Is Interfaith Dating a Simple Issue for Jewish Teens?

By Emma Stein



This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens, with the title “Interfaith dating,” Reprinted by permission.

July 23, 2009

For me, it seems like such a simple issue, because personally it’s not an issue at all. Although I was raised in a Conservative household, my parents have always been extremely accepting about dating. Sure, they still toss around jokes about dating non-Jews, but I know they’d accept whomever I brought home at the end of the day.

young couple on a dateThis has probably a lot to do with my family’s background. My family has always had a very liberal attitude toward interfaith dating. My uncle, for instance, is married to a Hindu woman, and one of my aunts is married to a Christian man. Of course, though, they run into their own set of issues being married to someone from another background. At my cousin’s bat mitzvah, for instance, her family blended the Indian customs of my aunt with the Jewish customs of my uncle. This compromise, however, seemed to really work for them.

But I know that not everyone can do this. While most of my Jewish friends seem OK with the idea of dating a non-Jew, they seem to think there’s a difference between dating and marriage. I understand this and sometimes find myself agreeing. It would be so much easier to raise children and start a family with someone who shared your own cultural traditions, many of your same values and beliefs. If we were both committed to our religions, what holidays would we celebrate? Would our children go to Hebrew school?

My friend Jaclyn Markowitz knows firsthand the difficulties of being raised in an interfaith household. “In an interfaith family, you just go through the holidays and everything, but a lot of times the kids don’t understand,” she says. “It’s just about the holidays, rather than the religion itself. It puts the kid in a weird position. Sometimes you feel guilty or believe in one faith more than the other.”

Typically, though, with teenage dating, these aren’t issues my friends and I have to deal with. For now, dating isn’t about marriage, and issues around dating someone of a different religion center predominantly around parents’ reactions, in addition to personal beliefs. While some parents are extremely accepting, some parents aren’t. These attitudes toward dating can manifest themselves in various ways, from awkward comments to simmering anger to outright prohibition. I have friends who are downright afraid to date someone outside their faith for fear of what their parents might do. Others will date behind their parents’ backs or simply tolerate whatever comments and anger their parents care to dish out.

One of my friends, who asked to not be named, had to deal with just that when she chose to bring a non-Jew to prom with her. While she and her date were just friends, her parents still commented upon the situation. “My mother has made various awkward comments about it, mostly in reference to how my father would react, but I think it would have been more extreme if we were actually dating,” she says of the experience. Interfaith dating continues to be an issue in my friend’s family, but certain religions and races cause more of a stir than others.

Another friend, who also asked not to be named, shared similar concerns about her parents. “If I were to bring home a person of another faith, my parents would be outraged because they believe in carrying on our religion and traditional values,” she says. “They wouldn’t support my relationship and would encourage me to break up with him. Because of my parents, I wouldn’t date someone outside of my faith. They’ve instilled their morals in me.”

Although she wouldn’t think of dating someone who wasn’t Jewish, her parents still remain fixated on the religion of her dates. “A guy asked me to prom, and when I told my parents, the first thing out of my dad’s mouth was, ‘Is he Jewish?’ And I said, ‘Dad, I’m not marrying him; it’s just prom.’ But he was Jewish, so it was OK anyway.”

This attitude, while not prevalent in most households today, still exists in the Jewish community. Although it’s hard to say whether or not a conservative attitude toward interfaith dating is justified, there certainly are issues in dating outside of one’s own faith. However, if, like my aunt and uncle, special attention is made to synthesizing cultural traditions and religious beliefs, interfaith dating and ultimately marriage can be successfully accomplished within a Jewish household.

About Emma Stein

Emma Stein is a senior at Newark Academy. She serves as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine, in addition to being on the editorial staff of the student newspaper. Emma also works on the editorial board of the Jewish literary magazine Nu. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing and art.