One of the most difficult decisions you can face as an observant Jewish man or woman is what to do if you fall in love with someone of another faith. Will you choose the heart or the spirit? Love of your partner over love of your God? The question is not only a personal one; it involves, according to many experts, the strength of the Jewish religion itself.
The Torah is very strict about intermarriage. Deuteronomy 7:3-4 states: “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.”
This is one Biblical prediction that has proven to be true. According to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, only about one of three interfaith couples bring up their children according to Jewish law and tradition. As a result, intermarriage is often viewed as a threat to the survival of the Jewish religion. Tracey R. Rich, on his Judaism 101 website, mentions an Orthodox Jew of his acquaintance who complained that intermarriage was accomplishing what Hitler failed to do, destroy the Jewish people. While this is not a common view, it certainly illustrates the sensitivity of the issue.
The most important issue facing a Jewish man or woman marrying someone outside the faith is what effect this will have on your children. The law of matrilineality, wherein the mother’s religion determines that of the children, today applies only in Orthodox and Conservative communities. However, research has found that, regardless of law, the mother’s religion has a far greater effect on the children’s eventual faith than does the father’s. Whatever the case, if a child is raised in the Jewish tradition, he or she may convert to Judaism.
But, of course, interfaith marriage presents numerous other issues, such as where to get married. Many Jewish congregations will not allow these ceremonies to be performed in their synagogues, and you, as an observant Jew, will certainly not want to be married in a church or mosque.
Then there is the problem of what holidays to celebrate. Passover or Easter? Christmas or Hanukkah? Though this may not sound very troubling, such dilemmas can put a great strain on a relationship—especially if there is additional pressure from your parents.
The best strategy is to discuss this problem with your partner before the relationship grows too deep. As soon as it seems to you that you could envisage spending your life with this very exciting and interesting person, let him or her know that it is of vital importance that your children and your household will be Jewish—whether he or she converts to Judaism or not. If your intended says, “No problem,” that will be just one more sign that you have a happy future waiting for you.