We live today in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. We mix freely with, and respect, people of all faiths. Many Jews today grow up fully assimilated and comfortable in a secular society and environment. Why is it such a tragedy if a Jewish man finds a non-Jewish woman (or vice versa) with whom he feels totally compatible and decides to marry her? He claims that she is a genuinely lovely person with a fine character – often much nicer than any Jewish woman he has met. She is at home with his Jewish background and culture and both share the same values, hobbies and pursuits. A perfect match, yet not made in Heaven. Why not?

The decision to marry out is perhaps the most telling moment, when a person must consider what being Jewish actually means. Is being Jewish simply an accident of birth? Is there a difference between a Jew and a non-Jew? Can one retain full Jewish identity if married to a non-Jewish partner? What if one finds the perfect partner – loving, caring, considerate, good fun – but unfortunately non-Jewish? If one has found true love, does religion really matter?

Where do you come from?

No person just arrives on the scene. We are all the product of bygone generations; in the case of the Jews, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob's family descended to servitude in Egypt and after 210 years was miraculously redeemed by G–d through Moshe, His faithful servant. The Children of Israel were subsequently constituted as a nation at the stand at Sinai – the Torah being their "wedding contract" with G–d.

To date, Jewish history spans over 3,300 years. To be born a Jew today is not an accident of birth but the sum total of over 3,300 years of ancestral self-sacrifice, of heroes who at times gave their very lives for their beliefs. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Nazis and Communists all tried to obliterate Jewish practice and faith, but failed. The indomitable Jewish spirit survived and clung to its traditions despite all odds.

And now, the very latest link of that glorious tradition has the option of severing the chain in one fell swoop – or not!

A story was told by Mr. George Rohr, an American philanthropist, at a convention for the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in 1996. Mr Rohr related how he had the privilege to meet the Rebbe on one occasion just after Rosh Hashanah. Mr. Rohr thought it appropriate to present the Rebbe with a "spiritual" gift. A short time before, he had set up a beginners service at his shul in Manhattan, and on Rosh Hashanah 120 Jews attended this new service. Mr. Rohr decided to announce this to the Rebbe and was sure the Rebbe would receive much nachas from this good news. When his turn arrived, he confidently strode up to the Rebbe and said, "Thank G–d, this Rosh Hashanah we set up a beginners service in our shul and had 120 Jews with no Jewish background participate!"

Until that point the Rebbe had a broad smile on his face, but when Mr. Rohr told him the news the Rebbe's face dropped, and Mr. Rohr searched his words for anything he may have said that had upset the Rebbe.

"What?!" said the Rebbe.

Mr. Rohr repeated, "… 120 Jews with no Jewish background."

"No Jewish background?" asked the Rebbe. "Go and tell those Jews that they are all children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

Now Mr. Rohr understood. The Rebbe objected to these Jews being described as having no Jewish background. Every Jew has a very illustrious background – they are all sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

The Chosen People

One may ask, however, why must I continue this chain, to pass on the traditions and to carry the baton just because my mazal was that I was born Jewish? There are plenty of others who will carry on the traditions. What difference does it make if I sidetrack a little and shunt myself into a dead-end?

Jews are called Bnai Yisrael. The word Yisrael is an acronym for the phrase, "Yesh Shishim Ribo Otiot LeTorah" which means that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah. Every Jew is compared to a letter in a Torah scroll. Even if only one letter is missing the entire scroll is incomplete and invalid. Every Jew is an ambassador of his people in his echelon in society. That is his G–d-given responsibility and privilege. To shirk this responsibility is to deny oneself the ultimate privilege.


The Torah explicitly forbids intermarriage. The source is in Deuteronomy 7:3-4,

You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son, for he will cause your child to turn away from after Me and they will worship the gods of others.

This is also the Scriptural source for the law of matrilineal descent. Since the verse states "for he (ie a non-Jewish father) will cause your child to turn away ... ", this implies that a child born to a Jewish mother is Jewish whereas, if a Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman, the child is not Jewish.

A Jewish woman who has already married out and borne children should be encouraged to give them a full Jewish education. There are today thousands of practising Jews who only have a Jewish mother. However, to a couple contemplating intermarriage, the facts speak for themselves. Except in a small number of cases in which the mother is very determined and gives the child a very positive, strong Jewish education, in many cases the child grows up with a mixed and confused identity; in simple English, half-Jewish. Technically, there is no such thing – one is either 100% Jewish or not. However, in terms of identity, the child feels only half-Jewish. Even if the mother is a proud Jew, the father, whether atheist, agnostic, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim etc., does not share the same beliefs and values. Even if he is sympathetic, or even agrees to the child being brought up Jewish, there are bound to be differences. Does one celebrate Chanukah or Xmas, both or neither? Whichever one chooses is confusing or even contradictory. Many intermarried couples today celebrate both – but what sort of message does this give the child? Is the child Jewish, thus rejecting the notions of Christianity, or is the child a Christian with Jewish roots? It causes great confusion for the child and in many cases the child sees both faiths only on a superficial level, distanced by his parents from true belief.

The child is also given the test of mixed allegiances. All passages of life create a problem. Should the child be circumcised, christened, both or neither? Should the child have a Bar Mitzvah or be confirmed, marry in a synagogue or a church, be buried in a Jewish cemetery or be cremated?

And what chances are there that the child should want to marry a Jew, and carry on the chain?

There is another point: people are social beings. From time immemorial they have gathered in communities. One thing the international Jewish community prides itself in is the idea of Kol Yisrael Chaverim – all Israel are one fraternity, one brotherhood, one nation. If you are traveling to Bangkok and need a place for Shabbat you can be sure that if you turn up in shul you will get an invitation. Wherever a Jew goes he will have an international support group that extends hospitality and help, if needed. By having a non-Jewish child one has extricated the child from that community and bequeathed alienation to him. Everybody wants to belong – it is a basic human need. Intermarriage causes great confusion to children with regard to where they actually belong.

It's in the genes

Marriage in general, even between two people of similar background, entails a certain risk as to eventual adjustment and compatibility. Even if the two have been acquainted for some time there is no sure guarantee as to what the relationship will be like when the acquaintance is turned into a marriage, where the two will be thrown together under one roof for 24 hours a day, day after day and week after week. But when the backgrounds are entirely different, and where these differences date back for scores of generations – and are consequently of a deep and lasting quality – the chances of adjustment and compatibility are lessened.

Intermarriage often results, sooner or later, in friction and unhappiness. That a casual, or even more serious, kind of relationship seemed in the past to indicate compatibility, is not a proof that it would be so ever after in a marriage situation.

No change

Even if a couple are happy with each other, deeply in love, and have decided to marry despite their different religious backgrounds, there are so many factors that can change a person's feelings.

King Solomon states, "I am sleeping but my heart is awake." A Jew may be sleeping spiritually but his inner Jewish heart is always awake and, at certain times, is aroused. Years into a marriage, where much of the relationship is routine, the soul and Jewish heart may be aroused to search for the deeper meaning to life. There may be a quest for spirituality and rediscovery of one's roots.

Consider the possibility that these feelings will not be shared by your spouse. On the other hand, a Jewish partner means a shared history and a shared destiny.

But it works!

There is, of course, the argument that the percentage of intermarriages is considerable and many of them seem to last. However, the statistics show that the percentage of separations and divorces among intermarried couples is greater than among marriages within the faith..

It's simply not right

To be honest – in the plain sense of the word – one would not wish to drag another party into an alliance which is likely to be troubled. If there is true love between the two parties, one would certainly not wish to cause the other this pain, and would readily forgo the prospect of immediate and short-lived pleasure in order to spare the other the probable result. Otherwise the professed love is tinged by selfishness.

Should there be children from such a union, there is the added consideration of the possibility of the children having to witness constant friction – and worse – between their parents.

One's personal desire is no justification for involving oneself to involve another person – least of all a loved one – into such a situation, even if the other person is agreeable, and sincerely so. No person has the right to harm another person.

A Jewish marriage

A Jewish marriage is called a Binyan Adei Ad – an everlasting edifice. In order that the edifice of marriage should indeed be strong and lasting, everything connected with the wedding, as well as the establishment of the couple's home, should be in full compliance with the instructions of the Torah. The Torah is called Torat Chaim – the Torah of life – it is the source of everlasting life in the Hereafter as well as the true guide to life on earth.

The analogy of marriage to an "everlasting edifice" is not merely a figure of speech but contains also an important idea and moral. In the case of any structure, the first and most important step is to ensure the quality and durability of the foundation. Without such a foundation, all the efforts put into the walls, roof, decorations and so on, would be of no avail. This is even more true of the structure of marriage; if its foundations are unstable, what tragedy could result! This is why a Jewish marriage must, first of all, be based on the rock- solid foundation of the Torah and mitzvot. Then the blessing of joy and happiness will follow the couple for the rest of their lives.

Should I marry a Jewess just because she is Jewish?

Many young people feel themselves pressured by their parents to marry a Jewish spouse and, even though the choice is wider in the non-Jewish world, they feel obligated to marry within the fold out of a sense of duty. They often ask the question, what is the difference between the Jew and the non-Jew – both dress the same, both share common values, both eat the same food? If a man finds himself with a choice between two women, one Jewish and one non-Jewish, should he marry the Jewish woman just because she is Jewish?

The answer is a resounding "Yes!" Yes, because therein lies the potential for a truly Jewish marriage. Although at present there seems to be no difference between the Jew and non-Jew, as people grow older they change and mature. The vicissitudes, strains and challenges of life pull a person in all directions. If one is at least married to a Jew, there is more common ground and potential for growing in the same direction.

However, as strongly as the answer is yes, it carries an equally strong piece of advice. The institution of marriage – any marriage – needs much hard work. No marriage can be taken for granted. As stated above, the foundation for a good marriage must be the Divine directives of the Torah, but a man and wife must understand that they have to work very hard to implement these directives in order to make the marriage successful.

Is conversion an option?

Conversion is serious business. A serious conversion can take years and involves serious changes in lifestyle and conduct.

To undergo a "cosmetic" or "plastic" conversion is, obviously, no solution to a seriously minded person. The Halachah is very clear in its insistence that the would-be convert honestly and wholeheartedly accepts all the mitzvot. Accepting all but one of the mitzvot automatically invalidates the conversion, and the non-Jew remains a non-Jew exactly as before. Of course, it is possible to mislead a rabbi or a Rabbinic Court by declaring one's readiness to accept all the mitzvot, but one cannot mislead the Creator who is the One who imbues the Neshamah.

A word of caution: within the Jewish community today one may convert in either an Orthodox or Progressive establishment. An Orthodox conversion is the longer-shorter way. It may be arduous and take a longer time, but it is the shortest way to universal recognition. Anyone serious about conversion should consult a competent rabbinic authority. The reader is referred to the book Who is a Jew by Rabbi J.E. Schochet, which discusses this issue at length.

Advice to parents

Parents often seek rabbinical advice on how to stop an intermarriage.

In truth two pieces of advice are needed. One, before the crisis, and one after. When a child is born we wish the parents "Mazal Tov". In many cases, straight after the Mazal Tov, the parents put their newborn child's name down to attend the best schools in the area. One often hears from parents that they want to give their children the best education possible. By this they mean that they wish to expose their children to the highest levels of academia available in the secular world coupled with a weak pre-Bar Mitzvah education in the basics of Judaism. They expect their child to be worldly, educated, modern and open minded. They then pronounce that after such a broad education the child will be able to make his own choice about who he wishes to marry. When the child decides to intermarry the parents then run to the rabbi for a quick fix. Some parents resign themselves to the situation while others seek a token conversion.

In truth, such an education does not give the child free choice at all. If their choice is between a modern well-equipped science laboratory and an old stuffy synagogue classroom with a boring teacher – for sure they will choose the lab!

The story is told of a person who was asked if he knew what a Tallit Katan was. He replied affirmatively indicating on his own body the size of a pair of Tzitzit suitable for a seven year old – probably the type he once wore at Hebrew School. He was then asked what size suit he wore. When he appeared puzzled at the question it was explained to him that, since he now wears an adult size suit, why does he see himself in a child's size Tzitzit!

The point of this story is simple. The man's conception of Judaism is that of a child's because while in every other subject – Maths, English, History, etc. – he proceeded to higher education, in Judaism he stopped at Bar Mitzvah. No wonder he chooses to be assimilated since his choice appears to be between an adult modern world and an archaic irrelevant past.

If parents want to give their children a real choice, they have to give them a strong Jewish education and identity. It is only then that an informed choice can be made.

A father once came to a rabbi with his daughter and asked the rabbi to persuade her not to marry out. The rabbi asked the daughter why she didn't want to marry a Jew. She replied that her father never took her to synagogue, never ate kosher, never kept Shabbat or the festivals – in short, lived exactly like their non-Jewish neighbours, so why now the hypocrisy in demanding that she marry a Jew! The rabbi turned to the father and said that he agreed with her. The father was dumbstruck and then said that he had brought her to the rabbi to convince her not to marry out, and not to agree with her. The rabbi responded that, in order for her not to marry out, the father had to start living as a Jew. He suggested that the father should lay Tefillin daily and that his wife should start lighting the Shabbat candles. After a lot of persuasion the daughter eventually married a Jew.

To live as a Jew – that is the advice before the crisis, since prevention is the best cure. But what if one is already in a crisis?

When it comes to a Jewish heart one never knows when and how its innate Jewish feelings will be aroused. However, parents should consider the following:

All the members of a Jewish family constitute one organism and, when one part of it needs special treatment, it can be given in one of two ways; either directly, if possible, or indirectly, through strengthening other parts of the body, particularly those that govern the functions of the entire organism. The head of the family is called the Baal Habayit and the wife is called the Akeret HaBayit, corresponding to the heart of the family. Thus, strengthening the commitment to the Torah and mitzvot on the part of the parents has a beneficial effect upon all the members of the family. Of course, it may sometimes entail certain difficulties by having to make some changes, perhaps even radical ones, in regard to habits and lifestyle. On the other hand, considering the far-reaching benefits, and especially the fact that parents surely would not consider anything too difficult if it could be beneficial to their children, of what significance can any difficulty be? Often, living more Jewishly is easier than it would seem.

There is the assurance that, however one's everyday life and conduct was in the past, a Jew can always start a new life through Teshuvah – which literally means returning to one's essence.