Interfaith Marriage Taboo
Should Jewishly-committed single women be encouraged to marry supportive non-Jewish men?
The following article original appeared in Moment magazine. It is reprinted with permission of the author.
My wife and I have several Jewish female friends in their mid‑30s who are still single. Our Shabbat talk inevitably always turns to the people they are dating and how difficult it is to find a nice, Jewish guy with which to start a Jewish family and raise Jewish children. One unpartnered friend, a rabbi, flew to Israel for in vitro fertilization and is now pregnant. "I wish I was married by now. But since I’m getting older and haven’t found a soul‑mate yet, I’m going to start my own family," she says.
These Jewishly‑committed single women have other options, but these are not sanctioned by the Jewish community. It is time to remove the stigma prohibiting them from dating and marrying non‑Jewish men. The word "intermarriage" has been the convenient scapegoat for many of the ills in American Jewish life. Countless sermons have been wasted on this topic and its specter has launched numerous fundraising campaigns for institutions that usually have little clue about how to creatively adaptto a changing community. So many of our Jewish leaders and even major philanthropists are finding that their grandchildren are not necessarily being raised Jewishly.
But not every interfaith marriage is a threat to Jewish continuity. My wife, who is a rabbi, generally does not officiate at interfaith weddings. But when a widowed, elderly Holocaust survivor and close family friend wanted to marry another close friend, a non‑Jewish woman, she gladly agreed to participate in the ceremony. Which value is more Jewish? Holding the Jewish community’s line on not performing interfaith marriages or the happiness of this couple? If my wife were a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, even attending this wedding would be grounds for expulsion. The rabbinate, like life, is filled with gray areas. The Jewish community is very good at dealing with black and white issues like anti‑semitism, but in this case lacks the skills, courage or tradition of dialogue to deal with gray areas.
One way of adapting would be to sanction, even encourage, Jewish women in their 30s to date and marry non‑Jews. I am not suggesting that it is preferable for Jewish women to marry non‑Jewish men, although I have seen a fair share of religiously unenthusiastic Jewish men hold back their wives' spiritual quests. I do believe, however, that it is clearly preferable for single Jewish women in their mid‑30s to marry non‑Jewish men who are supportive of their spiritual journeys and who will raise halachically‑recognized Jewish children, instead of these women remaining single. Rejecting this idea suggests that the community is not concerned about the happiness and self‑fulfillment of many of its most committed members. To denounce this idea also fails to recognize an important yet largely unstudied area in Jewish life: that women, more so than men, bear the future of Jewish spiritual life.