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.