I’m Jewish, She’s Not


2015-03-24 – Sunday’s post (Piety Porn) earned me a private request to write about interfaith marriage. That was because I mentioned that I am Jewish and my wife is not. The person making the request is a parent of a child who recently married out of the faith. You shouldn’t be surprised by that. Parents are the ones who get freaked out by interfaith marriage. The couple is generally pretty okay with the idea.

So let me start with the parents’ perspective. My parents were indeed freaked out. My father more than my mother. I was 39 when I got married. My mom was just happy that I finally was going to be “settled.” She had bought some china for me when I was maybe 20 with the intention of giving it to me when I was married.  The china sat around her house for many years, so I once asked her what it was for. She told me she planned to give it to me once I was “settled” (she didn’t say “married”). By the time she told me this, I had graduated law school, was living on my own in a different city, had been in practice for several years, and had started a new career. I said, “Mom, I’m settled!” She didn’t want to explain to me that she was waiting for me to get married, so she gave me the china. She was happy that I was finally getting married, even to a shiksa.

My dad cried when he heard the news, and the tears were not tears of joy. But he didn’t want to be like Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof and cut himself off from his child. So he looked for rationalizations to allow him to accept my wife as a daughter-in-law. He found it in the dubious fact of his mother’s “Irish heritage.” My wife’s father was Irish and my father’s grandparents were living in Dublin at the time his mother was conceived (though they were from Russia and she was born in Manchester, England). Pretty tenuous. But it worked. My father was able to accept my marriage and both my parents grew to love my wife. Not all parents do that.

That was a generation ago. Now I have sons who soon could be getting married themselves. And I now can appreciate a parent’s concern about their children’s partners. Each relationship and broken heart of theirs is a joy and a sorrow to me as well. I get the fear that a parent has. If you are invested in a religion, you have to wonder whether a child’s marrying out of the faith will separate your child from you.

We worry about our children. But if you are worried about losing their affection, interfering in their choice of marital partner is not a smart move.

What kind of values would lead you to do this? For Jews, there’s the specter of a dwindling Jewish population. For others—well, I can’t speak for other. But most groups like to keep their numbers up. The issue may be more acute for Jews because Jews don’t recruit new members. So a loss of a member is a loss.

I can’t be responsible for this. Honestly, if I had felt connected to the Jewish community when I was looking for a wife, chances are she would have been Jewish. I was already alienated. Don’t alienate me and then tell me I can’t get married. Intermarriage doesn’t lead to population loss. It’s the other way around. (Of course, not everyone who marries outside the faith is alienated. But they are at least alienated from the rule that prohibits intermarriage!)

Furthermore, the assumption that a Jew who intermarries is a loss may be a false assumption. Maybe we bring a bit of our Jewishness with us.

So that’s my response to the communitarian argument against intermarriage. Others say that intermarriage simply protects couples from unnecessary difficulties.

When I said above that an interfaith couple is okay with interfaith marriage, I was kind of stating the obvious. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t have regrets. But regrets aren’t because the marriage is an interfaith marriage. Regrets are simply inherent in any choice you make, no matter how wonderful the choice. If you chose one path, you forsake another. You can’t have it all.

So I had regrets. Sabbath observance was out. And I couldn’t really talk with my wife about Jewish issues without having to explain things. We didn’t have that to share. These were and are significant things. But we’ve more than made up for them. And we’ve both encountered strange customs. I had to make peace with having a Christmas tree. She’s had to join into Passover Seders. It’s made us creative.

Look, if you focus on your differences, you’re going to have a lousy marriage. It can be differences in in religion, sure. It can be differences in parenting style. It can be differences in sexual appetite. It can be anything. It can be people telling you that your marriage is going to be terrible because you don’t share a religion.

So that is the thing. If you believe that interfaith marriage is destructive, it will be. If you believe it brings richness to your shared lives, it will be that. It’s not a formula for a good marriage. It’s not a formula for a bad one. It’s what you make of it. Just like anything else.

It’s been good for me. So far. We’re still new at this. We’ve only been married for 24 years.

* * *

Here are a couple links to prior posts on marriage:

Getting Married Is Like Jumping Off a Cliff

Too, Too Twenty-Two

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