My Son is Marrying a non-Jewish Girl

February 1st, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments

Question:

 Rabbi Lapin, you are my rabbi for many years – I listen and recommend to all my friends your CDs, I read books and listen to podcasts, sometime more then one time… I always find something new, and most importantly you always manage to lift my spirits. I’m so grateful for having your presence in my life! 

I’m Jewish, but coming from the Soviet Union, I’m not a religious Jew. I have always believed in G-d, since I remember myself, but my relationship with G-d is a personal one rather than formally religious. I’m very happily married for 35 years to a Jewish man. I remember that I have never even considered marrying someone outside of my “tribe”, so to speak… But my sister is married for almost 40 years to a wonderful Russian man, who I love dearly.

Now my son has brought home a girl, who I happen to like a lot. Everyone in our family loves her; I think she is good for my son, but she is Russian, not Jewish and it bothers me.

You always managed to solve my dilemmas – what can you recommend in this case? How do I make my peace with my son marrying this girl?

Lyudmila R.

Answer: 

Dear Lyudmila,

Thank you so much for bringing our work to the attention of your friends.  We appreciate that.

We’d like to start by giving some background information to our readers. When you say, ‘Russian’ you are not referring to anyone Jewish who is from Russia.  There are, of course, thousands of Russian Jews. We assume the ‘Russian’ of which you speak is most likely not connected to any religion at all or possibly from a Christian Russian Orthodox background.

Despite being brought up in an atheistic country, you have a relationship with God. That is wonderful, but it is largely disconnected from your Jewish roots. 

Imagine it was important for someone’s child to be a serious tennis player. That person would take her child to tennis lessons, she would allow her child to see her socialize with others who take tennis seriously.  Right? Growing up, that child would never have any doubt about his mother’s commitment to tennis.  But if mom seldom moved tennis out of her inner heart into day to day actions, there is no reason to expect the child to know of mom’s feelings and certainly little reason to expect him to act on them.  Our children know us by our actions not by our feelings.

For some reason, perhaps a reason you don’t even fully understand yourself, it troubles you that your son wants to marry out of the Jewish faith. You may even know that Judaism passes down through the mother so your grandchildren will not be born as Jews. 

Our dear Lyudmila, we wish that every Jew had educated access to their precious heritage. That wasn’t true for either you or your son. You gave him no reason to want to marry a Jewish girl. Despite recognizing that your inherited line to the Jewish people will end, we don’t see an alternative to lovingly welcoming this girl to your family. You can’t turn to your son now and demand that he place his religion above his emotions of love when he has no knowledge or experience of that religion.

Having said that, there is still much you can do. You have a relationship with God – use it. Turn to Him and ask Him to expose your son and his fiancée to the importance of faith. Implore Him to open their eyes to His truths. Who knows? Perhaps this wonderful girl will be the path that brings your son into knowledge of his traditions. Maybe you too will begin to value traditional religion and just as importantly, religious affiliation with a faith family. This will do much to bring such understanding into your children’s home. 

Do what you can in the present; the future may surprise you,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

23 comments

Joseph DeSTefano says:

Rabbi Lapin,

What a fabulous reply. Btw, how did you like Pres Trump having a Rabbi reading a prayer at the inauguration along with others of different faiths? I thought it excellent. We are all in this together.

Regards,
Joe DeStefano
Palo Alto CA

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Loved the inauguration Joe,
Thanks for the comment,
Cordially
RDL

Leslie Burton says:

BH
Thank you. Although I brought Judaism into every facet of life my son has become, temporarily I hope, more of an agnostic and is now engaged to a lovely girl brought up atheist. I haven’t known what to do, especially as they want me to help with future kiddos. Have me looking for places in Redmond area so I can be closer to them… and I have been afraid if I were too close my jewishness would cause them to keep grandchildren away. Maybe there is hope…. they are happy with me being kosher and they adapt… maybe in the future it will work out. From your mouth to G-d’s ear

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Leslie-
It’s a whole lot more than ‘bringing Judaism into every facet of life’. In order to give your child the best chance of developing and maintaining a connection with God through Judaism, you’d have had to ensure that he received a Torah education from the earliest years of childhood. You’d have had to regulate his childhood socializing and you’d have had to normalize things like kosher food and Shabbat observance. None of this is easy of course and life offers no guarantees but without it there is little chance. Yet, things can change. However, we’d recommend you carefully examine the subtle and perhaps unintended messages you are sending. For instance, you say, “I’ve been afraid that my Jewishness would cause them to keep g’children away.” The message you are loudly and clearly sending is that your Jewishness is not as important to you as having g’children around. Even though we don’t believe that is really the choice (g’mother babysitters are not that easy to come by) it is nonetheless the message you are sending. Being strong and having firm convictions is surprisingly attractive and appealing.
We hope all works out for genuine family togetherness
Cordially
RDL

Eclipse says:

Please don’t “give” the kid that “Torah education” and don’t try to control his/her socializing. For many kids, that environment is the equivalent of prison. Do you want them in school until 6 o’clock at night every day? Do you want to prevent them from having friendships because they might bond with someone not in your religious group? Do you have any idea how many adults have PTSD because this life was forced on them as kids?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Eclipse
It always fascinates us to see how much of their lives and personalities our correspondents reveal in even short comments.
Take your’s for instance. You probably had strongly negative recollections of having been sent to Hebrew school as a child. Takes a while to grow out of these emotional shackles, doesn’t it. You’re obviously not religious as you trivialize the importance of peer groups. Finally, you again trivialize the serious disorders suffered by warriors who have endured the horrors of battle by calling what you experienced in Hebrew school, post traumatic stress disorder. Lastly you utterly overlook any possibility of others having enjoyed their Hebrew school experiences. Hoping you get over these interesting conditions.
Cordially
RDL

michael salvador says:

Sir,

good day!

This is the first time I heard a minister of God to say a very kind set of words;

“You have a relationship with God – use it. Turn to Him and ask Him to expose your son and his fiancée to the importance of faith. Implore Him to open their eyes to His truths. Who knows? Perhaps this wonderful girl will be the path that brings your son into knowledge of his traditions. Maybe you too will begin to value traditional religion and just as importantly, religious affiliation with a faith family. This will do much to bring such understanding into your children’s home.”

Most of the ministers I’ve heard will say to a believer “Do not equally yoke with an unbeliever”

or they will quote you Deu. 7: 2 to 7: 4

…2and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3″Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4″For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.…

Any way sir, I am having hard time with your thinking and the way our church teach us. I love the way you say it; very comforting with me but I cannot grasp How would God help the person to realize to his will based on what you’ve said if in the first place it has already violated with his commandment “do not equally yoke with an unbeliever or do not intermarry with people who has different faith with you.

I hope you could shed light on my question.

thank you sir and God bless

Mike

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mike–
you raise an interesting question. Let us explain: Our questioner’s son may be Jewish biologically but not through belief, conviction, or behavior. Thus, he and his non-Jewish girlfriend would not be “unequally yoked”. Neither of them have a relationship with God.
People sometimes write to us here saying, “My friend is a practicing religious Jew married to a Budhist” or something similar. We always politely explain that their friend may be many wonderful things but they are not a practicing religious Jew. Such people only marry someone with the same convictions. Along the lines you mention in your letter. But being Jewish is not racial, biological or tribal. It is all about a relationship with God. Thus this young couple is possibly well matched because sadly neither has a Godly relationship. If his mother keeps lines of communication open and uses every opportunity to reveal how her own relationship with God brings beauty and joy into her life, one never knows, perhaps this will in time influence the young couple.
Everything I have said is just as true for Christians. What sort of committed and believing Christian would marry someone of another faith entirely? Or someone of no faith at all? Makes no sense for an enterprise like marriage which is already challenging. I hope this helps you in understanding the approach we took above.
Cordially
RDL

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Thank you Joe–
We only respond to “Ask The Rabbi” questions when we feel guided from on High. I was naturally pleased that a rabbi was at the inauguration but sadly did not find his reading inspirational at all. Interesting that there didn’t appear to be a Muslim speaker at the inauguration. Five Christians and a Jew.
Together with you,
cordially
RDL

Margarita S. says:

True words of wisdom. We have to be real examples to our children in this life and not assume they just get it. Thank you.
Sometimes , we are not equipped ourselves as happened to Lyudmila, but it is never too late for growth. May they take your advice and flourish in their faith.
May we all take your advice and wake up.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Margarita–
We didn’t really care if our children grew up loving boating; however, since this was something we enjoyed doing regularly as a family year after year, not surprisingly they all love boating.
We did greatly care that they grew up loving God and His Torah. Since we tried to make certain that this was a lifestyle we enjoyed practicing as a family all day every day they all do love God and His Torah. Loving God and following in His ways is not an arduous burden; it is a beautiful privilege and children quickly determine just how you view it.
Thanks for writing
Cordially
RDL

Margarita S. says:

Yes. I understand the beauty of which you speak ( not like a Rabbi of course). It was only three years ago that I read the Bible and that I was able to forgive a long time hurt of 30 yrs. Glenn Beck was in part the reason I read it. However, it was not the new and improved me that raised my son. I would love it if it had been because it would have been a happier home for him and my husband. He just married and is a wonderful son, kind, intelligent and hard working. His new bride is wonderful too.

Your advice comforted me because you weren’t judgemental with her and met her where she was at. We cannot go back and have a do over but we have today. I feel very blessed to have today.

Joyce Redos says:

Dear Rabbi Daniel,
I was very touched by Lyudmila’s dilemma and your response. I don’t know if my observation from my own religiously fractured family will help anyone, but on the chance it may, I would take the liberty of sharing it here. My father was Catholic and my mom was Lutheran. When they married, she declined to convert but for the sake of peace with my Dad’s family, she stopped going to church -any church. My parents had two children, my older brother and I. when my mom decided to finish her college education, I went to live with my mother’s parents. I grew up in the Methodist Church. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother guiding me in bedtime prayers. As I grew, my grandparents saw that I attended Sunday School and Church and encouraged involvement in activities to help others in the community, etc. As a result of their nurture, God the Father and his Son and their love have been real to me my whole life. My brother stayed with my parents who are both gone now. When Mom died, we came across a handwritten statement she had made setting down what she believed and that she was a Lutheran. My brother was shocked. He never knew Mom was a Lutheran or that she had any deeply held religious beliefs. Since Mom’s passing, my brother has declared to me that he is an atheist. I grieve for my brother and pray for him daily as have my mother’s sister’s and, I assume, her brother, since he was born. I have tried talking to him many times over the years, but he has made it perfectly clear he does not want to hear it. What my family’s experience should make clear is that prayer is good and necessary, but it needs to be coupled with action over a whole life beginning from a young age. And obviously, the words of a younger sister don’t carry much weight, though hopefully watching the activity of God changing one as one seeks to walk in His ways will make a difference without words. Hope this makes sense and helps someone.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Joyce–
THough you didn’t specify, it sounds as if your older brother did not live with your grandparents as you were privileged to do. The big dividers in family are inheritance issues and religious issues (and these two often overlap).
Try maintain and perhaps even improve on your relationship with your brother by talking with him often and by meticulously avoiding God, religion, and politics. There’s still much to chat about. Family history is a big one. You can ask him how he felt impacted by this or that event in your family or this or that decision made by your mother or father. You’re hurting and this might help
Cordially
RDL

Marilyn says:

This Q & A hits a spot, does it not?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Doesn’t it just, Marilyn?
It is so interesting for Susan and me to see which of our teachings do hit a spot. We do a daily TV show as i hope you know, and there also we try to predict which shows will draw most visible response. Of course we can’t tell when a show or a Thought Tool or a Susan’s Musing stimulates deep feelings in our audience.
This one, touching on a parent’s often unexpressed hopes for children is pretty universal. And hits on many levels. Imagine how a very educated and professional parent feels when his or her child decides to quit university and become a waiter. It’s fine by me if that person wants to be a waiter. Nothing wrong with waiting tables. But it deeply bothers his parent who envisaged a son following into his world. Parenting is so hard but also the source of fulfillment so on we all go..
Cordially
RDL

bob aronson says:

Teacher we likely would not be faced with the term “progressive judaism” and a perverted vision/definition of Tikkun Olam here in the US had our parents and their parents had a relationship with the God of the Bible and been active in Torah teaching and the Commandments.

Susan Lapin says:

Bob, It is fascinating that the phrase ‘tikkun olam’ (fixing the world) is constantly thrown around by many of Jewish descent to promote left-wing ideas. They leave off the end of the phrase, “in the kingdom of God.” You can’t correct His world by rejecting His rules.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

That is probably true Bob but the disruption of moving to America from Eastern Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th did a lot of damage. Also entertainment like Fiddler on the Roof sentimentalized faith making trivializing religion and making it irrelevant for ‘modern’ folks.
Cordially
RDL

Proverbs 22: 6 “Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Aside from the traditions of any formal religious upbringing, parents can have a much bigger impact on their children by living morally clean and upright lives. Regardless of their age, it is only natural for the children to look up to their parents even though we are not always aware of it. We can always have great influence on their lives by keeping them in our prayers and by gently offering helpful suggestions that may point them in the right direction. If they are contentious and headstrong, it may be that they recognize our own resentment at their lifestyle and choices. This is something that we need to ask G-d to help us overcome. Like Joe said, “We are all connected” to each other and to G-d in a very spiritual sense. Our children will be watching us to see how real we are at living out our own faith.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mark and Laura–
thanks so much for writing. Your last sentence jumps out at us as a powerful truth.
Cordially
RDL

George says:

Rabbi please consider a spot for comments directed towards your TCT programs. This is directed towards the falling in love episode. Simply amazing! So much to grasp. You have me really desirous to actually learn to read Hebrew. You have me more convinced than ever that Hebrew IS the Lords language. How should I start? Do you have any home/personal study resources that you can recommend?
Also I now see the deeper meaning of the Gary Cooper western movie “High Noon”! Somebody was going to fall!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear George–
Great idea–we’ll try figure out how to set up a discussion forum for the TCT tv shows.
We’ll soon mention in one of our Thought Tools about ways to improve a connection with the Lord’s language. Stay tuned
Cordially
RDL

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