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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

No Touching!

I was raised in an Orthodox home and the idea of being physical with guys was discouraged until after marriage. Now I met a guy at school and I figure that some innocent hugging would probably be all right, I don't want to lose him. What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

On a practical level, many young people who thought they were "only hugging" wound up getting much more involved than that. That is the reality of hormones. Some women get into terrible situations which they never would be willing to get into but which somehow just "happen". By setting clear boundaries between yourself and your friend, you are insuring that you never end up in an uncomfortable situation which you will regret.

Besides this, pleasurable physical contact creates a bond between people: a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bond. This can cloud one's objectivity about who the other person really is, and from there bad decisions (e.g. "Let's get married!") are often made.

The more that you are involved in physicality now, the less meaningful these acts will be with your future husband.

There is a small but powerful book called, "The Magic Touch," by Gila Manolson, which discusses this topic in-depth. See excerpts online at: http://innernet.org.il/innerSearch.php?author=10

From the standpoint of Jewish law, Maimonides (in Mishneh Torah – Laws of Marriage) cites Deuteronomy 22:13 as a scriptural prohibition against any pleasurable contact between a man and woman (other than those who are married or close relatives). (see also Leviticus 18:6) It's what God wants and we get pleasure out of doing what God wants us to do even if we don't understand it.

Additionally, since single women do not immerse in the Mikveh, having pre-marital sex would involve another scriptural prohibition as discussed in Leviticus 18:19.

If you really think this is the guy, then you should get married sooner than later. Then you won't have the problem of having to control yourselves. And also, you won't have the problem of being 3-4 years down the road and he "changes his mind" about wanting to marry you. I can't tell you how many women give of themselves (emotionally and sexually), and wait for years, only to have the guy "gets bored" and move on to someone else.

So my advice is: Don’t be afraid of losing him. If he really likes you, he’ll understand and respect your position.

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.

Questionnaire for Choosing a Spouse

I was preoccupied with earning my Ph.D. and have been out of the dating scene for a few years. Now that I'm "available," I'm wondering what are some good guidelines in searching for Mr. Right. Any ideas?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You came to the right place!

Choosing a spouse is the biggest decision of your life. There a lot of factors to consider, and unfortunately, with the divorce rate running over 50 percent, it seems that many people are not asking the right questions.

The following questions are an effective manner to think about my relationship and the potential problems. If you have not dealt with these questions openly and honestly, then you are sweeping things under the rug which will come back to haunt you later.

After all, you only want to get married once.

Motivation for Marrying this Particular Person:

1. What is my main reason or reasons for marrying this particular person?

2. Am I afraid that if I do not marry this person I will have a hard time finding someone else to marry?

3. Is my main motivation in marrying this person because of a strong feeling of physical attraction?

4. How can I be certain that my strong feelings are really love and not merely infatuation?

5. Do I have any ulterior motives for marrying this person (such as money or status)? Are these a basis for a good marriage?

6. Does my potential spouse have any ulterior motives? How can I find out for sure?

7. Am I or my potential spouse trying to get married to escape from an unhappy home life? In reality, will this marriage increase or decrease my problems?

8. Are I getting married to solve my own personal problems?

9. If yes, how certain am I that this marriage will solve those problems?

10. What role does the marriage of my friends play in my wanting to get married right now?

11. What am I gaining by marrying this particular person?

12. What am I losing out by marrying this particular person?

13. Do I think that my potential spouse might be painting an unrealistic picture of him or herself and that I might be marrying an illusion? In what ways might I be mistaken about the real personality and attitudes of this person?

14. Is it possible that my intended marriage might be a rebellion against my parents? If so, is that a good basis for a marriage?

15. Does my physical attraction for my potential spouse prevent me from being aware of problems which may cause difficulties later?

16. Do I love my potential spouse? Have I discussed with my potential spouse if we have the same definition of love?

* * *

Are We Compatible?

1. What are my five strongest traits?

2. What are my five worst faults?

3. What are my potential spouse's five strongest traits and five worst faults?

4. How can I be certain that I will be able to tolerate my potential spouse's faults?

5. How can I be certain that my potential spouse will be able to tolerate my faults?

6. Is there anything about me that annoys my potential spouse?

7. Is there anything about my potential spouse that annoys me?

8. Are there any traits or behaviors of my potential spouse that I hope to change?

9. What will I do if there will be no change?

10. What are my major goals in life?

11. What are my potential spouse's major goals in life? How do they differ from mine? Are they compatible with my goals?

12. Describe the atmosphere of my childhood home. How does this differ from the atmosphere in my potential spouse's childhood home?

13. What are some of the differences between my parents and my potential spouse's parents?

14. What are the intellectual differences between me and my potential spouse?

15. What are the emotional differences between me and my potential spouse?

16. What are the differences between my interests and the interests of my potential spouse?

* * *

Financial Compatibility

1. Have I spoken with my potential spouse about my ideas of how much money we both would like to earn and how much money we would like to spend on a regular basis?

2. What are the major differences between the financial situations of my family, and that of the family of my potential spouse?

3. How will I react if my spouse spends more money than I think is appropriate?

4. How will I react if my spouse does not earn as much money as I wish?

5. What is the barest minimum I would be able to live on?

6. Would my spouse be able to live on that amount?

7. In what ways do I financially indulge myself right now?

8. In what ways does my potential spouse indulge in excessive spending?

9. How will I react if my spouse turns out to be excessively stingy?

10. Do I think that we would agree on how much to spend on a house?

11. Do I plan to spend large sums of money on furthering my education?

12. Do I plan to spend large sums of money on vacations?

13. Do I enjoy spending large sums of money on clothing?

14. How much of my income do I plan to give to charitable organizations?

15. What arguments have I already had with my potential spouse about monetary matters?

16. What type of neighborhood did I grow up in and how does this differ from the type of neighborhood that my potential spouse grew up in?

17. Do I feel that both a husband and wife should work?

18. Who do I think should make the decisions about spending money?

19. Who does my potential spouse think should make the decisions?

20. Did my parents ever argue about financial matters and if they did, how did I react?

21. How do I feel about working overtime? How does my potential spouse feel about it?

22. If my family is wealthier than my potential spouse's family, do I think that he might be interested in me because of my money?

23. Consider in what ways my potential spouse might differ with my opinions and habits concerning financial matters.

* * *

Religious Compatibility

1. Do I believe in God? What is my definition of God?

2. Does my potential spouse believe in God? What is his or her definition of God?

3. What will I do if my potential spouse becomes more involved in his or her religion?

4. How will my potential spouse react if I become more involved in my religion?

5. Is it important for me to observe any Jewish holidays? How does my potential spouse feel about this?

6. Does my potential spouse wish to observe any of his or her non-Jewish holidays? How do I feel about this?

7. Do I want a religious ceremony for my wedding? Does my potential spouse? What differences do I have in this area?

8. Would my potential spouse wish to have any symbols of another religion in our home? If yes, how do I feel about this?

9. Do I plan to attend synagogue after we are married? How does my potential spouse feel about this?

10. Does my potential spouse plan to attend church or mosque after we are married? How do I feel about this?

11. Are there any religious practices of my potential spouse that bother me?

12. Do I have any religious practices that bother my potential spouse?

13. If I have a boy, would I want him to be circumcised? How does my potential spouse feel about this?

14. If my potential spouse is a Christian, will he or she insist on baptism? How do I feel about this?

* * *

How Much Do I Value Being Part of the Jewish People?

1. Do I consider Jewishness an important part of my identity?

2. What would my reaction be if I personally were safe, but the rest of the Jewish people were in danger of perishing?

3. If someone tried to force me to convert to another religion, how would I react?

4. Do I feel proud when I hear about the achievements of other Jews?

5. Did my parents value being Jewish?

6. Did my grandparents value being Jewish?

7. If I am marrying a non-Jewish woman, does it bother me that my children will not be considered Jewish by the vast majority of Jews?

8. Have I ever visited Israel? If so, did I feel any special connection?

9. If a non-Jew makes a derogatory remark or ethnic joke putting down Jews, do I feel angry or hurt?

10. Do I have an emotional reaction when I hear the words "Hitler" or "Nazi"?

11. If someone offered me $10,000 to remove all traces of Jewishness from my life, would I consent to the deal?

12. If I meet a stranger and he is Jewish, do I feel closer to him because of our mutual Jewishness?

13. Do I want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery?

14. If I am not willing to convert to my potential spouse's religion, how can I ask him or her to convert to my religion?

* * *

Family & Children

1. Am I planning to have children?

2. If not, am I concerned with the possibility of having unplanned children?

3. If I am planning to have children, what will I consider their religion to be?

4. What will my spouse's religion considered to be their religion?

5. Am I aware that children of mixed-religious parentage often have an identity crisis? How do I plan to deal with my children's identity crisis?

6. What will I do if my non-Jewish spouse surprises me by deciding to raise the children according to his or her religion?

7. Do I think it is fair to create confusion in my children in an area so vital as their basic identity?

8. Would I want my son to be circumcised?

9. Would I want my son to have a Bar Mitzvah daughter to have a Bat Mitzvah?

10. If my marriage dissolves or I were to die, would my potential spouse continue to raise my children as Jewish, or would s/he take them to church?

11. If I knew that there would be a tremendous identity problem for my future children, would I reconsider intermarriage?

12. How would I feel if my child would want to marry a non-Jew?

13. If my potential in-laws are vehemently against the marriage, what type of problems do I think they might cause for my marriage?

14. What would be the reaction of my potential spouse's family if he or she were to observe Jewish traditions? Would their reaction have a detrimental effect on our relationship?

15. In what subtle ways do I think my in-laws could harm my marriage?

16. Do I think that it is possible that my in-laws will make negative comments about I that will eventually cause major difficulties between I and my spouse?

17. Is it possible that in the event of minor difficulties between my spouse and I, my in-laws will try to pressure my spouse into getting a divorce?

* * *

Latent Anti-Semitism

1. Does my potential spouse dislike Jews in general, but feels that I am different than most Jews?

2. Do any close relatives or friends of the person I wish to marry dislike Jews? What do they say?

3. Have I ever heard my potential spouse make disparaging remarks about Jews?

4. Does my potential spouse ever tell any ethnic jokes making fun of Jews?

5. Does my potential spouse ever tell any ethnic jokes about other minority groups, yet refrains from anti-Jewish jokes just because I am around?

6. If my potential spouse becomes angry at a Jew, does he or she make negative comments about Jews in general?

7. Do I think my potential spouse would give a positive or a negative response if asked to complete the sentence beginning: "Jews are...”?

8. What is my potential spouse's understanding of the reasons for so much anti-Semitism throughout Jewish history?

9. What are my potential spouse's views about the Holocaust, and those who deny it?

10. Have I heard my potential spouse talk about Jews while under the influence of alcohol?

* * *

Likelihood of Divorce

1. What in my opinion are valid grounds for divorce?

2. What, in the opinion of my potential spouse, are valid grounds for divorce?

3. How many divorces are there in my family?

4. How many divorces are there in the family of my potential spouse?

5. Are there members of my family who are against my marriage and who might try to influence me to get a divorce if the going gets rough?

6. Are there members of my potential spouse's family who are against the marriage and who might try to influence my spouse to get a divorce if the going gets rough?

7. Am I aware of the higher rate of divorce amongst intermarried couples?

8. What, in my opinion, accounts for this higher rate?

9. What differences in personality between me and my potential spouse might be a cause for divorce in the future?

10. What are the five main reasons that people get divorced? How do those reasons apply to me?

11. What are the five main reasons that couples stay together even though they have disagreements? Which of those reasons will apply to me and which will not?

12. If I knew that there was a strong likelihood that I might get divorced if I married the person I are planning to marry, would I still marry him or her?

13. Did I carry out a careful investigation about my potential spouse's past history, medical situation, emotional stability, and personality traits to see if there are any factors that might make divorce likely?