Dating at Different Levels of Observance
I have met a man who is religiously observant. I grew up Reform and am now trying to learn more about being observant. This man and I have amazing chemistry. He appreciates that I am taking classes to learn more, and am willing to advance slowly in terms of observance. I told him that I do not intend to become Orthodox, but will move at my own comfortable pace and see where that leads.
In a short time we have become very close and share a tremendous mutual admiration. I am worried that I am not going to end up in the same place as he in terms of religion. I do not want to be blinded by any feelings I may have for him. Yes, the common denominator is that we are both Jews. But am I potentially in over my head, or can a relationship like this have a chance of success?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Yes and no. (Don't you love these stereotypical Jewish answers?)
My initial thoughts are that I would imagine such a relationship would prove to be problematic in the long run.
Marriage is quite a challenge even when both parties have the same spiritual guidelines. Having to do things that you do not believe are necessary just because one spouse believes that it is the right thing to do can put a strain on the relationship.
Raising children would be very complicated and a source of strain on the relationship. How can one parent ask the kids not to watch TV on Shabbat (for example) when the other parent is watching TV?! I can just hear the other partner saying, "Leave them alone dear, so what if they enjoy themselves on Shabbat."
Children raised in homes where the parents do not share the same beliefs are going to be confused no matter how careful you are in raising them. And I think it will only lead to resentment on both sides.
The starting point for every couple should be comparable values and goals. That doesn't mean that the two of you see eye-to-eye on everything, but that the qualities in life that you feel are important, and your aspirations for the future, are compatible.
Having said all that, if you do decide to go forward, then in my estimation there are a few preconditions for success:
First, there needs to be an underlying agreement on the priority of continual spiritual growth. You need to have an agreement that neither of you will hold the other back from pursuing spiritual goals and levels. This is because at the end of the day, squelching one's spiritual yearnings is impossible, and it will inevitably lead to bitter resentment. In other words, there has to be an agreement that the family unit will focus on the transcendental goal of getting closer to God.
If that factor is present, there can be eventual convergence between you. And if that is lacking, then there will be an eventual divergence. This could be even if the so-called "weaker" partner has the stronger identification with that goal. People are not static and we can only judge by the direction they are pointed in.
Secondly, there has to be an agreement on a modus vivendi. How will you, as a couple, resolve those areas of conflict that affect the two of you together. You may want to have an independent level of kashrut for yourself; but what will you keep in the fridge and serve at family times?
How will you resolve differences regarding the laws of family purity which affects the two of you together? Are you both willing to abstain from physical relations for about two weeks a month without resentment?
And of course the most vexing question of all: How will you raise the children? Educators agree that effective parenting requires that the two parents present a "united front" before the children. There has to be an agreement of underlying principles as to what the family structure will look like. How will you resolve it if one parent permits something and the other does not?
I've given you much to think about. Yes, it's great that you've met a nice Jewish man. And yes, if he has most of the personal qualities that are important to you, has strong religious commitment, views Judaism as an ongoing process, and has a desire to grow in Torah over the course of time (as opposed to remaining at his current level for the rest of his life), there is a potential for things to work out. But as you said in your letter, it is important to be realistic and not be seduced by the emotional feelings.
May you be blessed with clarity.