Interfaith marriage

I am going to piss some of you off and that is just fine with me. If you are involved in an interfaith marriage I want you to know in advance that this may be the kind of op-ed piece that you find to be upsetting.

This is something that I have some issues with. It is not an easy topic to cover, it is not entirely comfortable to discuss and it has a lot of rough edges but is very important. In principle I believe that the most important marriages are those in which two people have a real and lasting love, something that does not necessarily require common faith.

However, just because it may not require common faith, it does not preclude the advantages and benefits of sharing one. But let’s not waste any time with that and jump right in.

My primary issue is with those households who try and raise families that observe Judaism and Christianity. While there may be some intersection of beliefs, the core are not compatible and you are never going to find Jews who believe that the messiah has already come. You cannot believe in Jesus as a deity and still Jewish. It is like being partially pregnant, impossible.

So when you have children and you place them in the position of having to choose what to believe you place upon them a burden that many adults cannot handle. Children do not have the life experience and or critical reasoning to make this kind of decision. It is an adult decision and it is unfair to place it upon them. It is like giving them the option of going to school, you cannot do it.

As a proud Jewish man I am going to be an advocate for these couples to select Judaism as the faith that they raise their children in. But just so that it is clear, I’d rather see the children raised to be Christians than in a household that attempts to merge the two.

This is similar to my position on gay marriage. I see no reason why it should not be legal, but if I had to choose what I consider to be the ideal environment for raising children it would be with a man and a woman. That being said I would rather see children raised in by loving gay parents than a dysfunctional traditional marriage.

Returning to the topic, I recently read statistics that were used by an interfaith couple to try and justify their position on a holiday card business they started. I am going to comment on a few things. I’ll list them next to the line items.

Interfaith marriage statistical tends and opinion poll summary:

– Nearly half of American Jews married since 1996 married non-Jews.

– Nearly 1/3rd of all married American Jews have non-Jewish spouses.

This doesn’t say what is being practied in the home. Just filler material

– The highest level of intermarraige among married Jews are in the Western states – 42%; the lowest in the Northeast – 25%.

More filler material.

– 56 % of Jewish Americans surveyed were supportive or neutral about intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

This is a very broad question that doesn’t really address the topic. It doesn’t provide real insight into their feelings, pro or con about this.

– 32% of Jewish Americans surveyed believe intermarriage is a great threat to Jewish life.

Only one third of those surveyed were concerned about the potential impact on Jewish life. Very troubling.

– 50% of Jewish Americans surveyed agreed with the statement “It is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages.”

This is a knee-jerk type reaction. The issue is not about whether gentiles are good people. They are and many are the finest examples of humanity. The issue is a little deeper and a little more complex.

It doesn’t have to be a case of saying that you are completely opposed to it. The other spouse could convert. Beyond that what is wrong with wanting to maintain the line and connection with a tradition and people that extends thousands of years. What is wrong in wanting to celebrate that, to ensure it’s continuation.

I wonder if these people observe holidays like Thanksgiving.

– High Profile British Rabbi Dr. Johnathan Romain of Maindenhead Reform Synagogue has come out to express his support for On 11/12/04 The London Times quotes him saying: “It is a a very useful way of getting round the delicate religious problem of what greeting card to send a Jewish-Christian couple without upsetting either. The only surprise is that such cards have not been on the market before in view of the high number of mixed-faith marriages in Britain today.”

This is kind of like the statement that 3 out of 5 dentists advise using Trident. How many did they interview? It might have only been 5 in which case it is too small a sample to be significant.

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is that this is similar to holding a conversation in my living room. These argument s may not be very polished and there are likely multiple holes in them, but I am interested in hearing the responses.

This does not have to be a zero sum game and it is not how I view it. I do not look at Jews as being superior to others just by virtue of being Jewish. We have our share of jerks just like any other group.

I think that there are a couple of things that drive my frustration here. I know so many Jews who will fight to free Tibet, who marched to end apartheid in South Africa, but when it comes to their own tradition and background it is as if they are looking at an alien civilization.

Why is it that they celebrate diversity until it comes to their own lives in which they suddenly have to be just like everyone else.

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  1. Anshel's Wife December 5, 2004 at 3:02 pm

    Just because a Jew doesn’t learn or doesn’t even care if he’s Jewish, he’s still Jewish and still entitled to a place in olam haba. (please don’t ask me where goyim go, I don’t know that much because I’m still learning).

    I feel that Jews need to learn more about Judaism and how to live as Jews instead of throwing themselves into all these inter-faith discussions. Find out who you are first.

    I do understand where you are coming from, Jack. You really are a special person. But laws are laws and Judiasm has survived because of our traditions.

  2. Jack's Shack December 5, 2004 at 4:18 am


    I disagree, you can be born Jewish, but not do any learning. You can have no sense of self, no Jewish identity.

    IMO I like people who choose to be Jewish in the sense that they learn about Judaism and decide that they agree with it’s precepts and engage in practicing it because they choose to, not because they were born Jewish. It is about taking an active role.

  3. Anshel's Wife December 5, 2004 at 2:17 am

    The only Jews who choose to be Jews are those who convert (a kosher conversion). People who are born to a Jewish mother are Jewish. Doesn’t matter if they practice or not. Doesn’t matter if they even know it. They are still Jewish. Just raising your children Jewish, doesn’t make them Jewish. Just “choosing” to be Jewish doesn’t make you Jewish. It’s not what’s just in your heart. There is halacha.

  4. Sparky December 3, 2004 at 5:22 am

    Whew! For a moment there I thought you were talking about me. But since I’m an atheist married to a Jewish woman, I think I’m OK. Actually, I probably want to do more to raise our kids in the Jewish faith than my Jewish wife does. I’m disappointed at how infrequently she takes them to temple and how little she participates with them in temple life.

  5. Jack's Shack December 2, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    Hi Barefoot,

    I appreciate and agree with your thoughts. It is very important to continue to ask questions about your beliefs. I think that you make a good point about being a Jew by choice, not just by birth.

  6. Barefoot Jewess December 2, 2004 at 9:04 pm

    I did post this on JewView, and I don’t usually crosspost but this can’t be said strongly enough:

    I have come to the same conclusion.

    In my case, I was raised heavily Catholic, which means parochial schools, convents, all girl high school, Catholic college. But I really began questioning at 16 and stopped practising as a Catholic and wandered adrift for many years.

    Someone once asked me, cause I have envied born Jews so, “well, what would have happened if you had been born Jewish?” And I had to admit, that I probably would have left Judaism for a while as well, because it’s in my nature to question. However, the difference between being Catholic and being Jewish is that being Jewish gives you a strong identity in a way that other religions don’t. It is complete. And the religion I knew was not enough for me- it didn’t define me.

    I think that in the end we are all Jews by Choice. But I think that that choice should come when we are old enough to freely choose. And that choice should come from being offered something strong to question. At least I had something strong in my formative years, and I believe that has helped me forge a strong Jewish identity.

    Offering two religions at once is not a commitment; it doesn’t allow one to forge a strong identity and strong convictions. It breeds ambivalence, ambiguity and confusion in a child’s formative years. There is no strong anchor and we all need that then, especially. We need to learn at a young age, what it is that we stand for. And then we have freedom, in our later years to strengthen or weaken that stance, to change it, as questions and challenges come our way.

  7. Z December 2, 2004 at 7:07 pm

    I just wanted to say it again, you’re absolutely right about this!

  8. Mr. Middle America December 2, 2004 at 4:23 pm

    I am not Jewish. In fact, I am not religious in any sense of the word as it is commonly defined. But, if I were to have been born into a family that had a religious background, and I could have such control, I would design the religious beliefs of said family around Jewish traditions.

    Judaism seems to be the most rational and intelligent of the popular faiths. And, in that vein of thought, I would hate to see Jewish traditions and beliefs become diluted in attempts to acommodate family arrangements.

  9. Stacey December 2, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    Your points are well-made, Jack. I read about Chrismukkah earlier this week and it made my stomach turn. When you dilute tradition like this, you are left with nothing. I find the whole thing and the stats you posted above disheartening and just sad.

  10. Irina Tsukerman December 2, 2004 at 1:58 pm

    I’d say this could be explained by insecurity. Many Jews are ashamed of being who they are. They see as a contradiction being cosmopolitan and liberal and being proud of one’s nation. I don’t see it as a contradiction at all, so I don’t buy that excuse.

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