Thursday, May 04, 2006

On Intermarriage and Interdating

So, not to go into too many personal details, but I may be re-entering the dating world in the not-too-distant future.

One of the major issues with becoming an atheist which I have not yet had to deal with is that of who to date. When you're Orthodox, there's no question that you'll date only Jews, and probably only Orthodox ones at that. Now that I'm no longer Orthodox, or indeed a believer, I have no philosophical objections to dating or marrying non-Jews at all. I'm not particularly worried that my descendants identify as Jews, though if they choose to, that might be nice.

At the same time, though, if I ended up marrying a non-Jew, my parents would be devastated. Granted, they were pretty upset when I told them I was no longer religious and they've disapproved of various other life decisions I've made, but this one is bigger. It might even be unforgiveable.

What are my responsibilities here? If I were already in love with a non-Jew and we were perfect for each other, I might lean towards marriage and letting the chips fall where they may. But if I'm not even seeing anybody yet, is it irresponsible to date non-Jews, knowing that I want to someday get married? Or would it be unfair to myself to date only Jews, limiting that already smaller pool by finding someone willing and happy to date an atheist? To date Jews, I'd have to rely on JDate or being set up by Jewish friends or something. It's not like I'm going to meet them in shul after all. Maybe I can run a personal ad: "Jewish Atheist seeks same or similar?" Luckily, Jews have one of the highest rates of atheism, so it's not like I'd be an Orthodox lesbian seeking same or anything. (There are a few.)

I don't think I'm morally obligated to make my parents happy by marrying a Jew, but I'd feel terrible upsetting them immensely, even if they're "wrong" to be upset. What if they didn't want me to marry a black woman, even if she were Jewish? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't pay attention to that wish. So why is this different? I guess religious beliefs are qualitatively different than racist ones, even if I believe both are wrong.

I just hope I can find a solution which will work for all of us.

35 comments:

Some Guy said...

I'm sure you can find a nice Jewish girl who will love you in spite of (or perhaps because of) your atheistic tendencies. If the girl you find has a sister, let me know.

Juggling Mother said...

Your parents approval is not a good reason to date or not date anyone. However, it may be easier to eirther discuss possible scenarios with them beforehand, or if you don't think they'll take to that, try introducing the girl (once you meet her) without mentioning her religious persuasions, then once they get to like her (hopefully), you can drop it in somewhere. you could get round the questions by saying that considering your atheisms, you would prefer them not to talk religion with girlfirend at all.

It's a bit pre-emptive if you haven't met anyone yet:-)

as you say, you would not be persuaded to stop dating a woman for other reasons (race, age?, natioanlity? etc) so why religion, when it doesn't worry you personally.

CyberKitten said...

Personally I don't think you (or anyone else) is morally obligated to make your parents happy. Of course each of our relationships with our parents is different so advice regarding them is doubly difficult.

The question you need to ask yourself is: Is the price of being (potentially) unhappy worth making your parents happy for? Wouldn't your happiness make them happy too - regardless of who you date/marry?

david said...

Let me start by saying this is only my experience. This doesn't apply to all Jews everywhere; after all, there are thousands of happily intermarried Jews. Including my five siblings.

But.

My ex-wife and I found that our marriage was not sustainable for many reasons. One major reason, however, was a kind of base-level difference in spiritual and emotional orientation that we both, to differing extents, attributed to the fact that one of us was Jewish and one of us wasn't. My now-wife and I have been married 13 years. Though our differences are many, we're both Jewish. This has been important in more ways than one, and has strengthened the marriage in more ways than one.

Also, marriage is -- or can be -- not just a personal decision, but a communal one: what's the context of the marriage? And the life of my kids, should there be any? What community will support us, when things get tough? What village will raise our kids?

(Sorry.)

The only reason your parents are important as a consideration is that they form (for better or worse) part of the community that will support you in your marriage. I hope they support you no matter what. Support is different from approval, as any parent can tell you. They may not approve, but they will love and support you.

Perhaps, in dating non-Jews, you'll see that my experience either (a) doesn't apply to you, (b) was misinterpreted by me, or (c) all of the above. But I offer it in the hopes that it's helpful

Wandering Coyote said...

JA: I really liked David's comment above.

In my experience, little thought goes into the practicalities of marriage over and above attraction, having things in common, etc. The community aspect is very important to consider because that's where the stressors in a marriage frequently come from (as it did with mine, though for different reasons). I'm not advocating dating/marrying a Jewish gal to appease your parents, but I think it's important to keep in mind, just so you know when the time comes, what the effects of your choice in partner may have on your marriage/relationship and your relationship with your family and community. This can be big stuff, really big stuff, because how we are raised is the biggest influence on our marriage/relationship (in my opinion). It's all about self-awareness, which so often comes after you need it most.

I don't feel like I've been very clear. Sorry. This is something I have a lot to say about, but don't wish to lecture or sound pompous. I'm not feeling particularly articulate today...

asher said...

Hey, what's the difference? The intermarriage rate among jews is 50% or more and the divorce rate among Americans is that high too.

When I used to read the personal ads it was always amusing to read that someone was a secular, non-religious jew but wanted to meet someone who was jewish. Our parents stayed together because they usually knew each other from the neighborhood since they were children and had the same backgrounds. That doesn't apply anymore.

Oh yes, the issue of compatiblity really comes down to this statement: can you put up with her sh-t and can she put up with your sh-t? If the answer is yes...you got a deal.

Sadie Lou said...

I think your parents would just have to get over themselves if you were truely in love with a non Jew. If I were you, I wouldn't go out of my way to find a non Jew, if it doesn't really matter to you either way as long as you're compatable.
So just keep 'finding yourself' in situations where you are prone to meet Jewish girls and if by chance a non Jew catches your fancy--pursue that too.
It's your life.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

You know my take on the matter. And my position may be more tenuous than your own since I want to live a much more observant lifestyle. Two out of my last three girlfriends broke up with me because of my skeptical tendencies.

It's really tough because most girls my age just don't have the philosophical acumen to even understand where I'm coming from.

Jewish Atheist said...

Two out of my last three girlfriends broke up with me because of my skeptical tendencies.

Ouch. Religion's certainly been an issue in dating for me as well. I've invariably been more skeptical than my girlfriends. Yet, it was really only a big issue with one of them. With the rest, we managed to agree to disagree. However, having children would have complicated matters for sure. Still, I don't think people have to be *exactly* on the same page when it comes to religion.


It's really tough because most girls my age just don't have the philosophical acumen to even understand where I'm coming from.

Maybe most Orthodox ones. Wait until you get to med school and find the ones who went to prestigious liberal arts schools. :-)

Jewish Atheist said...

some guy,

I'll definitely set you up with her sister. :-)


Mrs.Aginoth,

try introducing the girl (once you meet her) without mentioning her religious persuasions,

Trust me, it'll be their first question.

It's a bit pre-emptive if you haven't met anyone yet:-)

Well, maybe. :-) But I'm wondering who I should try to meet. ;-)

as you say, you would not be persuaded to stop dating a woman for other reasons (race, age?, natioanlity? etc) so why religion, when it doesn't worry you personally.

Just the parents.


The question you need to ask yourself is: Is the price of being (potentially) unhappy worth making your parents happy for? Wouldn't your happiness make them happy too - regardless of who you date/marry?

No and no. But maybe we can all be happy. (Also, maybe all nuclear weapons will spontaneously launch themselves into the sun.)


david:

You raise some interesting points. Community is certainly a concern and has been since I left Orthodoxy. Thanks.

WC: (heh)

Also good points.


asher:

Oh yes, the issue of compatiblity really comes down to this statement: can you put up with her sh-t and can she put up with your sh-t? If the answer is yes...you got a deal.

You're such a romantic.


Sadie Lou,
I think your parents would just have to get over themselves if you were truely in love with a non Jew.

I hope so. We'll see.

It's your life.

I know. I just wish it were simpler sometimes. :-)

Esther said...

JA: I'm a nominal Jew who has been married to a nominal Catholic for nearly 26 years.

Our religious compatability stems from the fact that we both view religion as a human construct.

Here's my advice:

Don't limit your options. You don't want to bypass someone with whom you might be intellectually, philisophically and emotionally compatible just because they grew up worshipping in the Church of John Coltrane.

Even if you raise your children as Animists or Episcopalians or nothing at all, they will still be the grandchildren of your parents. And they will most certainly be beautiful and smart and your parents will most certainly love them.

Foilwoman said...

JA: I'm in the middle of a divorce from someone who is of a different religion (both as a matter of ethnicity as as a matter of belief). The lack of religious commonality was not a factor in the divorce,except that he went from being fairly secular to fairly devout (and wacko devout, without getting into specifics).

I think you can think about things in the abstract, but have to play the hand you are dealt. Maybe your parents would disown you if you came home with a shiksa or a nice Ethiopian Jewish girl. Who knows? But the hypothetical is borrowing trouble. You can only make decisions about a person who is in your life and available to you. Thinking about someone (who will invariably have Penelope Cruz's looks and Susan Sontag's brains) who might (1) not be interested in you or (2) might be interested but otherwise not available or (3) decide you're attractive, but not someone she wants to be serious about or (4) some other permutation is a waste of mental energy.

When you meet someone you like, let yourself get to know her, whatever her background, and then see. Obviously, life is easier if you pick someone who your parents can approve of. But they aren't going to be sleeping with her or listening to her snore or living with her taste in TV shows or annoying stuffed animal collection. You are.

For once (probably the only time in recorded history) I completely agree with Asher: Can (and will) you put up with her crap and can (and will) she put up with your crap? If so, hop to it and get busy.

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Still, I don't think people have to be *exactly* on the same page when it comes to religion."

No argument there. But it seems to turn out that I'm always the more tolerant one.

"Wait until you get to med school and find the ones who went to prestigious liberal arts schools. :-)"

Here's hoping. ;-)

Ezzie said...

I'm not particularly worried that my descendants identify as Jews, though if they choose to, that might be nice.

I'm not sure what's more interesting: That you said this, or that I'm not at all surprised.

(The Q for you is... why?)

Juggling Mother said...

If it's any help, I come from a jewish background (liberal & mostly atheist, but definitely Jewish as the years at sunday school, Bar Matvah's for the boys & trips to Israel show)

Aggie comes from a C of E background (reading the bible regularly & going to church irregularly type C of E)

We both made our own decision about religion in adulthood

our views are not the same

We have been happily married for 7 years, and permenant partners for 14. we have three fabulous kids. Most of our opinions on child rearing have been the same. On the few occasions we have disagreed, it has been easily and amicably solved by discussion.

My mother really doesn't like him, for any number of reasons, but in general this has little effect on our relationship (mine & hers, and mine & his), and in general, she manages to be civil, and even occasionally warm towards him when we visit.

Laura said...

I don't come from a strong religious or ethnic background, so I'm totally in the dark when people talk about these kinds of issues. I have a friend from Russia and all her friends marry Russian Jews and she is expected to marry a Russian Jew. I just don't get how you can dictate who you love. THough I have a feeling that such matches were not traditionally made for the purposes of love, but for the purposes of preserving the culture - this is along the lines of what David was saying I think. Who is the marriage for? The concept of two people marrying only for love is a relatively recent (and Western) concept. Lots of cultures still arrange marriages to some extent.

Would they want you to marry a religious Jew or are they concerned with the ethnic ties more than the religious? I know my University is overflowing with Jewish Athiests - so they're out there... ;) It's always been my understanding that there's two parts to the Jewish identity (or am I wrong) the religious belief and the cultural/historical heritage.

That's a tough one - I'm sure there's a Jewish woman out there who you'd love dearly. But I don't think any major life decision (marriage, children, etc) should be made for anyone but yourself. For istance - should I feel obligated to have children because my mom wants to be a grandma? Is that fair to me? To the child? Maybe I'd grow to love the child, but is that a good reason to do something like that?

Interesting post.

Ben Avuyah said...

My wife and I met and married as othodox jews, but I was very open with her about my skepticism, when it arrived, and we had many long discussions about it. We actually took a secular jewish history course together to help sort things out, at a local university.


Orthodoxy is pretty easy to dismantle once you get down to it. It almost seems pre-perforated to fall apart at the seems upon close examination.

Our explorations into faith has left my wife something of a deist with a strong ideal of tikun olam and an open mind towards the possibility of divine "inspiration" in human affairs.

I have more of a agnostic/weak athiest point of view. But the journey and it's discussions have brought us closer, if anything.

But had we not discovered ideologies so close to each other it could have been trouble. I recommend looking for someone with an ideology that is compatible to your own. I also recomend someone of the jewish ethinicity, I know it sounds close minded, but having more in common with a spouse seems like it would be helpful !!

Esther said...

Someone doesn't have to be of the same faith or ethnicity to have common cultural references.

While my husband is Irish Catholic and I'm Jewish, we both grew up in the middle class suburbs of New Jersey in the 1960s and 1970s. We had and still have similar tastes in music, we're compatable philisophically, we like the same type of movies, etc. etc.

The one regret I have though is that I cannot convince him to enjoy gefilte fish.

Benjamin said...

Shit, I'm Jewish and you couldn't convince me to like gefilte fish!

Foilwoman said...

I'm not Jewish and I like gefilte fish. Not as much as I like latkes (better with sour cream than with applesauce, but good either way). I have become quite talented at getting myself invited to meals where latkes will be served.

faith is genetic said...

I love reading your blog, I don’t usually respond though. I’m a diehard atheist. I was confused whey you said it might be nice that your children identify as Jews, it seamed strange to me that an atheist would have that preference. The confusion cleared when I read Benjamin’s “couldn't convince me to like gefilte fish!” It’s Pride.! You don’t believe in the God of Abraham but there is a great deal of pride in belonging to the incredible history of Judaism. From the Zealots in Masada to Christ himself there is a great deal of pride to be felt in that association. That is probably the aspect of your conversion that hurts your community and parents the most, that you should feel less connected with your heritage, less proud of your origins. I’m not sure any of them really care what god you pray to, if any.

I think that if you can find someone who will not dissuade you from acknowledging your heritage, your parents will accept the union eventually. Even if she is not Jewish. Trust me even if they don’t at first, they will once they have grandchildren. Grandchildren change people at the molecular level! It’s hard enough finding someone with whom you can be happy for the rest of your life, don’t constrain your search parameters to suit the needs of others.

Shlomo said...

I can tell you a little about having chasidishe parents and dating shikzas. It juts doesn't come up in conversation. Now my father o'h passed on before I made a U-turn along the derech, but my mother, brother, and sisters are still alive and well.

As long as you only date the shikza, even if for the rest of your life, and don't ever bring it up in conversation, you can have a cool but relatively civil interaction with mishpocho. The day you marry her is the day all hell breaks loose. In their minds, as long as you don't marry the shikza, there is hope that the 'phase' you are in will end and someday you'll come back to your senses.

When I travel to visit my mother, the subject of my love life is NEVER mentioned. They don't want to know, and I'd rather leave it be to keep shalom.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Interesting topic, interesting diversity of comments.

You're dealing with a conflict between individualism (dating whoever appeals to you) and communitarianism (a recognition that your parents' views deserve consideration when you're choosing who to marry).

I value communitarianism, at least in principle. (In practice, I'm too strong willed. I'm terrible at conforming to community norms!) Therefore I wouldn't encourage you to date a non-Jew when you know that will be a major disappointment to your parents.

As someone else noted, surely you can find a woman who is ethnically Jewish but an atheist or agnostic in beliefs. It seems to me the main issue is practical: where will you meet such a person? And that's usually the issue when you're looking for potential dates. You can't just pick one off the shelf at Costco.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I've been married to a shiksa for 2 gloriously happy years (I've been married 16 in total).
I really have no advice. We don't have kids, and we get along like many couples who tolerate each other do:)

Believe it or not 16 years I was more of an agnostic because I didn't really give the existence of God much of a thought(only that his existence made no sense to me). I don't even remember having a conversation with my wife about her religious beliefs...she didn't convert and we got a quack rabbi to marry us on a boat under a hoopa. If I wanted her to convert, she would have.
I think she's an atheist now. But she could be an agnostic. Maybe one day I'll ask her.

Laura said...

q said: You can't just pick one off the shelf at Costco.

Really? That's where I found my hubby... I thought EVERYONE did that. ;p

Stephen (aka Q) said...

I guess Canadian Costcos aren't as well stocked as American Costcos.
;)

elf said...

I'm sorry that your current relationship isn't working out (although presumably it's for the best). IMHO, there's no right or wrong answer to this question. I think it's great that you're trying to think this through rationally, but at some point in the dating and relationship game, reason will have to give way.

Good luck!

Jack's Shack said...

I am a little late to the party, but I'll throw my two cents in.

If you never plan on having children it is one thing, but if you do you risk a lot.

Children change everything and you don't always know how you or your spouse will react until after they are born.

I know intermarried couples who didn't consider themselves religous until it came time to determine how to raise the kids.

And that was in spite of discussions that preceded their birth.

anonym00kie said...

so many of the comments keep saying that you shouldnt worry about 'making your parents happy or getting their approval, and that you shouldnt base you decision on this, but i dont really understand that. seems like a selfish attitude to be going into marriage with. why isnt it an important factor to consider? if you love your parents, and respect them, and care about their feelings then why would you willingly go into a situation (that you can still avoid) knowing how much pain it will cause. what will happen when you get married and the choice is between your happiness and your wife's? what about you and your kids? at what point do you consider other's peoples pain/happiness in your decision making?

if you were already involved with someone, then maybe the discussion would be different. but to knowingly get into a situation where you know you will be hurting someone you care about doesnt make sense to me.

im assuming the response will be that you will have to live with this person, not your parents, and that this is about your life, not theirs. true, but who says you will be disadvantaged by choosing to only date jewish girls. you only need to find ONE girl.

i think when you make a decision, you first try to take into consideration as many factors as you possible. when you dont get the results you were hoping for, then you can start playing around with the variables. you know that, a priori, if you marry a jewish girl, you will be happy (you picked her!) and your parents will be happy, and youll have a community, and your kids wont be confused about religion. if after a while of dating you are unsuccessful in finding a jewish girl, then it 'might' make sense to open up your dating pool, but until then it seems selfish to me.

my 2 cents

Anonymous said...

If your parents raised you Jewish and were kind to you? then YES you are obligated to be with a JEW! if they didnt then its perferable but they cant take offence to something that was never important to them in the first place! If I raised a family Jewish and put my blood and sacrifice ahead of my own to have my children marry non-jews its would be the ultimate betrayal!!

Anonymous said...

i just have to laugh at the way jews get so bent
out of shape about who to marry...wouldn´t it
be more productive to first find out if you can
get along - regardless of their ethnicity?

i smell deep ethnocentrism on this board.

arielle said...

Reading over these comments, i see a bunch of peopel who don't understand what it is like to grow up in an orthodox family and then intermarry. I found this blog when i was tryign to google people going through the same situation as me...I grew up orthodox, have been an atheist all my life (i remember in 1st grade moving my lips during davening so i could pretend to pray, because I didn't believe in it). I "came out" as non orthodox when I started college and moved out of my parents house...now I am 25, seriously dating another atheist, who was raised catholic. All those people who say that if you are happy your parents will be happy, etc, that's just not true. My parents talk over me when i mention anything having to do with my boyfriend, use every excuse to give me a musser speach, and have flat out told me that if i marry him, they will no longer be able to talk to me. When I tell them I'm happy, they reply that I only "think" i'm happy, and that down the line i'll REALLY be miserable. Last week I attended my grandmother's funeral, and my father used around half the eulogy to talk about how he has to remember his mother by passing on jewish traditions to his children and make sure his children are jewish, etc. Now my dad is a baal tshuva, and his mom never cared who i dated...the only thing she ever asked me is if i was happy.

while it would be nice to think that parents will be happy if you are happy, the truth is that for many orthodox parents, religion is put above their children. It's sad, and hard to understand if you don't come from that background, but it can come down to a choice between your parents and the person you love- and they set it up that way to put incredible pressure on their kids to marry jewish. Meanwhile, most jewish people i have dated over the years (and it's been a LOT) do not have similar views to me on how to live your life, god, feminism, etc. When I started dating my current boyfriend on the other hand, it was like "wow, i finally understand what people are going on about when they talk about meeting 'the one'"; not only do we agree on most issues and get along great, the fact that we were both raised in very extreme religious conditions (his parents are fanatically catholic, and he was kicked out of his house for a while as a teenager because he did not want to get confirmed) brings us even closer together.

lisitsa said...

I'm starting out with this issue now that I've turned 20. I'm truly aetheist and don't even think I'd appreciate a jewish wedding. The songs and lighting candles is fine, but some old rabbi thanking god for our unity, I'd be on the verge of killing somebody.

The stumbling block is my mum. She has made friends at the synagogue and has taken a turn for the irrational probably to follow along with her friends. She goes every Saturday to shule.

I have told her I don't believe in God and a few months ago I tested the waters by saying that I might not neccessarily marry Jewish. EXPLOSION. Several days of shouting and crying bla bla. Overall, it wasn't a horrible outburst by my mums standards.

Anyway, so I've had some experience but only with Jewish girls and it didn't last long. These days, my preferences would be a lot sharper. I'm an avid bike commuter. Most of the Jewish girls in Melbourne are avid car drivers. Anyway I could blabber about this problem all day.

Its just a shame my parents aren't more accepting.

BlackEyedP said...

Even though I am not Orthodox, nor Jewish, I wanted to say I can imagine the pressure you must feel - not wanting to dissapoint your parents and all but ultimately, it is you who will have to live alone or live a lie with your partner. If all goes as planned, your parents will surely pass before you and what would you be left with then? I'd say to follow your heart and not look for anyone too specific. Let it happen naturally with the woman of your choice, regardless of religion. Afterall, as an athiest myself....I feel the only belief I hold fast to is that the reason why we are here in this life is to love and be loved. It is mans greatest gift. Dont regret seeking it.

bishulakum said...

Obviously you shouldn't marry someone to make your parents because you have to live with that person not your parents. I don't think you should sacrifice your happiness just to avoid offending your parents sensibilities anymore than Galileo tried to protect the church from their ignorance about a heliocentric universe. I think it's time for your parents sensibilities to change and for them to get over their pretext for xenophobic and racist beliefs. While some right wing orthodox are open about their racist beliefs (ovadia yosef) other more liberal Jews prefer to hid behind a religious pretext. All or almost all religions believe that they are chosen and special and orthodox jewish law goes to great lengths to ensure jews stay separate from other religions. However, for orthodox Jews of eastern European descent this has become a defacto rather than dejour (by law) tendency to stay white and Jewish. Think kosher, no drinking wine with non Jews, even kosher food that has been cooked by a non Jew in Jewish utensils is considered non kosher if a Jew didn't light the fire or stir the pot. Think about all the disparaging Yiddish terms for non Jews. Think about the how the biblical story of the sons of Ham were used by Abrahamic religions to justify racism and black slavery. But let's go one step further and unravel this onion. I guess everyone wants to feel special or superior in the same way that people want to believe in a super natural god vs just a natural god because natural is well just nothing special. I think it's time for orthodox Jews to come to terms with the fact that we all are essentially the same from a DNA perspective and no amount of class system or caste system laws are going to change that.
Think of Eddie Murphy in the movie trading places.
Orthodox Jews have a not in my back yard approach to non Jews that allows for selective acceptance of nonjews but just not in the family. When you think of the definition of xenophobia it reminds me of the orthodox Jewish world. They only eat with each other in kosher restaurants, attend the same summer camps, schools, shuls and Passover programs. Orthodox jewish life is like the Truman show or ground hogs day with each day repeating itself in
a carefully double bubble wrapped (because one is just not enough) and sealed container. It's a life of one flavor, vanilla everyday for ever. As bob marley would say emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds. I think he must have read Freud.