To date or not to date?
As a young Jewish man, I have often wrestled with the dilemma that dating poses: that is, do I confine myself only to Jews? In my view, the question it comes down to is one of priorities. Which is more important, an uninterrupted or unimpeded relationship, or my obligation (desire?) to raise my kids Jewish? Are they mutually exclusive?
Theoretically, and in my ideal world, they wouldn’t be. But in actuality it’s a lot more complicated. In my hometown, for instance, there are a lot of families with one Jewish parent, usually the father. I have many close friends like this. And almost universally, they are completely non-religious. I don’t say this in any sort of condescending, not-Jewish-enough-for-me kind of way. What I mean is that they as a family have no interest in being Jewish. Now that is obviously their own personal choice, and as such I have no intention of criticizing it, but I fully intend to have a Jewish family. Here’s the issue: how many of those people did too? How many went into that relationship convinced that they could do it, convinced that their spouse would be interested, engaged, capable, and that they would have Jewish kids if not a Jewish family (i.e. their mom wasn’t really a part of it)? The answer is that I don’t know.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that none of these men went into the marriage with the intent of having a Jewish family, as I do. Again, a personal choice. But I doubt that’s as universal as the lack of that concept’s actual instances in the real world. It’s definitely food for thought.
Thus, there is an issue of whether I can even do it if I try. But I suppose the more basic question is, should I try in the first place? Is it moral for me to insist to whoever I marry that my religion take precedence? Is it okay for me to be the influence? Is it Jewish? Obviously “mainstream” Jewish teaching is in favor of the maintenance of the heritage. But that same teaching frowns on intermarriage, and, in my opinion is, as a philosophy at large, responsible for the seclusion Jews have often held themselves to. It’s true that Jews have been historically discriminated against in many respects, but there has definitely been an element of deliberate self-seclusion, perhaps in response to that discrimination.
But the modernized Jewish philosophy that I tend to associate with in most cases, the same one that says that a two-state solution is better than a “pure” Jewish homeland, and that gay marriage is acceptable in a synagogue, tells me that I need to keep my religion out of other people’s way. That they have as much a right to theirs as I do to mine. That all religions are created equal. So do I have a basis for almost arbitrarily imposing my religion on my future family within Judaism? I could certainly mix-and-match between Jewish schools of thought, borrowing from more orthodox viewpoints (maintenance of the bloodline at all costs) to allow for my raising my kids Jewish, and still maintaining an attitude of general tolerance. Nope. That seems completely immoral and subversive to me; using orthodoxy to enforce the spreading of progressivism, in a sense. I need a progressive basis for raising a Jewish family with a not-born-Jewish wife. Or I need to prove that none exists, and drop the idea entirely.
I guess I could say that it depends on the person I marry. If that person is up for becoming Jewish and raising Jewish kids, then we’re all set. Otherwise, I can say goodbye to having a Jewish family.
Do I want to leave it up to chance? Or what might as well be chance, because I’m not really going to screen who I date by how likely I think they’d be to want to convert at some unspecified point in the future. That’s just too much to ask. Picture meeting someone in high school or college (I’m there now!), and telling them you can only date them if they’d convert if you got married. That’s almost a more difficult criteria than “I won’t date you if you’re not Jewish”. At least not being Jewish is an immediate disqualifier – I’m not asking someone to look ten, twenty years into their future, and decide if they will a) still be with me, b) want to marry me, and c) want to convert at that point. You can’t start a relationship by looking at how you want it to end.
But no more can you ignore its end. I don’t like the idea of starting a relationship with the intention of ending it, in any case, whether it’s because you don’t really want to stay with the person, or because you don’t think they’ll convert. Either of those is just manipulative.
This is as of now an unresolved issue I’m thinking about. I certainly haven’t confined myself to dating only Jews in the past, and I don’t think I will in the future. I see intermarriage and intermingling as beneficial to any group; being insular is ultimately weakening. So I suppose that, because of my desire to have a Jewish family, I’m looking for a way to ensure it within the moral bounds I’ve set for myself (equality, etc.); a fail-safe. I haven’t yet found it. I think I can do it, but I don’t want to step on anyone along the way.
Ultimately, this is the struggle of being a modernized Jew; how do you maintain the practice of a religion while simultaneously subscribing to ideas of universal religious equality? They’re not mutually exclusive by any means, but you can’t just sit back and expect them to coexist. You have to self-define and expand your boundaries constantly.
To me, that’s the most Jewish practice of all.
Cross-posted to my blog.