Question: Is it a sin to date a non-Jew?
Answer: I believe that Jews have been given the wonderful gift of a rich spiritual legacy. Jews should not marry non-Jews because it is extremely difficult to live a committed Jewish life and raise a committed Jewish family when only one partner in the marriage is Jewish. Interfaith marriages are three times more likely to end in divorce then marriages between two Jews. The children of interfaith marriages tend to be religiously ambivalent, and as adults leave Judaism at an alarming rate.
The divorce rate in interfaith marriages is so much higher than for same-faith marriages because there are so many fundamental differences in the world view of people of different faiths. Long term, the vast majority of marriages cannot survive. Judaism and Catholicism are not compatible with one another. You cannot celebrate both in your home at the same time, and expect to have a coherent religious household with consistent values. Their approaches to ethics (abortion, for example) and life cycle events (Baptism vs. Brit Milah; weddings; B’nai Mitzvah vs. Confirmation; funerals), not to mention the issue of “who is Jesus,” are totally different.
Strictly speaking, it is not a sin to date a non-Jew. Ultimately, however, the purpose of dating is to find a special person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Every date, therefore, is a potential mate. Patterns of dating – that is, what criteria, including religion, do we consider before dating – are set when we begin dating. Therefore, to say, “I will date non-Jews now, but when I get serious, I will stop” – generally does not work.
As you can see, I strongly advocate marriage between Jews; therefore, I suggest that it is wiser to date Jews. However, if you were to contemplate dating someone who is not Jewish, you ought to state clearly from before the first date that you would only marry a Jew. If the person you are contemplating dating is not amenable to exploring Judaism, it is unwise to begin a relationship.
I would also like to recommend strongly that you go to your local bookstore, Jewish or other, and pick up the book, “It All Begins With a Date: Jewish Concerns About Intermarriage,” by Rabbi Alan Silverstein. Rabbi Silverstein is the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative Rabbis.
Question: I have always wondered why Jews do not date non-Jews? I personally think of it as nonsense. If I do date a non-Jew will I be punished?
Answer: Questions about interfaith dating and marriage are very complicated, but I will try to give you a relatively simple and straightforward answer.
Jews should not marry non-Jews because it is extremely difficult to live a committed Jewish life and raise a committed Jewish family when only one partner in the marriage is Jewish. Interfaith marriages are three times more likely to end in divorce then marriages between two Jews. The children of interfaith marriages tend to be religiously ambivalent, and as adults leave Judaism at an alarming rate.
Ultimately, the purpose of dating is to find a special person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Every date, therefore, is a potential mate. Patterns of dating – that is, what criteria, including religion, do we consider before dating – are set when we begin dating. Therefore, to say, “I will date non-Jews now, but when I get serious, I will stop” – generally does not work.
Normally, when I speak or teach about inter-dating to young people, I begin by focusing on the joy and beauty of Judaism. I want to focus on the positives of living and celebrating a Jewish life – the holidays, the community, the relationship with God. Being Jewish is a wonderful, spiritual way to live one’s life. If you agree with me that giving up Judaism would be a great loss, then in order to preserve Judaism for yourself, I urge you to consider dating Jews exclusively.
Will you be punished if you date non-Jews? That’s a tough question. Who do you think might punish you? Your parents – I can’t answer that one, but you should discuss these questions with your parents. God – I also cannot answer that, but I do believe that God wants Jews to remain Jewish. The best way to have a Jewish relationship with God is to plan your life so you have a Jewish spouse and a Jewish family.
Please, talk over these questions with your parents, and your own rabbi. They can answer more questions than I can over email.
Question: The question I have is I am dating a guy who is Jewish and I am not. The problem is his parents don’t want to meet me or get to know me. He always tells me that it doesn’t matter that what matters is how he feels and what makes him happy. Although that sounds great to hear, I know deep down it would mean a lot to him for his parents to get to know me as he does. This issue has caused a lot of stress in our relationship and we have broken up because of it. The sad thing is we are deeply in love and extremely compatible. Is there any hope for a relationship like this to work out or do I just give up on love and on us?
Answer: I want to be honest with you. It seems to me that if you have broken up over the issue of religion, then you are not being honest with yourself when you say that the two of you are “extremely compatible.” There is a basic incompatibility with two people being of different faiths. It creates a strain on the marriage, especially when children come along and you would need to decide in which religion you are going to raise them.
Lest you object to what I have written, and explain that he doesn’t think religion is such an important issue, it is only his parents that are opposed to me and are causing the stress in our relationship — think about it for a moment. Do you want to marry a guy who breaks up with you not because he wants to, but because his parents want him to? Big red flag — find a guy who is mature, secure and honest enough that he can make firm decisions without backing down because his parents disapprove. What will happen if you decide to buy a brick colonial house, and his parents disapprove of the neighborhood — will he change his mind then, also?
I really think that the problem is not with his parents, but with him. I think it would be a mistake for the two of you to continue a serious relationship at this point. However, if you want to take some time, say a year, and study Judaism, maybe by the end of that time you will be comfortable considering conversion, and maybe he will have matured some, and then maybe there will be a future for the two of you. But that’s a lot of maybes.
Question: Is it OK for a Jewish man to be going out with an unbaptized woman? When Holidays come I would like to have him with me, but he doesn’t celebrate the same holidays, but I would also like to be with him on his holidays because I would like to learn more about his religion. Also he is adopted and his adopted parents are Jewish and his real mother is not.
Answer: If I understand you properly, you are a non-Jewish woman, dating a Jewish man, and you would like him to celebrate your holidays, and you would like to attend synagogue on the Jewish holidays so you can learn a bit more.
I don’t know anything about the religious commitment of the man you are dating, but if he were to ask me if he should celebrate your holidays, I would tell him that it is not appropriate for a Jewish man to celebrate non-Jewish holidays. As far as you visiting the synagogue, you would need to check with the synagogue – seats for High Holidays are often limited, and many synagogues do not allow visitors. If you are seriously dating, however, most synagogues should be able to accommodate you.
I am not an advocate of interfaith dating, so to your first question I would have to say no, you should not be dating unless one of you is seriously considering converting to the religion of the other.
Question: I’m just recently getting out of a interfaith relationship, I am a Conservative Jew, more so now than yesterday, and she is a very deep Christian girl. We had an amazing relationship, and I have a few questions. First if we were truly in love, what is the thought of pre-marital sex, if it was in love. Also we have been broken up for about month now, and she has recently become much more outspoken of her religion. We had a discussion and she told me, that as a “true” Christian, she believes I will not be allowed entrance into heaven. I know what I believe, I am not questioning myself, but I wonder what another Jewish person, like yourself would have thoughts about this. She says it saddens her, and makes her cry, but she believes that we will not both go to heaven, because I do not believe in Christ. Since this conversation I have not spoken to her, I feel like she made me a religious person, and I feel like I would be disrespecting my entire religion to still be friends with a person like her, but if you could give me your opinion. If at, could you tell me what the Christian outlooks are also.
Answer: It sounds to me like breaking up was the correct path, and that you really don’t want to be in a relationship with a woman who believes you will go to hell as a Jew. I am glad the experience has caused you to take another look a deepening your relationship with your own Judaism. You’re on the right track — don’t lose faith in yourself!
Question: I was born in an Orthodox community, and was practicing Judaism until my early teens. Since then, I identify more with Conservative Judaism even though I am not observant at all. I am unsure if I want to become more religious. At times I feel like I need to be more involved in my faith. My problem is that I have been dating a man for about two and a half years, and we plan to be married. He is Catholic, and even though he is not practicing, he identifies with his faith. With regards to our future children, he would like them all baptized, and then after the baptism we decided that we would expose them to both religions and allow them to choose which one they want to pursue further. Deep down, I don’t feel that this is right. I would prefer to raise my children Jewish (even though I’m currently not practicing), but I love my boyfriend and want to marry him.
Answer: I have a hunch that the fact that you wrote a rabbi asking this question means that you are really struggling with this relationship. If you were totally convinced that marrying him is the right thing, you would not have bothered to ask for a rabbi’s advice. If my guess is correct, then I advise you to go with your instincts, and put the wedding plans on hold.
The divorce rate in interfaith marriages is significantly higher than for same-faith marriages, because there are so many fundamental differences in the world view of people of different faiths. Long term, the vast majority of marriages cannot survive. Judaism and Catholicism are not compatible with one another. You cannot celebrate both in your home at the same time, and expect to have a coherent religious household with consistent values. Their approaches to ethics (abortion, for example) and life cycle events (Baptism vs. Brit Milah; weddings; B’nai Mitzvah vs. Confirmation; funerals), not to mention the issue of “who is Jesus,” are totally different.
Allowing children to choose their religious faith is a child rearing tactic doomed for disaster, because from the children’s point of view, you are giving them the choice of choosing Mom’s religion and rejecting Dad, or choosing Dad’s religion and rejecting Mom. Children do not make such choices, and therefore will grow up bereft of any genuine religious experiences. I can’t imagine leaving such an important choice as religion, so important to one’s moral character development, up to a child. After all, parents generally don’t even let children decide such trivial questions of what time is a proper bedtime, or what kinds of foods they are permitted to eat; or more serious questions such as whether they need to go to school or whether they are permitted to begin smoking or using drugs. Good parents make these choices for their children, because we want to make sure that they get proper rest and nutrition, a good education, and remain healthy. The choice of religion is certainly no less important than any of these other decisions that parents commonly impose on their children.
Right now you write that you would prefer to raise Jewish children. If you are like most people in your situation, as you grow older and especially after you have children, you will become positively committed to giving your children a Jewish identity. The most likely outcome is that you and your husband will each become stronger in your faith, and your children will get caught in the middle of the horrible train wreck that we call divorce.
My advice is simple — you need to decide how important being Jewish is to you. If it is at all important, even in the slightest degree, don’t marry your boyfriend. If you think it is not important to you, then test yourself by going to a Catholic church and begin taking classes for conversion. If you get through the conversion process, then marry him. If not, it is a sign that your Judaism is too important for you to throw aside. Alternatively, you might suggest that he take classes at a synagogue, and see if he is a candidate for conversion. Bottom line, however, my advice to you is to cancel the engagement and the wedding for the moment. If and unless you resolve the issue of a family religion, do not get married.
Question: I am a non-Jewish, non-religious person who has gotten very close to a Jewish girl. She tells me a relationship could never work because I am not Jewish. Is there anything I can do, short of conversion (this would seem to me as if I was conforming to be with her, and would not be a full “acceptance” in my heart.) to try and learn more about Judaism and be a part of her world? I was raised a Southern Baptist and have mixed feelings with religion due to the racism and hypocrisy I was exposed to as a child. All I know is I love her and everything about her, which includes her religion.
Answer: If she says a relationship will not work because you are not Jewish, then you should take her at her word. You might take some classes in Judaism, and see if conversion is an option for you, but in the meantime, I’d suggest that you respect her wishes and refrain from pursuing any romantic relationship with her.
As an aside, how can you possibly know that you love somebody with whom you have never had a serious relationship?
Question: I have twin 14 year old boys. One wants to take out a girl that is not Jewish. How do I handle this? I always taught all my kids not to be prejudiced, but I want my kids to marry within the Jewish faith.
Answer: First of all, I would like to recommend strongly that you go to your local bookstore, Jewish or other, and pick up the book, “It All Begins With a Date: Jewish Concerns About Intermarriage,” by Rabbi Alan Silverstein. Rabbi Silverstein is the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the organization of Conservative Rabbis. He is a dynamic speaker and writer, and his book has an entire section devoted to giving guidance to parents, like yourself, who wonder how to speak to their children about interfaith dating.
Although America stands for principles of acceptance, and we, as Americans, shun racism, sexism, strive to wipe out prejudice from our society, remember that America also stands for cultural pluralism. This means that every religious group in our country has the right and responsibility to adhere to its own values, without pressure from other religious groups to conform.
There is no contradiction between being open and accepting of all people, regardless of race or religion, and a desire to preserve our own unique heritage. It is possible and even desirable to develop close friendships with Christians (as well as adherents to other religions) at school or in the work place, while recognizing that if we want to maintain our Judaism, we must only date and marry Jews.
As you continue the dialogue between yourself and your children about dating, continue to stress that they may only date only Jewish girls. Tell them why this is so important to you (Rabbi Silverstein’s book has dialogues between parents and children that may help you organize your thoughts). Tell them why living a Jewish life is so important to you. In fact, you must do more than tell them why Judaism is important; show them why it is important by example, by the way you live your own life. Children are very perceptive about picking up on mixed messages – if you think that Judaism is important, but you don’t show this by the way you live your life, they will zero in on this an confront you. You should be able to show them the ways in which Jewish observance in the home, commitment to the Jewish community, membership in a synagogue, and/or concern for Israel are a part of your everyday life.
Above all, do not be silent on this issue of interfaith dating. Silence will be interpreted as acquiescence. Though the issues are difficult, do not take the easy way out of avoiding talking about them. In the long run, chances are greater that the difficulty of confronting the issues sensitively and honestly will pay off with Jewish grandchildren.
Question: My son and I are Jewish. When I first started dating my fiance’ he seemed to be OK with the fact that I take my religion and my way of life very seriously, but lately he has began to tease and say hurtful things in front of my son (and his daughter-also not Jewish) about some of the traditions that I make sure my son is aware of. During this time my fiance’ puts a tree in the house so I have tried to integrate within the household and talk to him about not making fun. We love each other very much and the children love each other but I will not stand for him downplaying my people or my religion. What can I do?
Answer: I’m sorry if the advice I am about to give seems overly simplistic, but it is based on all of my experience reading about successful marriage and counseling engaged and married couples about their relationships. The first thing I urge you to do is call off the engagement. A marriage between a serious Jew and a person who does not respect Judaism is bound to fail. If you hesitate to give up on him completely, then ask him to take an Introduction to Judaism class with you. If he refuses, then I suggest that you do not see him anymore. There really is no future in the relationship. If he agrees, then six months or a year from now, after the class has ended, you should evaluate the relationship and decide whether to resume your engagement, based on the level of his acceptance of Judaism.
I’m sure you do understand that by directing your question to a Conservative Rabbi, you were not going to get a totally positive reaction to a contemplated intermarriage. The best outcome would be for him to fall in love with Judaism (since I am convinced that he cannot truly love you without also respecting and even loving your way of life) and convert.
Question: I am not Jewish. I am in love with a Jewish man. And as you may have guessed, his family is not very fond of me, and they haven’t even met me. We broke up 2 months ago because they will not accept me for their son. He loves me and wants to get back together. But he knows his family will never give us their blessing. And it’s been very difficult. My grandfather was a Pastor in the Lutheran religion. He recently passed away. He didn’t have a problem with me marrying a Jewish man. He knew how happy we make each other. It’s hard for me to understand the problem his family has. Can you help me understand? Or give us advice on what to do about his family?
Answer: First — do you have a religious affiliation? If you do not, I’d suggest that you contact a local rabbi and begin seriously studying Judaism, with the intention of possible conversion. Perhaps, in a year or so, you will have decided that you want to commit to being Jewish, and at that point you can get back together with this man, and meet his family as a Jew.
If you have a current religious affilation to which you are committed, then I do not suggest that you pursue a relationship with any man not of the same religion. Interfaith marriages have a much higher divorce rate then same-religion marriages, and are much less likely to raise children committed to a religious faith. The parents of the man you have been dating raised a Jewish child, and had an expection of someday enjoying Jewish grandchildren. They are rejecting you because their son has rejected at least part of their religious tradition by dating you, and because they fear that if he marries you, they will lose their dream of Jewish grandchildren.
If he broke up with you because his family disapproves, and you are not in a position to explore conversion, then you need to think long and hard if this is the person with whom you want to spend your life and potentially raise children. The problems with his parents and family will never go away. You will need to live with that stress — and more importantly, periodically this man will need to choose between his wife and his parents. You may win most of the time, but it will be a constant source of strife between you.
To me, it does not sound like a happy situation, and one worth pursuing.
Question: During the time of Ezra/Nehemiah when the non-Jewish spouses were put away, is there a special reason why inter-marrying was allowed at some times and not during that time.
Answer: Throughout Jewish history, intermarriage has always been more of an issue in the diaspora, where Jews are a minority, than in Israel, where Jews are the majority. Ezra was among those who returned to Israel from the Babylonian exile. Therefore, there was a higher percentage of intermarried Jews, which motivated him to tell Jews to leave their non-Jewish spouses. Marriage between Jews and non-Jews had never been encouraged by the Torah.
Question: As for many Jews of my generation growing up in my part of the world, Judaism has become an increasingly remote, abstract presence. As a child, I don’t think this ever bothered me greatly. Now that I am living away from my family at university, I have become increasingly more conscious of how great a force religion could have played in my life. My question is a personal rather than strictly theoretical one; I cannot get away from the feeling that my sudden need for religion is a weakness, that I am seeking solace for whatever else is lacking in my life.
This, I am sure, is how my family and friends would regard me if I suddenly became so much more religious than I am. I would very much appreciate any advice on this question; can I become more religious without seeming hypocritical and shallow in the eyes of God? Like many people, I never really thanked him when things were going well, but only pleaded when they weren’t.
I also have a more specific question which results from my inability to convince a Jewish friend of the importance of marrying someone Jewish. Is there any biblical reference to the importance of this? Does it constitute a mitzvah?
I appreciate that this is not a counseling service, but this website seems one of the view places I can receive advice on religious matters. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Answer: For Jewish texual sources dealing with intermarriage, see:
Deuteronomy 7:3-4, “You shall not marry with [your non-Jewish neighbors]; your daughter shall not be given to their son, nor their daughter to your son. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods.”
Also Exodus 34:16, I Kings 11:1-6, Malachi 2:11-12, and Nehemiah 10:31.
[Source: Intermarriage: Our Grounds for Concern, by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, published by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism]
With respect to your first question, “can I become more religious without seeming hypocritical and shallow in the eyes of God?”, the answer is clearly yes. Many people grew up in not very religiously committed homes, and made the choice later in life to become more observant.
Religious people are not inherently weak because they see Godly beauty and structure in the world around them. Religious traditions strengthen, not weaken, the ethical frameword in which we live our lives.
It is never too late to do teshuvah, repentance, and acknowledge that living your life up to this point without God has been a mistake. I suggest that you get in touch with a local rabbi, and have a face to face “spiritual assessment,” and decide how to begin to study and get more involved in a Jewish community. As you get involved in a synagogue community, you will find friends who will join with you and support you on your spiritual journey.
Question: I live in Russia. I’m Jewish as I understand it – my parents were Jews and I’m not indifferent to my origin. I’m not too young, I’m single – and my question is – is it right for me to marry woman which are not Jewish?
Answer: Before I answer your question, let me first state that the answer that I am going to give you is essentially the same answer that I would give to someone in my own community in the United States. I fully understand that life in Russia, especially Jewish life in Russia, is much more difficult than in the US. However, the fact that you asked the question tells me that you care about being Jewish. And if being intermarried and being a committed Jew is challenging in my country, I suspect that is is 10 or 100 times more challenging in your country. Therefore, here is my answer:
If being Jewish is important to you and if raising Jewish children is important to you, then you should know that it is much more difficult to live as a committed Jew and raise Jewish children who feel the same as you if you marry a woman who is not Jewish. The best way to meet a Jewish woman is be as actively involved as you can in your local Jewish community. I don’t know exactly where you live – but if there is a synagogue or a Jewish community center in the area, then you should get involved.
What to do if there is no Jewish community near where you live? This is the hardest question of all, and there is no easy or simple answer.
Perhaps you could move to another city, with a large Jewish population; or perhaps you could meet people by traveling for weekends to a larger community.
However, since I know the reality is that neither of these options might be available to you, and that at some point you might date non-Jewish women, I have this advice: I urge you to tell them from the first date how important being Jewish and having a Jewish family is to you. First of all, this will exclude all woman who are completely not interested in a Jewish man or in keeping a Jewish home or in raising Jewish children. Second, you might just find a woman who is interested enough in Judaism that she may be able to convert sometime in the future.
I wish you well in your search for a wife. Your ‘soulmate’ is out there — you just need to find her!
Question: I am currently in an interracial relationship, and I am Jewish, and he is Black Christian. Neither one of us is religious. My parents are Russian, and Judaism is more of a cultural thing for them then religion. I don’t want to leave my boyfriend, because he is truly the most amazing guy in the world, and the only reason I have not to like him, is that my parents hate him because he is black. I have never been religious; all religion has proven good for is wars. I am not interested in raising my children Jewish – i think religious organizations brainwash people and make them blindly believe things. I am not trying to dishonor Judaism, I am just stating my views. However, my parents are very serious about their views. My father is not speaking to me, and my mother cries everyday and says that her whole life has been a waste. I am an immigrant from Russia, who came to America for its freedom. My parents came here for its freedom to be Jewish, which they feel I am throwing away. If I leave my boyfriend, I feel like I will sign the pact with the devil saying I am now a racist, like many other Jewish people. If I stay with him, I am making my family miserable. I have a choice between hating myself, or having my family hate me. And believe me, I have tried talking to them, and they are not going to change.
If my boyfriend were to convert for me, and we were to raise our children Jewish, I do not feel this will be good for the children. I have found that Jews, at least the Jews that I know, and the Jews from my synagogue are very racist – they would not accept a black Jewish child. Yes it is true that Jews were persecuted and suffered a lot, and it is reasonable that this made them interact with other cultures very cautiously, but I feel like many Jews now are just as prejudice and racist as all those who have persecuted Jews. Jews don’t do it for hatred, but for fear and caucion, but nevertheless, don’t they see that it is wrong.
Answer: According to Judaism, racism is wrong. Period. We are all created in the image of God, those of us with white, black, and brown skin; those of us with an extra chromosome; those of us with autism, cerebral palsy, and those of us who stutter when we speak; those of us who are model-beautiful with perfect bodies and those of us who are not so beautiful or coordinated. Anyone who says differently is violating a basic tenet of the Torah.
However, I do need to point out that your parents, rabbi, or others in the Jewish community (including me) can still be opposed to you marrying this fine person, not because he is black, but because he is not Jewish. That would not make us racist. Even Jews who are not traditionally observant, cultural Jews, might have a strong sense that if a Jew marries a non-Jew, the Jewish affiliation of the next generation family will be weakened. If you boyfriend is interested in converting, you should pursue it. Not every Jewish community is racist, as you seem to imply. I want to suggest that the two of you should study Judaism together at your local synagogue, and perhaps then you will come out with a more positive feeling about your Jewish identity.
Question: I hope you can help me. Is it possible for a person to be part Jew? For example the following scenario:
A male child is born locally of a Catholic mother and a father of some Jewish descent. This same child is raised as a Catholic and is now a practicing Catholic as an adult.
Not being Jewish, I wondered what percentage Jewish is this Catholic man to be considered? Is being a Jew pertain only to religion or is it a nationality?
Answer: The child of a Jewish woman is Jewish; the child of a non-Jewish woman is non Jewish unless the child is converted. The status of the father does not afffect the status of the child according to the more traditional streams of Judaism.
One who was born Jewish but raised in another religion is considered completely Jewish without conversion if he/she returns to Judaism; while practicing another religion, however, he/she is treated as completely non-Jewish.
Judaism is a combination of religion and nationality. In order to become Jewish, one must be formally adopted into the religion through conversion.
Question: I was asked to perform the sheva berakhot at my brother in law’s wedding. He is marrying a lovely woman who is Catholic. They are being married by a judge. I feel uncomfortable saying the blessings and would rather do a different reading. My question is twofold: First of all, do you think it is inappropriate to recite the sheva berakhot at a mixed marriage? And secondly, do you think something from Shir Hashirim would be more appropriate? Any other suggestions? (I actually did ask my Rabbi at my synagogue, but I am curious to hear other opinions.)
Answer: I agree with your sense of discomfort at reciting sheva berakhot at an intermarriage. Liturgically and theologically, it does not make sense. You are correct not to do it.
Another text — Biblical or secular — that celebrates the love of two people would be a much better choice. I would refrain from quoting any specifically Jewish texts (such as Talmud or Midrash), however, because those texts rest on an assumption of the possibility of creating and maintaining a fully Jewish household and family, which will not be the case in your brother’s family. Since the Hebrew Bible is common to both Christians and Jews, texts from Shir Hashirim would not in and of themselves be problematic.