Bintel Brief: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Keeping the Faith in Dating
Dear Rabbi Boteach,
Our family is… I guess we’re a little bit of everything — from Reform to Orthodox. I grew up without any affiliation and sent my own kids to a Chabad school. The trick is I’m married to a gentile, who lives more Jewishly than anyone else in my family. Our two oldest children (15 and 18) are fighting with me about wanting to date non-Jews. My husband supports the rule that they can only date within the faith, but my sister, father and others think I’m being unfair. We sent our kids to Jewish day schools until high school (none available) and feel it’s very important that they keep the faith. How do I make them understand, and not seem like a hypocrite? How do I tame the teens and still maintain the rules?
DO AS I SAY…
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach replies:
Your desire to have your kids date within the faith is highly proper and commendable. Not just for the continuity of the Jewish people, but for their own sake, as they embark upon the journey of searching for love and intimacy.
A couple finds success in a relationship not by having the same background and not by stemming from similar origins but by having similar values and similar goals. In other words, what’s important for the flourishing of a relationship is not to start at the same place, but to be headed in the same direction. When a man and a woman are of dissimilar faiths, it makes it that much more difficult to end up in the same destination. You are extremely fortunate that you married a non-Jewish man who essentially embraces Jewish values and wishes his kids to have a Jewish identity. This is not always the case. Often, a non-Jewish spouse can understandably feel that if the kids are raised exclusively Jewish, he or she will be left out. Your husband, who does not feel this way, is clearly an extremely secure man. But it would be rolling the dice once again if your kids were to pursue the same path.
What I would counsel is this: Talk to your kids. Be extremely open. Tell them why you made the decision you did, how you understood its perils, and how you were extremely lucky in finding a man who was not threatened by the children being raised in a faith of which he is not a part. But tell them that this is an anomaly, that marriage is extremely rewarding but also extremely challenging, and it would be a mistake to add so serious a complication like marrying someone outside the faith. Speak to them also of the importance of Jewish identity and survival. Share with them how much the Jewish people have enriched the world, from giving the world G-d and divine law, to giving the world a passion for knowledge, ethics, morality and the value of human life. The torch now passes to them. If their own identities will be weak, then the Jewish nation will be weak. Make them understand that they are a vital link in an eternal chain of existence. Listen to their responses. Allow yourself to be challenged by them. The more they discuss the issue, the better, even if they don’t immediately agree.
Get your husband in on the conversations. Make sure he is an active participant. Show both your children that the two of you are united in the guidance you are giving them. Most of all, get your kids into some program of Jewish education. Get them to study with a rabbi once a week. Get them Jewish books. Take them to Israel. Go to synagogue regularly. Have them volunteer for Jewish communal activities. The more you surround them in a Jewish environment, the more they are around other Jews, the more they will feel that the Jewish community is their home. And they might even meet a nice Jewish member of the opposite sex whom they will want to date.
I wish you, your husband and your children all of G-d’s blessings.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of The Learning Channel’s “Shalom in the Home” and the author of numerous books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” “Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments” and “Judaism for Everyone.”