It happened to me again last week. A friend was complaining that a girl had said she wouldn’t date him because he wasn’t Jewish and it left a bitter taste in his mouth. He jokes about Judaism being part of a cult, rather than a culture, and we spoke about how it is the only religion that does not actively recruit people to join. It is a difficult conversation and I would be interested to hear comments and thoughts from people on both side of the conversation below.
When I was 23 I dated a non-Jewish boy and what started out as a light-hearted relationship soon developed into much more. I began spending Friday nights at a local rabbi’s, understanding and questioning what my religion meant to me and what would be acceptable for me. We do not face a battle like the Spanish Inquisition, or the Second World War, it seems for our generation in the diaspora, we face a different difficulty. Keeping our faith while immersing ourselves into a non-religious society.
For me, I know that I want to raise a Jewish family, wanting my child to have the same wonderful traditions and values that I had enjoyed. This is true for people other than Jews. When I brought this up with my friend, he agreed that it made sense, as my non-Jewish boyfriend had when we were together. Although they both felt the child should have a choice. Herein lies the problem… A baby cannot decide whether to be circumcised and without it he is not Jewish. This is the first difficulty that people may face if marrying “out”.
Not all Jews that want to “keep it in the family” are fully practicing and this is a criticism I have heard several times. Judaism is not just a religion; it is a culture (insert cult joke). Yes, Jews are often hypocritical, we pick and choose what fits into our modern lifestyle, but that is what is wonderful about watching it evolve. Judaism is adapting to modern life and the failure of extremists in various religions to do this is the cause of some of the world’s greatest problems right now. This is not an all or nothing game.
An important consideration here for non-Jews is whether they would be happy raising Jewish children. Often, it is easy for people, including my friend, to forget that they too may want their child to be raised as they were. This friend was Catholic. Values of religion often overlap: importance of family, charity and giving. However our histories, significant festivals and laws differ. Does this mean that your child will have to adhere to both sets of laws, celebrate both festivals and connect with both histories? If so, is that such a terrible thing? How would you feel as an adult if your child were to reject your religion, or feel like they didn’t belong anywhere?
Sadly, with the recent situation in Gaza, this ex-boyfriend of mine followed the masses and posted terrible things about Israel, didn’t research the history and never took the time to ask for another viewpoint apart from the one portrayed by biased media. I wonder what would have happened had we still been dating as we had talked many times about visiting Israel together.
I am not saying that everyone should keep to their own and I think one of the beautiful things about the world that we live in is the exposure to different cultures and religions that are, for the large part, accepted. What I will say is do not place the blame with Jews; It works both ways. If you do not want your child to be Jewish then perhaps that Jewish girl who said ‘no’ has saved you your time and energy by being upfront in the first place.