The Ultimate Question
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The Ultimate Question
Rebbetzin Feige

The Ultimate Question

"I'm a Catholic dating a Jewish man who I believe is my soul mate. Why is this an issue for people in his community?"

by

A reader writes:

I am currently dating a Jewish man and I'm a Catholic. At first we just realized we had a lot in common and his being Jewish wasn't an issue. We're finding out now that it matters to the people in his community. My friends and family are very happy for me but his friends and co-workers aren't quite as happy. Why is this an issue?

I'm finding out and appreciating his religion and I respect it. His beliefs are very strong and I'm finding out why. Each day he e-mails me something that he feels I would find interesting. Everyday is an awakening.

So my question is: Is this a problem? He's very prominent in the Jewish community and I don't want to cause him any troubles. How do we handle this? He's such a wonderful man and we care about each other deeply so I want to make this easy for him, not hard.

I'm not writing this so you can tell me I should move on and forget about him because that just isn't possible. I have found my soul mate and just want to embrace the people that he cares for. I just don't know how to do that.

Rebbetzin Feige responds:

The Midrash observes that a house that is filled with straw over time will betray that it does not house gold and silver (Midrash Raba, Numbers, 18:17). The straw will begin to jut out here and there. Coming together in marriage requires many normal and routine adjustments. Some of these are: gender differences, coming from different families of origin, having different modes of responding and coping, etc. etc. When these tremors in marriage occur, a conflict as great as differences in religious commitment is an event wherein the straw in the house becomes visible; where the individuals might seriously come to question whether the decision to overlook so serious an issue was in fact well advised.

An important point of information is that Judaism, in contrast to other religions, does not feel compelled to “save” or seek converts to its faith. This position is based on the Torah teaching that righteous people of all faiths can access their place in eternity if they live a good life. They do not have to be Jewish to do so. They travel their road while Jews have their very distinct path to get them to their destination.

There are many choices we are compelled to make in our lifetime. Some can almost be categorized as preferences. Those do not carry with them terribly grave consequences (i.e. what will the color scheme at the next wedding be or will we serve sherbet or nut torte, etc.). While even these decisions do have to be made, the long-term effect will be no more than hours or days at most. In judging the significance of a pending choice, we need to be mindful of the following principle: there is a proportionate relationship between the choice we make and the duration of its impact. The following anecdote might be helpful.

Karen was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. In an effort to get the best treatment possible, she thoroughly researched all her resources, physicians, business associates, friends, and also combed the Internet for the latest advances in the field. She narrowed her options to three specialists and made an appointment to meet with them. After painstakingly analyzing her three encounters, she made her decision. When her family and friends questioned her about the determining factor of her decision, she announced that in the end her selection was based on the pleasing décor of the given doctor's office.

Choosing a religion because it happens to be the religion of the person we are attracted to is like choosing a physician in a life and death situation based on the décor of his office.

The choice of a spouse, while one of the most important decisions in life, is still penultimate to the ultimate decision about our metaphysics. By definition, metaphysics refers to a relationship that is eternal, that stretches beyond the here and now, that exists beyond time and space, and that is not limited to corporeal and material confines. It is a relationship that is everlasting, not subject to death or decay. The God we choose to serve, in the context of the religion that is our legacy or that we have chosen to embrace, is the ultimate decision in life. As awkward an analogy as it might be, to choose a religion because it happens to be the religion of the person we are attracted to, is like making the misguided decision of what physician to use in a life and death situation based on the décor of his office.

I would advise you, dear reader, that the issue of religion needs to be resolved independent of any other agendas. It is the most personal and far-reaching choice you will ever make. God will be with you in times and places that no mortal can ever be. If Judiasm appeals to you, I would urge you to take time off from this relationship and pursue a course of study, avail yourself of knowledge of the history and legacy of the Jewish people, the laws and traditions that both circumscribe and hallow our lives.

A real commitment would entail a willingness to change and ultimately to dedicate yourself totally to this way of life.

To marry a man and expect to practice his religion, for his sake, in order to accommodate the relationship is the gravest of mistakes. Religion, the relationship with your Creator, ought to be your primary concern, hewn and chiseled out of your innermost essential self. It must resonate with your very soul. It dare not be distorted or biased by penultimate ambitions, even one as important as the selection of a spouse.

Published: June 22, 2002


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Visitor Comments: 13

(13) Holly, March 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Beware of conversion for husband

Rebbetzin Feige Twerski has done a wonderful job of summarizing some of the pitfalls of an "inter-faith" marriage.

I am married to a man, who had a prior marriage to a non-Jew, who later converted during the marriage. As soon as the marriage began to dissolve, the first thing to fly out of the window was the mother's observances in Orthodoxy. This I can understand, as Orthodoxy is a hard path - and I myself am a convert.

What breaks my heart is the issues the children from the prior marriage face. Not only are they struggling with divorce and issues surrounding it, but also with Orthodoxy and Judaism in general.

We love his children deeply, and understand how difficult this may be - but I would caution anyone who thinks they want to convert "for their soul mate", that it is a path of pain for themselves, their spouse and any children involved.

Sometimes, it's also difficult for the inlaws to get along due to these issues. And the children of the marriage, again, will be caught in the middle between two worlds, two sides and two religions.

Kol tov,

Holly

(12) Anonymous, July 24, 2002 12:00 AM

believe question must be asked of a posek

It's a great idea to be able to go through the conversion process without dating, and depending upon the woman's individual circumstances, I would agree with Rebbetzin Twerski in most circumstances; however, this is a question that must be asked of a posek who knows the woman's entire circumstances. A posek is someone who decides questions in Jewish law after carefully interviewing someone.

I had one friend whose conversion would not be approved by an Orthodox Beth Din until she brought a man to that Beth Din who said he wanted to marry her. Her circumstances were somewhat unique, and her circumstances are unlikely to apply. I cannot, however, fault the Beth Din given that convert's unique circumstances. The unique circumstances I do not think should be mentioned here.

A factor that might or might not be considered is how close the woman is to approaching the end of her child bearing years and whether the man has yet to fulfill the commandment of being fruitful and multiplying.

What I have observed, however, is that the rabbis of a Beth Din are more likely to convert someone promptly if they are engaged to be married to someone who is Jewish than if they are not. It's strange and contradictory, but it is a consistent practice among Orthodox Batay Dinim. The better conversion is always the one that is done for in the name of heaven, but as a practical matter no one is permitted to inquire into the legitimacy of a conversion as a matter of chit chat. Certainly the rabbi who performs the wedding is permitted as will rabbis who perform weddings for the next three generations.

One of the benefits of taking one's time with a conversion is taking the time to learn not to be over disclosing about one's conversion and the circumstances surrounding it because there are just too many people who are tempted to engage in idle chit chat.

A conservative conversion is not the same as an orthodox conversion, and the woman with the question does not indicate whether she is interested in conservative or Orthodox Judaism, which would certainly be a factor to consider.

Under Orthodox Jewish standards, if a man is married to someone who converted via Conservative Judaism and not all three of the rabbis were fully Sabbath observant, then the parties cannot be married according to Orthodox standards and the man cannot fulfill the commandment of being fruitful and multiplying with such a conservative convert.

(11) Yakov Spil, July 3, 2002 12:00 AM

The Rebetzin was right...

The gentleman that suggested the couple may still meet while she pursues an authentic course of Jewish study to convert according to Jewish law, is well meaning and understandable.

In actuality,the Halacha requires a pursuit unemcumbered by other motivations. If it was not, the conversion may be rejected on this basis alone. That is why the Rebetzin included this line.

The reason is that Judaism, the authentic version, requires a person to recognize the truth of it for themselves. We know that being in a relationship, as exciting as it is, tends to dull the senses, so to speak. We do not think clearly. This may not be a result of passion. It is just the nature of it.

The pursuit of finding one's essence, as the Rebetzin put it so beautifully, should be one that is honest, dedicated, and most importantly, made with a clear mind to discover the truth of Torah. If this is truly the path she should choose, then it should be one where she arrives at the truth on her own without any external pressures.

The lives of her future husband, children, and future generations, but most importantly her own, demand no less.

I have been very touched by all of the letters written on this very very difficult subject.

(10) Catherine Aikin, June 26, 2002 12:00 AM

Catholic Opinion :)

Hi. I am Catholic, but have been doing some research about Judaism, and even attending a Torah Study at the Hillel where I go to school. Some of the students there recommended aish.com, and I have been reading articles on this site ever since. This article was particularly interesting to me...

First, I would like to point out that I agree with most of what the Rebbetzin said here. However, I would like to add something. In the Catholic/Christian faith, if this woman is TRULY a Christian, and does not simply "identify" as Christian because she was baptized Catholic (in which case she would not actually be considered Catholic by the Church enough to have a wedding mass...) then she would really have an obligation to at least attempt to convert her husband. Christians are really not supposed to marry non-Christians. We consider marriage to be a Sacrament (an outward sign of God's grace). Since it is a Sacrament, the entire purpose of marriage is to be an image of Christ and the Church. If the person a Christian is married to is not Christian also, than the purpose of marriage within Christian doctrine is defeated. An obligation of a person who is Catholic and is married is to have their children baptized Catholic. I am assuming that most Jewish men would not want their children to be baptized Christians. So again, a mixed marriage presents problems.

I hope I haven't offended anyone by posting this here. I just thought some of you might be interested in the Christian perspective. :)

(9) Gayle, June 25, 2002 12:00 AM

Questions for Dvorah (a.k.a. anonymous)

Dvorah (who wrote "a quick note to Rebbetzin Twerski regarding this article"),

Your story really hit home with me. There are many similarities in my background (including working in a large church), and I am now at the beginning of the process of an Orthodox conversion. It is so helpful for me to speak with women who have already travelled this path. I will be in Illinois next month and would love to talk with you at that time (or at least by e-mail) if you are willing. Please e-mail me at radfordlane@msn.com if this is a possibility.

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