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When Your Jewish Child is Dating a Non-Jew

April 28, 2011 1:55 pm 11 comments

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A scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye reacts harshly when his daughter intends to marry a non-Jew.

This is a tricky article for me to write, but if you will be patient with me, I’m going to give it a shot. There are two reasons I want to write this article—both of which are the reason this topic is delicate. First, my Jewish mother married a non-Jew, my father. Second, I have been dating a non-Jew for 5 years. When I speak to Jewish groups and run Jewish workshops I tip-toe around both subjects, afraid of getting challenged or seeming hypocritical, but I know that my non-Jewish father and my non-Jewish boyfriend in an odd way actually made me more Jewish.

I will address how this actually happened, and how parents going through a similar situation with their own children can encourage this positive outcome in the tips below.

1. Say your piece and leave it.

If you harp on the fact that you are upset your child is dating a non-Jew you might encourage the worst possible reaction:

“I’m going to date this person just because, you mom, don’t like them.”

Sit them down, explain why it is important to you and then leave it.

2. Help them get clear on expectations.

It is hard in a new relationship to have a talk with a non-Jewish partner about wanting to raise kids kosher. However, parents can encourage their kids to have a simple talk with their partner about what the expectation is. Does your son or daughter want them to convert? Do they want to raise kids Jewish. Having a no-pressure conversation early is extremely important and can be easier than waiting three years into the relationship. When I started dating my fiancé, I told him very simply that I wanted to raise my children Jewish. And this meant specifically (because there are lots of different levels) Shabbat dinners on Friday, Hebrew school one day a week, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and High Holidays. He knew this going into the relationship and has not been a problem since.

3. Don’t complain to your friends or family.

It is very hard when kids overhear or get it third-hand that their parents are complaining bitterly about their new romance. I know this is hard but if you are upset about your child’s significant other, try to keep it between you and very close family members and make it clear that this should not get back to your child. It will only make them more resentful towards you and closer with their partner.

4. If you don’t like them, decide why.

It is one thing to not like your child’s significant other, it is another to not like them simply because they are not Jewish. Please try to make this distinction.  My Grandma used to say that you can look at things through “cochen” (I believe the Yiddish word for poop) colored lenses. I often hear Jewish parents talk about non-Jewish potential children-in-law through poop colored glasses. Nothing they do is right, everything they do is wrong. Stop and ask yourself if you would feel any different about the person your child is dating if they were Jewish. If you still feel they would be a bad match, talk to your child about that. It is important to explain to your child that you feel they are not right besides the fact that they are not Jewish. (By the way, I feel sometimes parents overlook a bad match simply because a partner is Jewish.)

5. Are they happy?

I believe the most important thing to decide is if your child is happy. If they are happy and feel fulfilled, isn’t that the most we can ask for?

Vanessa writes many articles for her Jewish readers. Please check out the Young and Jewish Series to see her articles. You can also see her speaking engagements, workshops and groups for Jewish Parents around the world. Coming soon: How to build your teen’s Jewish Identity, How to Encourage Hebrew School Without Complaint and What to Do When Your Teen Is Dating A Non-Jew.

 

11 Comments

  • Article is a fair attempt at a touchy subject. As to some of the comments, I find Jewish ethnocentrism troubling and sickening as any other. I also pity any group foolish enough to discriminate against all logic, they tend to attract resentment at best and their own destruction at worst. Thankfully, most of the brightest and best are leaving it behind one by one. Just ask this Universalist’s brilliant Israelite paramour. : ) Enjoy your fruitless miserly ostracizing!

  • Jews are taught from childhood that our souls are superior to the souls of goyim.
    To marry a goy would denigrade our Jewish souls to the point of being like animals.
    This may sound harsh but it has kept us Jews united and strong for 3 thousand years.

    G-d has mad us the chosen and because of that our very being is greater that that of all other Goyim.
    How can a superior being ever marry an inferior Goy?

    When a Jew marries a Goy, they degrade themselves to the lower level of the Goyim.

    This is usually stressed to Jewish children from a young age.
    Unfortunately in this modern era, especially in the US, many Jewish parents neglect to teach their children on the superiority of the chosen people. So their children grow up thinking that they are on the same level as the Goyim. This is a true travesty and G-d frowns on jews who marry out.

    • resident quasigoyim

      Mr. Goldfarb, you, sir, are the reason that people like me dislike the “chosen people” aspect of the religion of Judaism. Yes, I am a Goy, a Shiksa, but also a half-breed; my father is Jewish. The idea that the Jewish People possess souls that are innately superior to Goyim is RACIST. It is both factually inaccurate and separatist and has contributed to the persecution of the Jewish People for hundreds of years. Is it okay when somebody says that Jews are innately INferior to “gentiles”? No. So why would it be okay to say that you are innately SUperior?

      It is because of the sentiments expressed in your comment that I, a nice little Jewish half-breed, in a long-term relationship with a nice, full-Jewish, boy, will never convert, will never raise my children Jewish, and cannot bring myself to embrace that half of my heritage. Any creed that considers my mother’s soul to be somehow innately less good than my father’s is no religion for me.

      Also, as they have been happily married for 25 years, their souls seem like a pretty good match to me.

    • With much pity I will address Goldbarb’s comment: I was raised Kosher, in a very strict Jewish family. It was a nightmare. Thinking (being female) was done for me, decisons done for me and so I grew up unable to think clearly or have opinions on anything. We survive the war & my family was a mess and still is. No Psychiatrist could even being to cure us.

      Fast forwards: I marry a goy who, as luck would have it, is a Ph.D, MD, brilliant doctor, a genius on computers, and the kindest man I have ever met. WE have been married now for over 30 years. We have 2 children.

      Both children take after the Dad I am certain of this and maybe some me, but both are brilliant and have been diagnosed as brilliant. Straight A’s since kindergarden, honor society, all AP classes, junior honor society, number one in all their classes with rarely opening a book. The kids just got it all. I was never like this, nor was my husband in school.

      Can I ask you Goldfarb what you feel I may have missed out on in my life other than oppression from my nightmarishly strict family? The judgements, the horrible criticisms I endured. The fact that my brother was able to speak whenever he chose and put me down but I was not really allowed to speak and even when I spoke, no one would listen. This was a form of torture SIR.

      Now my lovely, amazing children, are growing up to learn both christian and jewish relions and understand how closely related these two religions are. It makes for great understanding of each religion and appreciation. I do however miss the Jewish religion in many ways since I have lived in the country for years and rarely bump into any jews. The jews I do bump into are in hiding…..they never disclose their religion for fear someone will judge them SIR, like you are judging others.

      In closing I don’t speak to my family very much and never my brother or extended family because they are all train recks and I have had to move away from this mess to get my head screwed back on correctly but I do miss the songs, and other things about my religion. I just so wish that my relion had been kinder and gentler in my day.

      Recently I am looking for a way to come back to a synogoge in some way if possible but it may be difficult for me considering where I live. I also speak Yiddish too and miss conversing with elders in yiddish.

      I will also add here that I have a brilliant, gorgous 15 year old daughter who I would love for her to meet a nice teenage jewish boy just to talk and see if she likes Jewish boys. Does anyone had any ideas on how this can be done via internet? I will also be searching around for Teen links.

      So Goldfarb you should not throw stones it is not healthy. The world has changed a lot and we, this new generation, will still respect Yiddish traditions and Goyum as well. I do respect wanting to be amoungest eachother but a part of me sees the benefits of inclusion too. I wish I was wiser and smarter in this area but what I can say is I am one of the happiest people you will ever meet. I have amazing children and a loving, kind, brilliant, handsome husband who would lay down in front of an oncoming truck for me.

      Live is great!!!

  • Hi I’m male and I seein a Jewish female and we love each other very much and I would like to know if it was aloud and what would happen if we married and have kids we would both like to know so that we can clear the air of this matter as I’m willin to fight for her know matter what it takes please contact me as soon as possible thanks

  • We have to remember we are are a tribe from Israel. We have integrated with the white pagans, and have nourished our culture on becoming a white race because of such.

  • Vanessa, Cochen means cooking. I don’t why she’d say cooked glasses. Maybe it’s some old Yiddish idiom. Anyway, I don’t understand how you don’t understand that I couldn’t care less what kind of a person my son’s girlfriend is. Her not being Jewish AS FAR AS MARRIAGE POTENTIAL IS CONCERNED is worse than any problem she may have. If one is an authentic Jew today who was born of a Jewish mother whose mother & grandmother all the way back were Jewish then that person is a direct descendant of our Jewish patriarchs & matriarchs. The offspring of a non-Jewish woman are not Jewish and that 3,800-year unbroken chain of Jews is BROKEN if my son doesn’t later have a child with a Jewess. While I understand your opinion about how to be sensitive to how we approach our offspring about their serious relationships with non-Jews (While both are important, a male or female non-Jew, a female is more. It’s the woman in Judaism who confers the Jewish soul to her child.) I don’t think that it’s at all appropriate to compare psychological, financial, or whatever issues someone may have to the fact that they’re not Jewish. Also, since you’re doing comparisons, if she were insane their marriage may end up far too difficult to handle. Based on the background of the Jew or non-Jew, many times the differences about religion end up being the straw that breaks the back of a marriage.

    • Jose A. Linares

      Mr or Mrs FactsRule you have some reason on what you are saying but there are some exceptions. For example if a non-Jew person identifies himself or herself with the God of Abrahan, Issac and Jacob and truly love the Jews people i believe that person could walk in a manner wordy of The Lord because the Center of the Jews culture is God Himself or at least that has been the purpose of God since the beginning. Instead as Ms. Vanessa Van Petten said a non-Jew could help a Jew to be more Jew the reason o could explain it very well but nationality goes dipper than the skin. I identify my self with the Jews people and i love you my people. because i have a Jew-heart. May the Lord Shine his Face upon you and your family.

  • Jose A. Linares

    Hello, i am not Jew and i don’t know much about Jewish families except that i have been told that they are like Cuban families, like mine which is a close-knit family but i will rather married to a Cuban Lady instead i would like to know what a true Jewish lady would be like but i have not meet anyone yet. About keeping the Torah, with out ever fail in some point it’s impossible for any man, yet more difficult than that is to follow The Messiah unless you have the Holy Spirit of God Almighty. Thanks for letting me post here.

  • I think your first step is the most important . . . “say your piece and butt out,” and early in the relationship. I didn’t, and caused some wedding day unpleasantness, unintentionally, of course. Now I know better.

    • Steven Stein

      This is my view. If someone is brought up in a Jewishly observant household and Torah values are stressed consistently, there is a significantly less of a chance of the child marrying out of the faith.

      It all starts with what is stressed in the house. If Jews and Judaism are viewed primarily as an ethnic/cultural group without focusing on the centrality of the Torah, the chances of the child marrying another Jew are significantly less.

      The ultimate “glue” that holds the Jews together is the Torah. Without its centrality, history has proven that we will assimilate rapidly. Just look at every country the Jews have been in where Torah study is not encouraged, e.g. assimilationist ideas take hold. Look at the U.S. Our numbers after WWII were roughly six million, now we are under five million. Why? Ask the Jews that married out. My guess is that Torah was not so important to many of them and may not have been stressed very much. “I want my son/daughter to be a doctor or lawyer and go to Harvard”. How often have we heard something like that? Compare that with a house where Torah values are continually stressed: “I want my son/daughter to keep the mitzvot and make sure their children keep them also. Everything else is secondary.”

      I know the above quotes are black/white and I know there are gray areas. I know they are generalizations and there are always exceptions. I’m just saying how I see the trends.

      Without Torah, we are just another ethnic/cultural group. If a child isn’t taught how important Torah is, why should he/she marry a Jew? In a way it is almost counter-intuitive. It makes no ultimate sense to for one Jew to marry another unless there is a much deeper purpose for it. If Torah isn’t important, why not marry a gentile?

      Just my two cents…

      Steve

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