click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Dating maze #285 - Tribal Identity
Dating Advice 285

Dating maze #285 - Tribal Identity

She has little attachment to her Jewish roots. Is this a deal-breaker?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am a man with a strong sense of Jewish identity, who has been dating a Jewish woman. We've been having a nice time and she has many wonderful qualities. But I'm concerned about the fact that her father is not Jewish, and she has very little sense of what it means to be Jewish.

Although I am not observant, my Jewish background includes four Yiddish-speaking grandparents, 10 years of Jewish summer camps, some knowledge of Hebrew, a connection to Israel (including relatives there), and a circle of friends who are all Jewish. The woman I'm dating doesn't have any of these.

I want to raise my children Jewish, and she's agreeable to that. But I'm concerned about her lack of Jewish background, and that she doesn't identify Judaism as a major theme in her life. Plus, if we marry, our children will be three-quarters Jewish.

What do you think? Is there a basis for a relationship leading to marriage?


Dear Alex,

The situation you describe isn't as uncommon as you might think. We often hear from people who define themselves as secular Jews who have a strong sense of being Jewish, and who wonder if it will be possible to envision a future with another person who is Jewish by birth but has no feelings or connection to their heritage.

The answer is that it won't be easy. One of the first foundations of a strong marriage is compatible values and goals. Your Jewish heritage is very important to you, and you state a desire to raise your children as Jews. Even though the woman you are dating doesn't object to this goal, the fact that she doesn't feel one way or the other about it will eventually become an issue should you decide to marry. You won't share a basic value on which you hope to build your married life.

As time goes on, it can become a serious bone of contention. You may find yourself missing her support and input about setting an underlying Jewish atmosphere in your home, how you will celebrate Jewish holidays and lifecycle events, and how to educate your children Jewishly. All this will likely affect the choices your children will make about their own spiritual philosophy and choice of dating partners. These differences can become a source of continual frustration.

In addition, there's something else to consider. Most adults become more spiritual as they leave their early twenties, and many secular Jews find themselves wanting to incorporate Jewish traditions and practices into their lives as they get older and as their families start to grow. (See Doron Kornbluth, Why Marry Jewish - Surprising Reasons for Jews to Marry Jews, Targum Press). Since you already have strong Jewish feelings, it's likely that in time, these will continue to grow and intensify. Someone who doesn't have a similar basic orientation may resent the direction in which you are moving, or may want to move in a different direction herself, and this can become a bone of contention.

This doesn't mean that the relationship cannot work. We know of many instances where someone who was raised with little Jewish knowledge or interest decided -- because Judaism was very important to the person they were dating and cared about -- to start learning about their background. Their interest was piqued, and they continued to learn more and to incorporate Judaism into their life.

But this is not something you can count on. You can't go into a courtship expecting, "Maybe I'll change her," and you can't be disappointed if she doesn't express any interest in learning about Judaism. It's preferable to choose dating partners who seem to have similar values to your own.

In this case, however, since you've already begun to date someone who has most of the qualities you are looking for, but doesn't have that Jewish connection, we suggest exploring this area with her during one of your earlier dates. You can explain how much you value your heritage and how important it is that your wife be open to learning about her heritage and growing Jewishly.

See where the conversation goes. If she expresses an interest in learning more, either because it is important to you or because it's something she's curious about, you can suggest a few potential resources and then take things one step at a time. But if she rejects the idea, you have to respect the fact that this is where she is at this point in life, and understand that by pursuing a courtship you are inviting frustration and resentment.

•  Our first suggestion is to recommend that she take some Judaism classes. Every major city today offers dynamic Jewish adult education; check the Aish Directory for a location near you.

•  Especially for someone with little Jewish background, we recommend the one-day Discovery Seminar. This provides an excellent framework and overview of the entire gamut of Jewish history and philosophy -- and it answers the question, "Why Be Jewish?"

•  You could suggest that she read one of the books from the "Essential Jewish Library." You could even buy her a book as a gift.

•  For online learning, try Rabbi Ken Spiro's "Crash Course in Jewish History," a 60-part series that weaves in many key themes of Jewish life.

On one hand, it's best if you engage in the learning together with her, to encourage her and to see how you relate to these topics together. On the other hand, it's important to remember that she shouldn't be doing it "just for you." After the chuppah, and over time, her enthusiasm could wane if it wasn't truly self-generated. Of course, a person's interest in Judaism could wax and wane for a whole variety of reasons; but a couple should always try to do what they can to minimize the possibility of "growing apart."

Finally, we want to address your concern that if the two of you marry, your children will be "three-quarters" Jewish. That is not correct. According to Jewish law, these children will be fully Jewish. It seems to us that your real issue isn't about percentages, but rather a worry that her father's background will play a role in her overall spiritual direction in life, and that of the children you hope to have. That is a valid concern, because she may feel a connection to the holidays and traditions that her father and his family celebrate as non-Jews, particularly since she doesn't feel a connection to Judaism. She has, in a sense, a built-in pull away from Jewish tradition, and this could easily become a source of conflict in your marriage.

On the other hand, she may not identify with any particular religious heritage. And it could be that if she learns about Judaism, she will embrace it. From your standpoint, the main thing is to explore this issue carefully -- and soon.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry


June 13, 2009

Submit Your Dating Advice Question (Click here)

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Anonymous, September 1, 2009 1:00 PM

I think you miss a vital issue

I know a woman who dated a secular Jew. She wanted to become observant. When she learnt Torah she insisted that the home become fully observant. B'H! Now several years later they are an amazing and observant couple! Her husband learns daily, and his life is so different. Not because he had the ingrediets, but because she wanted it. I converted some years back, and several men called with an interest in marriage. One casually mentioned that he could overlook the fact that I am so observant - since his mom said converts tend to be observant.....and said he was wiling to "overlook" my observance provided he could have just one pan in the kitchen to have his bacon each morning! The point you miss is that it is MORE about someone who wants to *learn and do* than someone who has all the right credentials to start off with! And that is what you missed.

(13) Steve, August 13, 2009 4:32 PM

It can work, but its a gamble

There are some things to be aware of: - you can't assume she will be interested in learning about Judaism - if the man in this situation is non-observant and not interested in greater observance then why would the discovery seminar be of interest to either of them ? - if you've explored the various Jewish singles resources you may have seen what I've seen, that there aren't really alot of options out there. jdate has many problems, and Aish serves mostly the 20-something age group. Why not find a shiksa ? as far as the survival of the Jewish people, isn't it better for the survival of the Jewish people to convert shiksa's ?

(12) Esther, July 1, 2009 9:58 PM

Be very clear about these issues before marriage!

I suggest being extremely open about these issues. I wasn't at all in my marriage to a non Jew and let me tell us, it is very true that conflict arises at every turn if you are not both on the same page on this issue. Take it from someone who has been there, gone through that and don't set yourself up for unhappiness. If it is important to you to lead a Jewish life with future children, I'd tread very carefully in this area. Much luck to you and make her be clear about her intentions on this issue.

(11) Enigma, June 21, 2009 4:20 PM

Anything is posible with good will

Shalom Alacheim Alex, I have been married to something you would call an inter cultural marriage. It is the hardest i would say, but commitment on both parties are essential. What I sense from you is that you believe that she might not be good enough I quote "Plus, if we marry, our children will be three-quarters Jewish. " Is there such thing? If we continue to think like that constantly trying to be "pure" our thinking might not be to far from some extreme attitude. Remember Ruth and how wonderful she was and she was a convert. Judaism is about faith and also about comportment decorum of doing the right things. My suggestion is that you bring up the issue with her but think first about the 3/4 part. There are many who had to convert because of the Holocaust and many died because some did not considered them 'good enough'. Tolerance.. acceptance... understanding ..patience.. good will... ... sharing of ideas are I think some key elements to a relationship .

(10) Anonymous, June 19, 2009 1:49 AM

To Drag or Be Dragged (To Shul)

I know a happily married couple, areligious wife/non-religious husband, who found a way to accommadate each other in their observance. (Too early to tell if the kids observance turned out to their satisfaction.) The woman usually refines the man. I don't know if it would work as well if the man tries to refine the woman.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment