First off, thank you so much for this wonderful service that you provide. I find comfort in just knowing that someone out there is willing to listen...
I have been blessed with finding a wonderful friend and companion but we have a problem – I was raised Catholic (though non-practicing and don't consider myself a part of the church) and he is a practicing Jew. Though he doesn't go to Temple every week, he does celebrate the holidays with his family. His mother grew up in Israel and holds her traditions very close to her and has shared those traditions with her children.
Though we've grown up with different faiths, we have an amazing connection that I've never experienced with any other person before. I have the deepest respect and admiration for him and for the culture and religion that has contributed to the person that he has become.
Though we both think we're too young to discuss marriage and children (he's 26, I'm 25), we've been forced to talk about them within the context of religion. With research and careful contemplation and after confirming the support of my parents, I told him that if we were to have children, I would be willing to raise them in the Jewish tradition.
I know that this would take a lot of effort from both of us, but I would do it without feeling as though I was sacrificing one ounce of who I am. I've just begun studying Hebrew and Jewish traditions and history and I feel like every bit of learning brings me closer to him and closer to my own spirituality.
His older brother married a Catholic girl and it tore his mother apart. I would never want to put him in a position where he felt he was hurting his family, is there anything that I can do or say or learn that might make it easier for us?
My own mother brought up the idea of conversion, but I know that I would just be doing it for him and that would be disrespectful to the spirit of the religion. I'm so torn up about this. I would deeply appreciate any guidance.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Firstly, I must tell you how impressed I was by your honesty and sensitivity – especially, by what you wrote at the end about not wanting to convert just for him.
Here are my thoughts on the matter.
First of all, even though it is most gracious of you to agree to raise his children as Jews, there really wouldn't be any point in it, for the children of a non-Jewish mother, (as wonderful as you may be) are not Jewish, even if the father is Jewish. This is the law of Judaism as has been handed down to us generation to generation for thousands of years.
So there is really only one of two choices.
A sincere conversion on your part, or breaking up as difficult as that may be.
Here are my thoughts on these two options:
It is true that if you convert “just for him” it is "disrespectful for the spirit of the religion" as you so impressively put it. But perhaps, through your study of Torah, you will decide that Judaism offers the truthful answer to man's existence in this world, and you will decide to convert even if you were not dating a Jew.
However, this would entail additional challenges. Because a sincere conversion to Judaism would mean a commitment to observing all the laws of the Torah – which unfortunately your friend is probably only partially informed of, despite his admirable interest in preserving the holidays with his family.
The laws of Judaism (as found in the Torah) are very beautiful and have given those of us who preserve its commandments the ability to live wonderful lives filled with happiness truth and meaning. But they are all-encompassing, sometimes a bit difficult, and include much more than being together with family at holiday time.
There would be no point in a conversion on your part, even a sincere one, if you would then proceed to live your life together with your boyfriend as non-observant Jews. For once a sincere conversion is performed, you will be a Jew in every regard, and you will be obligated to observe the laws of true traditional Judaism.
Of course, there is always a possibility that a sincere conversion on your part would convince him of the validity of the Jewish tradition and its commandments and bring him back to a Torah-true lifestyle. Indeed, cases like have happened before.
Now for the second choice: breaking up.
With all due respect and for the very special relationship you have with this man, decisions require a conference of the mind as well.
If intellectually you understand that it is improper to marry this man, (for the reasons you mentioned, and because he would be going against his own religion by doing so, his children will not be Jewish, and it is not proper for you to be his wife given the ramifications of such a marriage), then how can you marry him?
Sure, we are able at times to bury certain ideas under the carpet, but they have ways of creeping out again, because despite our emotional side, intellectual reality is a hard thing to avoid.
Ask yourself: Will a marriage that I cannot be intellectually united with be a happy one?
Again, I admire the courage and sincerity that it took to write you letter. In Judaism, we say: Make up your mind that you want to do the correct thing and the light of G-d will shine light upon your path.
I always thought that King David was a consummate Jewish hero. But lately I've heard various people disparaging his character. What's the story?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
King David was a very pious man, as can be seen in the books of Samuel and Psalms, which he composed. He fought heroic battles, and set up the kingdom in Jerusalem. As the verse says: "David was successful in all his ways; God was with him" (1-Samuel 18:14).
David's purported sins were only apparently so. He married Batsheva after she had received a divorce from her husband, Uriah, who was sent to die in the battlefront for rebelling against the king. David was not perfect, however, and actually did wish to cohabit with Batsheva before the divorce, but he did not do so (and thus the "thought" alone is not accounted against him as a sin).
For more on this topic, see Talmud - Shabbat 56a.
I read that all the Torah's commandments "can be broken to save a life" except for three. I think I understand two of the three:
1) Idolatry - this would threaten the very fabric of Judaism and therefore cannot be allowed.
2) Murder - you cannot take one life to save another, because every human being is infinitely valuable. In the words of the Talmud, "who knows whose blood is redder?" (Though it is permitted to take a life in self-defense.)
The one that is really puzzling me is #3: Sexual immorality like incest and adultery. Why is this so serious? I'm not suggesting it is a "good" thing, but if sleeping with your brother or another man's wife would save a life... why not?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let's start with the premise that a stable family structure is the primary foundation of healthy society. Societies in which the family unit is falling apart are societies in trouble.
What is the prime cause of the breakdown of the family unit? Sexual promiscuity -- e.g. adultery causes divorce, teen pregnancy produces unwed mothers, etc.
Given that the sex drive is the strongest human drive (second only to survival itself), human nature, left undisciplined, will allow sex to dominate personal and societal life. One look at Hollywood tells us this is true.
Perhaps an even starker example is in antiquity, where society was highly sex-centered. Almost all the polytheistic religions begin with the gods engaging in sexual activity in order to create the world. Temple prostitutes, temple orgies, and fertility rites were regular features of almost all religions. In classical Greek civilization, pederasty (man-boy) was viewed as the highest form of love. As a result, Greece was a misogynist society where women were relegated to the very bottom of the social ladder and birthrates plummeted.
Such a society could not sustain itself – and ultimately decayed and crumbled.
The Torah believes that only when sexuality is channeled within the committed bond of marriage, can society hope to escape this destructive obsession with sex. Jewish law requires a person to control himself physically and focus his sexual and emotional energy on his spouse exclusively. Judaism was therefore unique in the world when it came out and forbade homosexuality, pederasty, bestiality - and held marriage as the ideal state.
It is not overstating to say that the Torah's laws changed the world and made the creation of Western civilization possible.
As a way to guard this ideal, the Torah prescribes strict deterrents, and the obligation to sacrifice one's life rather than transgress. It is only this "absolute" prohibition which can convey the absolute importance of sexual morality. And that is why there are no exceptions, for any reason at all.