Relationship research — in particular that of my friend and mentor and leading relationship expert Dr. John Gottman — shows that successful partnerships depend on strong mutual communication and understanding (though not necessarily broad agreement on all subjects). This applies not only to newly-matched couples, but also to those together for decades who must continually “update” their working knowledge of one another.
In couples for whom Judaism plays a key role in their lives, building a relationship foundation may require an additional kind of intimate knowledge. Religion introduces an overarching fabric that influences morals, establishes family values, informs personal identity and intergenerational trajectory, and stands to permeate the physical, emotional and psychological — even the spiritual realm. And this is not even to mention the ways it can practically shape everyday life, from food choices to weekend activities to holiday celebrations. Indeed, spiritual connection creates momentum that pushes the relationship forward, giving it a greater sense of purpose and meaning. Taking a page from Viktor Frankl, when couples can connect on the deepest of spiritual and existential levels, the strength of their bonds will be exponentially fortified, enabling them to withstand so much more of life’s pressures.
So how can we get there? In one of the most popular and ambitious relationship articles ever published by The New York Times, Dr. Arthur Aron designed a series of 36 open-ended questions couples can ask one another to create deeper intimacy, understanding and connectedness. As both a rabbi and a therapist, I’ve crafted a set of 36 questions designed specifically for couples who are building a Jewish life together. These questions offer an opportunity to explore and build deeper intimacy by reinforcing a solid foundation for your Jewish life going forward, together.
So when you’re ready, grab your partner and a seat in a comfortable and relaxed environment (perhaps over drinks or coffee), put your phones away, try to maintain eye contact, and take turns asking one another these 36 questions with great curiosity.
- If you could meet anyone from Jewish history, who would it be and why?
- What are your most and least favorite Jewish foods?
- What is one of your earliest Jewish memories?
- Think about your favorite Hebrew name. Why is it special to you?
- What was the last Jewish book you read? Describe something you gained from it.
- What does keeping kosher mean to you?
- What is prayer to you? When do you pray?
- What Jewish memberships or affiliations are important to you?
- Would you rather enjoy the holidays together in a more intimate setting, or amid a large family gathering and why?
- Describe the last time you felt truly inspired at synagogue.
- When you are ill, how do you wish to be cared for?
- Do you view physical intimacy as a spiritual experience? Explain.
- How important is charitable giving to you? How do you decide how much to give to tzedakah (charity)?
- If you won the lottery, what causes would you strongly support?
- What Jewish holiday means the most to you? Why?
- If a friend was going through a crisis, how would you respond and why?
- What makes a mensch? Describe 5 qualities.
- If a friend needed a kidney, would you consider donating? Why or Why not?
- What does Israel mean to you?
- Describe something you love about Shabbat.
- How do you engage in tikkun olam, or repairing the world?
- In what ways has a grandparent or great-grandparent influenced your identity?
- Did you have a Jewish education (Hebrew school/bar or bat mitzvah, Jewish summer camps/synagogue youth group/etc.)? What are your memories of that education? If you did not have a Jewish education, share something about your religious upbringing or your first encounter with Judaism.
- Have you ever personally experienced or observed anti-Semitism? How did it feel and in what way did it impact you?
- Can you think of a time that you were struggling with something, where you turned to a rabbi (or wanted to) to seek guidance?
- How have your parents’ religious identities influenced your own?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your parents? Is “honor your parents” an absolute, or is it flexible?
Your Future Together
- Describe a couple with a marriage you would like to emulate and talk about why.
- What is a dream that you hope to one day achieve with your partner?
- Is having children important to you? Why or why not?
- If children can learn one single lesson from Jewish tradition, what should it be?
- How should Jewish children be taught about tolerance for those who live a different lifestyle?
- How much or little formal Jewish education would you want for your children? What would you want them to take from that education?
- Can you describe your own dream for how your adult children would turn out?
- What is the most important thing from your own background or upbringing that you want to bring to this relationship?
- After you are gone, what are three things you hope people will say about you at the Shiva house?