Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Now that my husband and I are the parents of two teenagers, a nineteen-year-old girl and a fourteen-year-old boy, we have to discuss the "facts of life" with them once again.
No, I'm not talking about the "birds and the bees." We took care of that many years ago. But these "facts"--equally important and sensitive--are more emotionally laden. I'm talking about interfaith dating.
This could be a controversial topic in our house because my husband and I interdated and, in fact, intermarried. However, I converted to Judaism within a year of our marriage and ten years before our first child was born.
Now I am the parent discussing interfaith dating with my children. Because the topic reflects my opinions and beliefs, I anticipate that my kids will feel obligated, on first hearing, to reject them on principle, if nothing else. But my broader concern is about the survival of the Jewish people. The intermarriage rate in 1990 was 52 percent and is expected to be higher in the 2000 National Jewish Population Study. Another new study, recently commissioned by the American Jewish Committee, found that half of American Jews surveyed believe that it is "racist" to oppose intermarriage! In addition, more than half of those interviewed would not be "pained" if their child married a non-Jew. Only 12 percent stated that they would "strongly disapprove" of an intermarriage, while another 30 percent said that they would be "disappointed" by such a union. What was extremely significant is that 70 percent of the respondents disagreed that the non-Jewish spouse should be encouraged to convert. Other studies have shown that only 25 percent of the children of intermarriages are raised as Jews. Overwhelming numbers are raised in both religions, as Christian or with no religion at all. Thus, interdating leading to possible intermarriage is becoming a matter of Jewish survival and continuity.
We never ignored the subject of interfaith dating and have discussed it at different stages of our children's lives. At one time, I spoke more broadly, primarily telling my children that I hoped that they would marry a Jewish partner. But I gave the standard addendum that they should marry someone they love.
As I have matured and developed spiritually, I have become a pararabbinic fellow and an outreach professional. This personal and professional transformation has shaped and clarified my views. Love is not enough to build a strong relationship that will last, Dr. Sol Gordon, the noted sex educator, succinctly writes in his book Why Love Is Not Enough. Marriage is a difficult proposition, as the greater than 50 percent divorce rate attests. Love is not enough to overcome even a small share of the difficulties that will be encountered. There has to be something more durable. I believe that shared vision and common values, which a Jewish-Jewish marriage helps to provide, are essential in order to build a solid foundation for marriage and family life. This is certainly not a popular view, as evidenced by the AJC study, but to advise any less would abdicate my responsibility to the Jewish community.
My views are based on the reality that I confront as the outreach chair and co-instructor in my temple's Introduction to Judaism class. Each year in these classes I encounter adults whose parents intermarried. They were raised with either two religions or no religion. They are confused in their identity and are spiritually seeking values with which to anchor their lives. They come to the synagogue hoping that Judaism will give them the stability and identity for which they yearn.
Unlike these confused people who come to my classes, from their infancy my children have been immersed in as rich a Jewish environment as I could provide. Shabbat (the Sabbath) and holidays have been part of their daily lives, as have been Jewish prayers, values, stories, and music. Why shouldn't I offer my guidance about dating and selecting a life partner? This is a natural extension of all that I have been doing over the years.
Because I feel that it is so important, for them and the larger Jewish community, I have advised and encouraged both my children to date Jewishly. This advice is combined with facilitating their participation in activities where they can meet other Jewish young people. Will they listen to me or will they dismiss me, as teens and young adults so often do? Ultimately, each will choose his and her own path. I really don't know what the future holds for each of them, but I will deal with whatever it brings. However, that is not a justification for ignoring my dual responsibilities as a Jewish parent and an outreach professional today.