The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Join the discussion by commenting on this post, sharing it on Facebook or following the Forward on Twitter. And keep the questions coming. You can email your quandaries, which will remain anonymous, to: email@example.com
I am about to finish my freshman year at college during which I have started date, and perhaps have even fallen in love with, a non-Jewish guy. I really don’t think I will marry this guy, but for now I am pretty into him and have no plans to break it off. The question is, do I bother telling my rather traditional parents about this? I know it will upset them. Also, he is off to South America all summer so I won’t be sneaking around or anything. —Dating Out
SCOTT PERLO: It depends. It may sound strange for a rabbi to say this, but there are times when it’s appropriate to lie, especially by omission. Most of these instances are to protect another’s feelings or to preserve peace between two parties.
More than a century ago, the shining light of Baghdadi Jewry, the rabbi known as the Ben Ish Chai, was asked to explain exactly under what circumstances the Torah permits lying, and when we must tell the truth. He refused to answer; instead, he gave the questioner a list of all the examples of lying and truth-telling in the Talmud. The message was clear: there is no hard and fast rule. Each situation requires a unique judgment call.
If you were a few years younger, I would have said that there was no question that you should tell your parents. But you are an adult, and with that comes both the ability and responsibility for determining what you will share with your folks.
For a little market research, I called my own mom and asked her what she would have wanted had I been in your position. She claims that she would have wanted to me to tell her. Now, if that’s not Monday morning quarterbacking, I don’t know what is, but the way she explained it made me take notice. She said that my grandfather always took honesty, even the hard truths, as a measure of respect. He would have been more hurt had she not been straight with him than had she acted against his wishes. She feels the same way about me.
The point is that only you know your family, and you should do what will be best for your long-term relationship with your parents.
Your question isn’t really about interfaith relationships, but there is an important interfaith question to be asked. You say you may love this man. Even should the relationship end, if you think this will be the last time you have feelings for someone who’s not Jewish, think again. How will you approach seriously dating someone who is not Jewish?
Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.
RUTH NEZMOFF: You might want to wait until after the summer to see if your romance survives the distance or like so many marathoners hits a wall. Long distance tests any relationship. Each of you will grow and change over the summer. Use this time to think about why you asked this question. Is marrying someone within your religion important to you? If so, you may decide to break it off with your beau. If not, you might want to use your reunion to talk about the future with him and to discuss what troubles you.
Certainly you don’t want to lie to your parents nor do you want to hurt them unnecessarily. On the other hand, as one moves into adulthood, one is entitled to some privacy. If your parents ask, have a discussion about your situation. Every emerging adult struggles with the tension between pleasing their parents and finding their own path. Look at this as an opportunity for self-reflection. The ensuing years will be filled with more and more decisions that are complex and ambiguous. Balancing the needs of others with our own desires goes on for a lifetime.
Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” and “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family” is a resident scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is on the Advisory Board of Interfaithfamily.com.
HALLOCK SVENSK: One of the opportunities that college affords is often the first chance to have a life that exists beyond the immediate purview of parents, to develop an existence and an identity that feels uniquely your own, and not simply what someone else wants you to be. This is an exploratory phase and sometimes the space that is carved out by what parents don’t know or a secret is what’s needed to cultivate something that feels true to you. Some plants, after all, grow best in the shade.
The other part of the college experience, however, is coming to see the way history, tradition and family continue to shape and influence you – even, and especially, in those moments when you feel you are being most truly yourself.
That you are even asking this question suggests that you are open to the possibility of being in an interfaith relationship. While it is good to let love and relationships take their course, to grow privately and publicly, it’s important to remember that the road of love is long and in interfaith relationships, the questions often become more difficult before they become simpler: the question of what to do for the holidays, for example, can quickly become a question of how best to honor the traditions that formed you or how you want to raise your own children. Even if this particular guy is not the one you marry, what’s to say the person you do want to marry will be Jewish? Creating a space for dialogue with your parents now will help avoid needless barriers when you have even more difficult decisions to make.
Hallock Svensk grew up in New England and now lives in California. His fiance is Jewish and half-Chinese. They have a dog named Ace.