, the daughter of Jacob, after she was raped by the Canaanite prince Shechem. When Osnas was born, the recollection of who her father was and the despicable act he committed was so disgusting to Dina's brothers that Jacob knew it would be better for her to be raised elsewhere. She was sent to Egypt along with a necklace that testified to her being of the family of Jacob. She was adopted and raised by Egyptian parents, and later married Joseph, who had full knowledge of who she truly was, a full fledged Jewish woman.

Tzipporah, Ruth, and Rahab are all similar in that they were not born Jewish. However, there are two ways one can be a Jew - either by being born to a Jewish mother or by converting to Judaism. The latter path was taken by these women, making them as Jewish as anyone else. Reply

Collette Toronto October 14, 2016

When Did It Become Mandatory for the Mother To Be Jewish For The Kids to Be Considered Jewish I've had conversations with a number of people where the question arises "When Did It Become Mandatory for the Mother To Be Jewish For The Kids to Be Considered Jewish?" and there have been no consistent answers. In some cases (most in fact) no one seems to have any idea!! What's more added to the confusion is:
A)Joseph's two sons Ephraim and Manasseh; part of the original 12 tribes had an Egyptian mother. Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian woman to be his wife when he made him Prime Minister.
B) Moses was married to Zipporah the daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian.
C)Boaz married Ruth (a Moabitess) and they had Obed, father of Jesse, Father of King David...direct bloodline and genealogy of Mashiach.
D)Rahab who hid the two spies (Caleb and Joshua) later married into the Jewish nation because she too is listed in the direct bloodline and genealogy of Mashiach.

Obviously none of the children from those marriages were considered NON-Jews, especially Ephraim and Manasseh so what gives Reply

Rebecca Leifer, Tulane '16 February 18, 2016

Just for fun? Intermarriage is something I have been discussing a lot recently, as I am about to graduate college and enter into "the real world". Dating up until now has been seen as insignificant. I have always known I wanted to marry a Jewish man, as I was raised in a Jewish household and I wanted to share the same experience with my children. Yet, that desire never stopped me from dating non-Jews in the past. I always thought it was just for fun and that I was too young to date with the intent of marriage. Yet, now I am seeing things differently. Many times I have seen friends who enter into a relationship innocently with a non-Jewish guy, claiming it was just for fun. Yet, once you fall in love everything changes and no longer is it just for fun. Now, you are forced to make a difficult decision between your physical desires and your mental desires. I am beginning to see that even dating a non-Jewish man is a recipe for disappointment if things were to work out in the future. Reply

Related Topics