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I understand that Judaism does not permit inter-marriage, and also that some people do it anyway, particularly if the Jew in the marriage is not religious. What problems can arise for the people in such a marriage? (Assume the Jew is not religious.)

How are such couples treated by the Jewish community? And what would be the effect on the children of such a marriage? (I know that if the mother is Jewish the child is too, regardless of who the father is.)

PS - I'm asking these questions very humbly and hope I don't start any debate/flame war/ etc.

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This is probably not what you are looking for, but this book explains the incompatibilites pretty well. –  Michoel Oct 19 '12 at 3:17
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Also, Askmoses has a bunch of questions on the topic. (And I thought I should write, in case you didn't notice, that answers from this site are not foolproof; see FAQ) –  b a Oct 19 '12 at 3:50
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makerofthings7, welcome to Mi Yodeya! I do believe your sincerity in asking this question. However, I question if this is really in scope or constructive. Jewish tradition does not endorse intermarriage and as such does not discuss ways of "reaching common spiritual ground", so I question to what extent answers will be "supported by facts, references etc.". Additionally, your question "What incompatibilities should I be prepared for?" would seem to be out of scope because we are experts in Judaism, not in other beliefs and can't be expected to comment about them (cf. our meta post about... –  Double AA Oct 19 '12 at 4:59
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Thanks for the revisions @MonicaCellio, looks fine to me –  makerofthings7 Oct 19 '12 at 16:38
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You should also ask this on christianity.se –  Shredder Oct 19 '12 at 21:56

3 Answers 3

How intermarried couples are treated by the Jewish community:

Traditionally, each intermarriage is seen as a grave tragedy, because even if the children are technically Jewish, they are unlikely to have a strong Jewish identity and will probably intermarry themselves. A Jew who marries a Christian is likely to have grandchildren or great-grandchildren who are mainly Christian (or at least non-Jewish). This is very painful for many with a connection to Judaism, because Jews have maintained their faith through thousands of years of exile and persecutions (the worst of which were perpetrated by Christians).

However, the practical answer to your question depends on what Jewish community you are referring to. The Jewish community is made up of a number of different groups. For unaffiliated, unreligious Jews, intermarriage is pretty normal. So they would probably not treat you differently. If you tried to convert them to Christianity, this would be different, as even secular Jews would not take kindly to that.

For Reform or Reconstructionist Jews, intermarriage may be discouraged in general but in practice is common. Synagogues and other religious groups affiliated with these denominations have been trying to reach out to intermarried couples to encourage them to be involved in the Jewish community in some way (to attend services, send their children to Jewish schools (whether or not they are Jewish under Jewish law), attend community Jewish events, etc.

For this reason, these denominations probably treat intermarried couples as they would anyone else, even if the non-Jewish spouse has no intention of converting. (In these denomination, the conversion to Judaism of a non-Jew already married to a Jew is common, and is usually not a particularly difficult or lengthy process. However, such conversions would not be accepted by Orthodox Jews (or many Conservative Jews), because they are not done in accordance with Jewish law.)

Under Conservative Judaism, while intermarriage is forbidden, if an intermarried couple were to start attending a Conservative synagogue, they would probably be welcome (even if the non-Jew may not formally be able to become a member), because synagogues in general are in need of more members and do not want to discourage anyone. Conversion to Judaism of a non-Jew already married to a Jew is also fairly common in Conservative Judaism, though the process tends to take longer and has more requirements in terms of knowledge and observance (and would not be accepted by Orthodox Jews).

Orthodox Judaism forbids intermarriage, and it is rarer than in other denominations. While intermarriage is considered a sin, and a very consequential one due to the fact that the children will either be non-Jewish or will probably not identify as Jews, I'm not sure if that would mean Orthodox Jews would actually treat such couples poorly on a personal level. In practice, it is fairly common for a non-Jew already married to a Jew to convert Orthodox. Even so, this is a long process that requires becoming completely observant, and can cause marital difficulties if one spouse is less interested than the other.

Within Orthodoxy, Chabad is a chassidic movement focused on outreach to non-Orthodox Jews. Their goal is to encourage the fulfillment of mitzvos (commandments) by all Jews, and every mitzvah is considered precious. For this reason, they are very accepting of everyone and do not pressure anyone to become completely observant. It does often happen that an intermarried family (or the Jews in the family) will at least occasionally attend Chabad events or services (without fear of being mistreated or ostracized).

Effects on the children:

Will the children be raised as Christian, Jewish, both, or neither? Regardless, having parents of different religions can be a source of difficulty for the child, who may feel unsure about his or her identity, and may feel guilty for choosing one of the religions (as if it would mean rejecting the other parent). It also may lead to marital conflicts on the subject of how to raise the children, which can affect the children as well.

In terms of Jewish law, there is at least one effect having a non-Jewish father could have on the children. If you have a daughter, she would not be able to marry a kohen. (However, under the law if she marries one anyway they are not required to divorce). This would only be relevant if the daughter decides to become Orthodox (as the other Jewish groups have abandoned the rules relating to kohen marriages). In that case, it would restrict somewhat her dating/marriage options.

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when you understand that marriage is a re-union and not a union you will understand that this will not actually be a marriage at all. When G-d created Adam originally he created him "male and female" split them in two and then commanded them to become married to become one again. Thus marriage is the reuniting of both body and soul. The Jew and the non Jew are fundamentally different at the soul level. This incompatibility results in a relationship of sorts but not an actual marriage. While this is not an easy pill to swallow as it involves a highly emotional subject both the christian and the jew should seek out partners they are better suited for. As far as treatment goes it depends on the context mostly and there could be a number of reactions but are all based on the individuals level of politeness. One area that is significant to point out would be religious participation. A non-jew has no requirements in the Jewish faith as far as commandments (except 7 universal laws applied to everyone) and so that person would be excluded from leading in synagogue activities not for any personal dislike but because they aren't jewish much in the same way a non christian would not receive communion

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Can you explain better how you got from Adam to Jews and gentiles having different types of souls that specifically affect suitability for marriage? (Do you have a source, maybe?) I agree that marriages crossing this line are bad; I'm trying to understand your reasoning, which cites a precedent that long predates the Jew-gentile distinction. Thanks. –  Monica Cellio May 28 at 16:08
    
I got from Adam and Chava the original idea of marriage. Marriage is the re-union of both body and neshamah. husband and wife become basar echad. Furthermore, while I am not sitting with the specific sources in front of me it is well known and established that Jews are different. We have neshamah's which are not compatible with others for the purpose of marriage. In order for a marriage to actually be a marriage there must be a re-union and not merely a union. This re-union is a huge part of what sanctifies a marriage as sacred. –  Dude Jun 2 at 14:23

A few things to consider:

  1. People's attitudes toward religion can change over a lifetime. She's not religious now; that could change, especially when children arrive on the scene. You're currently ok with marrying someone not of your religion; what happens if you find yourself becoming more evangelical in the future? (I'm not trying to assume or offend; I'm just raising possibilities. My own religious observance was rather different 20 years ago from today.)

  2. How religious are her, and your, parents? Especially when there are grandkids, that can get tricky.

  3. If she decides to become more involved in the Jewish community later (more likely with kids -- do you see a theme?), the reaction to your marriage will depend a great deal on the particular community. Your children will always be Jewish so no worries there, but in many communities she will be seen as a sinning Jew. This doesn't mean people would be outright rude to her, but it could be socially awkward.

  4. Even secular Jews often end up wanting their kids to go to Hebrew school and/or religious school, if not for the religion than for the cultural connection. This will put her, and you if you want, into contact with the community.

  5. Since the kids are Jewish, even if not in an observant home, you'd be handicapping them later if you don't give them a Jewish education. But your own religion may cause you to have different feelings on that.

I realize this must sound pretty negative. You asked about possible pitfalls and I'm trying to address that in a general manner, not knowing anything about you in particular. If this is a practical matter for you, then the two of you should, together, seek spiritual counsel from representatives of both of your traditions.

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