I am in love with a Catholic girl and we want to get married, although we aren’t yet engaged. My parents say, “no way,” but can’t provide me with a rational reason why not. Just because “so many Jews died to stay Jewish” or that “my grandmother will turn over in her grave” just doesn’t speak to me. I’ll still be a proud Jew no matter who I marry, and my kids will decide themselves what they want to be. I still would like to hear what you have to say since I promised my parents to do this due diligence, so here I am.
I appreciate your feeling that the “guilt arguments” of your parents are not sufficient motivation to bypass your feelings and leave the woman you love.
By the same token, in my experience, generally no argument under the sun will sway you from your desire once you’ve reached this point in the relationship. When one already has fallen in love, generally the only thing which may, perhaps, give one the strength to forgo the relationship is that one’s Jewish batteries are charged with many years of spiritual energy through Jewish education and observance. Your parents should have been concerned many years ago and provided you with that opportunity.
I therefore hesitate to answer your question, as it’s almost not fair to expect you to be able to detach yourself from your strong feelings and consider these ideas with clarity. However, since you asked, I will provide you with a few morsels of food for thought. I hope you will take them to heart.
For Jews, “marrying within the faith” isn’t simply a cultural preference or a prejudice; rather it is a commandment from God. “You shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son and you shall not take his daughter for your son…” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4)
This prohibition is predicated on a core Jewish understanding that we are not the same as the other nations of the world. Our lineage through the patriarchs and matriarchs, coupled with our acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, has elevated us and altered our spiritual makeup, making us different from the other nations forever.
Throughout our history, it was the profound, heartfelt and proud understanding that we are truly different, that prevented widespread intermarriage. Jews were always proud of our unique calling to be a “light unto the nations” (Isaiah 42:6), our eternal mission to inspire the rest of the world to follow God’s purpose in life.
To see what an impact we have had upon the world despite our smallness in number, illustrating just how different we are, let us study the words of two famous Gentiles as they analyze the chosen nation.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in a 1908 edition of Jewish World: “The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire and has illuminated with it the entire world. He is the religious source, spring, and fountain out of which all the rest of the peoples have drawn their beliefs and their religions. The Jew is the pioneer of liberty. The Jew is the pioneer of civilization. The Jew is the emblem of eternity.”
Mark Twain wrote in Harper’s in 1899: “If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but 1 percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.
“He has made a marvelous fight in the world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
“The Jew saw them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other nations pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
We need to take heed of Twain’s powerful words — about us. The Gentile nations have not been successful in snuffing out the Jewish flame. Only we can snuff out our own flame — through assimilation and intermarriage.
You, Rodney, are being passed the torch to continue over 3,000 years of Jewish history into the next generation. By intermarrying, with one fell swoop, you detach yourself as a link in that holy chain and sever your future generations from being part of that timeless legacy.
In Jewish law the Judaism of children depends upon their mother. Your children, if you indeed marry a Gentile woman, will not be Jewish regardless of which practices they adopt, according to the Code of Jewish Law, Even Ha’ezer 8:5. Furthermore, many studies show that when children are expected to choose between Mom’s and Dad’s traditions, many deep psychological conflicts arise, often leaving them confused. Parents often choose to raise kids in what is called an “interfaith-less” marriage — with no identity or traditions to avoid the inevitable conflicts of intermarriage. Lastly, in today’s world, a terribly high percentage of all marriages end in divorce, although none of those divorcees expected to be part of those statistics when they wed. Studies show that intermarried couples divorce at significantly higher rates, due to a number of factors.
Let it suffice to say, putting all religious and cultural considerations aside, you are putting yourself at an extremely high risk of sacrificing your own happiness, as divorce can be one of the most devastating events ever experienced in one’s life.
Rodney, we are an eternal people and the Jewish people will live on — with or without you. The chain, however, will be much weaker if it will be missing your own vital and crucial link. Please consider staying on the train, and continue to ride with us all in our trek toward the fulfillment of the eternal goals of the Jewish people. They are your family, your people, your future and your eternal destiny.