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Popping the Really Big Question
How important is it to date someone Jewish? When I was younger and choosing which guys to date, I didn't care what the boy's religion was, as long as I would eventually marry someone Jewish. Then, an adviser from United Synagogue Youth asked me: "How do you know which person you date will become the serious one, and how do you know if he will become the person you want to marry?"
I couldn't answer. At the time, I was 15. I thought that if I just made sure that when I was close to the time when I was ready for marriage, I'd make a conscious effort to try to date Jews, and I would be fine.
But what if I met the person I was supposed to marry at, say, age 16 - way earlier than I had "planned?" I thought, well, obviously he would convert, but what if he didn't want to? What would I do then?
Everyone in an interfaith relationship has different limits. The question is how far you'll go without compromising your own religious beliefs and traditions. Are you willing to negotiate some of your beliefs for the person you love?
Could you give up any of your traditions completely? How important are rituals such as lighting the menorah or breaking the Yom Kippur fast at your parent's house? More importantly, are you willing to celebrate your significant other's traditions in harmony with your own? Is a baptism, in addition to a brit milah, acceptable for you? Are you okay with a Christmas tree and lights decorating the house?
Name Your Deal-Breakers
For some, having any trace of the other person's religion is too much. For others, as long as the children are raised Jewish, and have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, that is enough. I say, to each his own, but is that sentiment enough? Think about what traditions are your own personal deal-breakers.
For my sister Liz, it was many things. She and I were raised in the Conservative movement. Both of us had Bat Mitzvahs, and were confirmed in 10th-grade religious school. At various stages in our lives, we discussed the importance of raising our children Jewishly. At one point, we actually decided that, of course, our children would attend Hebrew school. We figured since we had to get up early every Sunday for 11 years, why shouldn't they?
When it came down to it, we realized that Judaism was a huge part of our lives and childhoods. Holidays and events evoked warm memories of family members singing "Chad Gadya" and searching for the afikomen at Passover, spinning the dreidel and eating gelt at Chanukah, and, of course, the milestone of being called to the Torah to become a Bat Mitzvah. We knew we couldn't give up these traditions because they had become a vital part of our identity, and we wanted our children to feel the same way.
When Liz and her non-Jewish fiance, John, were discussing the religious identities of their future children, they agreed that the kids would be raised Jewishly, but they still had to discuss other scenarios and issues. Would their son have a brit milah? At first John said that he wanted his son's circumcision to be performed in a hospital, but for Liz, that would not be an option.
For her, there would be a brit, the kids would attend Hebrew school, and they would be called to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Those were her deal-breakers. John understood and accepted them, as long as he could continue his tradition of presents under the Christmas tree and an Easter dinner in April. Liz agreed.
My cousin Matthew told me that he asked a previous girlfriend of two years, "What happens to our son on his eighth day of life?" Her reply was not what he needed, and they soon ended their relationship.
So, why is Judaism so important to us anyway?
In Genesis, Abraham told his senior servant that he must swear to find a daughter for Isaac in his own county where his kindred resided, and not "from the daughters of the Canaanites."
Then, in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, God states, "You shall not intermarry with them: Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and the Lord's anger will blaze forth against you, and He will promptly wipe you out."
Doesn't that seem just a little harsh? Well, somewhere in Jewish history, His orders worked, because we're still here. There are about 5.2 million Jews in the United States; for many of us, it's more than wanting to keep up the numbers. It's who we are, and who our ancestors have been for generations. It is important for our descendants to feel the same way about their Jewish identity as we do.
I personally don't feel the need or desire to have to explain to anyone before I go on a first date why my Jewish identity is so important. If I have too much explaining to do, then the potential first date is clearly not for me. It wasn't until this past year that I officially decided I would only date Jewish men.
I've been in a few situations where I had to explain to a non-Jewish guy who wanted to date me that it was simply not an option, and I felt obliged to explain my position instead of giving him the cold shoulder. I felt a little bad for hurting him or for puncturing his crush, but extremely happy that I was preventing any future pain I would endure based purely on religion.
To me, it's simple. How could I date someone who didn't "get" me? I write for the Jewish Exponent, I teach Hebrew school to teenagers at a local synagogue, and I am the full-time program director of group for Jewish professionals in their 20s and 30s.
I'm also getting a master's degree in Jewish communal service. I am not extremely religious, but all of my work encompasses my Jewish identity, and I don't want to be in the situation where I have to explain myself to anyone.
Don't get my wrong - I have many non-Jewish friends who are crucial parts of my life, and I'd do anything for them. But when it comes to dating and marrying, I'm allowed to be picky, because my life and future happiness are at stake.