I found myself surprised by the critical response Caroline Rothstein and Debra Nussbaum Cohen got for explaining why they feel Jews should marry Jews. Rothstein wrote about why she only dates Jewish guys and Nussbaum Cohen about why she wants her children to marry Jews.
I see no problem with the act of wanting a Jew to marry a Jew. To me this just means that they want themselves or their children to marry a partner who will be more likely to preserve a culture and lifestyle that they find comforting and nourishing. What is inherently wrong with that?
As I see it, the issue isn’t wanting yourself or your loved ones to marry a Jew, but how you react if you or they don’t. I suspect, and hope, that most of us would not do anything radical should our children marry outside the faith. We might be a little sad, a little disappointed, but this should never be cause to end or harm a relationship.
I wanted to marry a Jew. Many of my Jewish, and even Jew-ish, friends want or wanted to marry Jews. The reason lying somewhere between our affection for the Jewish people, traditions and faith and that whole “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know” thing.
In the end, some of us married Jews, some of us married non-Jews and others, like myself, married half-Jews. The religious backgrounds of our partners certainly has some influence on how Jewish our households are, but they are hardly the deciding factor. What really matters is how connected we felt to Judaism coming into the relationship, whether it fills us with a sense of community and warmth, or alienation and boredom.
From what I’ve seen, the best way to ensure one’s kids stay Jewish, no matter whom they marry, is to present them with a version of Judaism that is culturally and intellectually rich while still being open-minded and flexible. This should be an inclusive form of Judaism that, if necessary, makes room for half-Jews, ¾ Jews, and non-Jews as well as your children as their lives shift and take shape over the years.
You need to give your children something to hold onto, no matter who they marry or where life takes them. With this, your chances of having Jewish grandkids, no matter who they marry, will be much higher.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
How to Get Jewish Grandchildren