Inter-dating need not be the end of the (Jewish) line

by Maskil on August 21, 2007

Here’s my two cents on the whole issue of inter-dating and inter-marriage. This was intended to eventually become part of a longer piece, but the points I would want to make can be easily stated:

Inter-marriage (or inter-faith marriage, as some would prefer to call it) is not the problem. The problem is the Jewish response to the phenomenon, i.e. there simply is none. Date or marry a non-Jew and you are de-facto regarded as having left the Jewish fold, which in many cases in not the intention. Jewish communities are simply not geared up to handle the situation, and the young (or not so young) family drifts away from Judaism. (I’m not referring here to the Reconstructionist/Reform end of the spectrum, which in most cases takes a far more inclusive approach.)

Let me also make it clear that I am not “in favour” of intermarriage. I myself am in an inter-faith marriage and I’m pretty sure things are for the most part a lot simpler where both partners are Jews!

  • So what am I saying? The “first prize” from a simplicity and Jewish continuity point of view is that both partners be Jewish.
  • Failing that, the next best option is that the non-Jewish partner convert or undertake to convert to Judaism.
  • Last on the list would be that both partners retain their existing faiths, but there is a commitment to raise any children born of the union in the Jewish faith.

There are other possible scenarios, but they are less likely to result in a Jewish outcome, which is what we’re interested in here.

For this to work, however, there would need to be some far-reaching changes in the way that Jewish communities treat such couples. This would include allowing Rabbis and other marriage officers to marry inter-faith couples, provided that:

  • The non-Jewish partner commits to converting to Judaism, or
  • There is a commitment to running a Jewish home and raising any children as Jews.
  • The principle of Jewish patrilineal descent would also need to be recognised across the board by Reconstructionist/Reform (and perhaps even Conservative?) communities worldwide. This is too important an issue to be left to the discretion of individual Rabbis, communities or synagogue unions.

We must always remember that inter-marriage is not the end of the Jewish line. Failing to welcome, support and incorporate inter-faith families could well be, unless you believe that the future of Judaism belongs to the ultra-Orthodox.

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