Son is Dating a Non-Jew: Intermarriage Response on Ask the Rabbi
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Son is Dating a Non-Jew

We raised our children in a home that observed all the major Jewish holidays. I made our children aware of their culture and heritage. Our son was bar mitzvahed and attended Hebrew school for five years. His friends were all Jewish as he grew up, and he attended March of the Living.

He is the last Jewish male in our family, since my one and only cousin is a female and I am an only child. If he has no Jewish sons, then our family line will die. Now he has a non-Jewish girlfriend and they are getting serious. He has the support of all her friends who are not Jewish.

I have made my feelings of opposition known. My wife says that if we are not careful we will lose him as a son, and that I should go easy on my remarks and actions.

I am heartbroken. What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The best solution is to raise serious doubts that this will work long-term. Some ideas:

1) Get them to discuss the topic of Jesus. It is the most deeply-engrained cultural difference between Jews and non-Jews. There's a video put out by the Reform Movement of America, a real-life documentary depicting a series of group therapy sessions for intermarried couples, designed to help them deal with the unique issues of intermarriage.

In this video, a Jewish woman says: "Our marriage was going smoothly until the birth of our baby boy. I was thrilled and wanted to arrange for a Mohel to do the circumcision. My husband thought I was crazy! He said, 'I won't allow that bloody, barbaric cult ritual!' We're supposed to be celebrating the birth of our child – and instead we we're having a terrible fight! He finally agreed to the Bris, but said, 'I'm sure you'll understand when I take the baby to be baptized.' I was shocked. Now I'm not sure our marriage is going to survive."

The video shows these couples – none of them religious – describing how the major obstacle in their marriage is the issue of Jesus. We don't always realize it, but belief in God is an essential part of our identity. Ask your son: Do you find the idea of praying to Jesus repulsive? Do you know that in the mind of your future spouse, Jesus is the ultimate image of yearning for spiritual transcendence? It's engrained from day one – the same way that your Jewish imagery is engrained.

A film like "The Passion" provides an opportunity to raise these issues. They will probably have highly diverse reactions to the film, and the anti-Semitism elements will be very difficult for them to reconcile. On the flip side, having them visit a Holocaust museum will also likely engender very different emotional reactions.

2) The problem of future children. Many intermarried couples say: "We're going to let our children choose their own religion. When they grow up they can choose what want. That way they'll get the best of both worlds."

But the reality is that children of intermarried couples suffer an identity crisis. One set of grandparents has a Christmas Tree, the other a Chanukah menorah. It's very confusing for a young person trying to forge an identity in an already-complex world. Children need to know who they are. They need to have a solid, unambiguous identity which gives them a place in the world. They need a spiritual tradition through which to experience lifecycle events, and to have a community where they feel at home.

And if the spouse has agreed to "raise your children Jewish," think again. Brandeis University researcher Sylvia Barack Fishman discovered that fully half of the intermarried couples that are “raising their children as Jews” hold Christmas and Easter celebrations in their homes!

Psychologists report that many "dual-religion" children express a great deal of anger at their parents for putting them in the middle of an issue that the parents themselves could not resolve. When a person has to choose one religion over the other, there is always the unconscious sense of choosing one parent over another. (The fact is that 92 percent of children of intermarriage marry non-Jews, effectively detaching themselves forever from the Jewish people. That's simply the default choice in our predominantly non-Jewish society.)

But imagine if the child becomes a committed Jew or Christian. What will this child think of the Jewish parent? If he becomes a believing Christian, he'll think the Jewish parent is going to hell for denying the faith! And if he turns to Judaism, he'll regard him as a traitor for having intermarried!

And what of his own spiritual awakening? People who do not profess a belief in any particular religion often turn back to religion later in life. A Gallup Poll showed that religious commitment is lowest from age 18-39 – precisely the time when people are making decision about who to marry. I have a folder of emails from intermarried people whose lives turned to horror when they (or their spouses) turned back to religion. The issues become insurmountable.

Finally, you will need to provide a positive reason in the addition to all these negatives. Ask: When there is a terrorist attack in Israel, all Jews care. Are you willing to fight for the Jewish people? Then go find a Jewish spouse you can share this with! Your children will be Jewish and your married life will be free of liabilities. You deserve it all and you can have it all!

Once you've raised sufficient doubt, you can advise to try a separation and ask: Do you need to be married to this person to find happiness in life, or would you be better off looking for someone else to marry? Until that trial separation, he does not have clarity about the right thing to do.

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