Interfaith Marriages

Ask the Rebbetzin: Should I Marry the Non-Jew I Love?

Q: Dear Rebbetzin,

In the coming year I will marry a man whom I love, and who treats me with the utmost respect and love as well. I couldn’t ask for a better partner for me. The problem that my family points out (and that I was raised to understand) is that he is not Jewish. He grew up in a fire and brimstone Christian tradition and currently considers himself agnostic. At the same time, he takes religion quite seriously. At this time he does not plan to convert to Judaism, which would be more an act in good faith with my family than anything that I would every ask for him to do to gain my trust. He does express interest and follow through in celebrating Jewish customs, and sees value in the intellectual pursuits that Jewish-focused dialogues tend to prompt. He loves making Shabbat dinner at home and he wants for our children to have strong Jewish identities. I know we can’t tell what will happen in the future but I trust my partner and believe when he tells me that these are his genuine wishes. Of course without me in his life these things would not be on his mind, but is it enough to want to do these things out of love and agreements that come with partnership? Then, is it as my family suggests: am I “chinking the chain”?

Thank you for thinking about this with me,
Adding a Link.

A: Dear Adding a Link,

Your intentions are so clear in this letter: Your certainty of your partner’s fine character, the mutual love that you share, your hopes and plans for raising a Jewish family together. You’ve staked a claim in your own answer by signing this note Adding a Link.

And, yet, the question persists. Is it how to convince your parents? How to move away from the pressure of keeping the chain intact? Does a part of you worry that their concerns are valid?

I have re-read your letter several times wondering what I can tell you that you don’t know already. I can reassure you that I know same faith couples – both Jewish – where one partner wouldn’t agree to do half of the things that your partner is already engaged in. And I know interfaith couples that have homes rich in Jewish tradition, and who are raising deeply Jewish families.

And, still, this struggle is real. Your parents want you to continue a tradition that they find valuable, passed from one generation to the next. They want this for your children. It is a tradition that has grounded my own life in rich meaning and beauty. I want this for my kids. And I want this for you too, Adding. But more importantly, you seem to want it for yourself. And I take solace in that; maybe your parents can as well.

Perhaps your parents are concerned about the unknown variables that test a relationship as time goes on, as children enter the dynamic and as life events call for a yearning towards – or away – from a path of tradition.

The year leading up to a wedding is an ideal time to talk- maybe even in the presence of a rabbi that the two of you can get to know and trust – about some of these things. It may be challenging. It may get uncomfortable.

What are the expectations of each of your families in regard to tradition? (Bris? Baptism? Neither?) Do you and your partner both identity as agnostic? Are each of you open to the other’s exploration of God?

Your relationship sounds strong enough to confront these types of questions, and I would encourage you to ask them now. You will only be strengthening the foundation between you two.

In my dating days, when people asked me what I was looking for in a partner, my first answer was not a deep and binding faith in God, and yet, Adding, I will tell you that is the most sacred bond between me and my husband. But my parents never told me I had to marry a Jew, and I ended up hitched to a Rabbi. Go figure.

Marriage, I believe, is an act of faith. You sound, to me, like a person with faith in their chosen partner and faith in their tradition.

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