I’m a big fan of reading about other’s interfaith marriage experiences. Here’s the truth: what I write on here, what anyone tells you about their experiences, your interfaith experience is your own.
Interfaith relationships involve dealing with people and family dynamics. It means waiting out as the worlds of religion change. It’s why my experience has been vastly different than two of my friends.
Which leads me to a piece I read by Paul Golin on Forward. His question is: Is your opposition to intermarriage about fearing the other?
Which is interesting, because it isn’t something you think of. Opposition to interfaith marriage can be closer than you think. I know my in-laws love me. I also know they worried about us as an interfaith couple. Their feeling stemmed from the usual point: survival of the Jewish people and Jewish identity. I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes feel that they would have rather had another Jewish daughter-in-law.
My in-laws have never said it was bad. But this piece is the first time I’ve heard someone say interfaith marriage is good.
Growing up Catholic, they didn’t say interfaith marriage was bad. They certainly told us that the sacrament of marriage was for two Catholics. I thought it better not to ask when I knew the stances of the church. It drives a wedge in between you and your childhood faith. As Golin wrote:
“When Jews come back to the rabbis who bar or bat mitzvahed them requesting wedding officiation and are turned away because of their non-Jewish partner, no matter how kindly the rejection, it makes a statement on behalf of the Jewish community: the desire to marry this person is wrong and the Jewish spouse is less deserving because of it.”
One thing that tends to go missing in a lot of interfaith writing, and I’m guilty of it too, is forgetting that it’s a rejection of partnership. I felt rejected by my childhood religion, not because of me, but because of J. I felt like my past was never going to mesh with my future. Marrying a person isn’t an affirmation or rejection of faith. Though it may feel that way, it simply is not. Choosing J doesn’t mean I chose Judaism. Choosing me doesn’t mean J rejected Judaism. It means we chose each other, nothing more, nothing less.
Part of Paul Golin’s argument that interfaith marriage is good comes from a 2013 Pew Study which showed more Jews in America in part because so many interfaith households were raising their children with Judaism, it was expanding the number of Jews.
There’s a thought that people who marry non-Jews do so because they don’t have a strong Jewish identity, they’re not proud to be Jewish. I’ll tell you that J doesn’t have a strong connection to organized faith, but I’ll never say that man isn’t proud to be Jewish. He’ll tell people he is Jewish, he goes to Jewish events and he is unquestionably proud to be Jewish. He is unquestionably proud to have married outside of Judaism.
From this, Golin writes “Interfaith dating and intermarriage are a rejection of tribalism and xenophobia, and should be celebrated as such.”
Now, I’m not sure if I totally believe that. I can tell you without doubt, that my marriage isn’t based on a rejection of tribalism or xenophobia. Just as it is not a rejection of Judaism. But in a way, underneath it all, J did reject the idea that to ensure the survival of the Jewish people he had to marry a Jew. I’m sure there are others who actively sought out a non-Jewish partner for that reason, but I think a majority of interfaith relations happen because life happens and love is weird. No doubt tribalism exists, it can be hard to avoid in such a close-knit community. I also don’t think that tribalism ends because of a relationship. The tribal politics can be difficult to
No doubt tribalism exists, it can be hard to avoid in such a close-knit community. I also don’t think that tribalism ends because of a relationship. The tribal politics can be difficult to understand for an outsider, and since life extends beyond marriage, I wouldn’t call interfaith relationships and outright rejection. I don’t think you’d ever find people willing to admit that tribalism is a flaw. But we’re finding more people willing to open the doors and in that way, I’m ok.
At its core, hearing that interfaith marriage is good feels good. Maybe in the coming years, we’ll see more acceptance for interfaith marriage. Until then, those of us in interfaith marriages will continue building our own communities and helping to teach and encourage communities we’re in that there are more benefits to acceptance than exclusion.