The Real Reason Why Interfaith Marriages Fail

Of all the people who insist relationships between Jews and non-Jews are doomed to fail, those who are against inter-marriage not for religious reasons are the ones who bother me the most.

Josh Mintz / Jewish World blogger
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Josh Mintz / Jewish World blogger

Jews, as far as I can tell, tend to take one of three stances on inter-marriage.

The first is the “Silent Holocaust” approach; those who believe that inter-marriage is a religious sin and an act of “finishing Hitler's work.” Needless to say, anyone who compares the Nazis' systematic extermination of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and anyone else that picked on Hitler in school to marrying someone whose mother happened to be raised in a family that followed a different book is appalling, and deserves no attention beyond this paragraph.

Credit: Tal Cohen

The second stance is taken by those who think inter-marriage is just fine, maybe even a good thing. These people are, by and large, not particularly interested in practical reason that religion, being a social construct, should have no impact on their marriage choices, as people are free to do whatever they like (as long as they aren't hurting anyone). Some may even think that inter-marriage's role in breaking down social barriers is a good thing.

Finally, and most interestingly, are those who stand against inter-marriage not for religious reasons. These people are often non- (or minimally-) practicing Jews that rely on social, not scriptural, arguments to make their point. This argument, and its subtle racism, annoys me the most.

At least the religious fanatics are honest and easy to understand. They have no problem with pronouncing Jews “different” and preaching the kind of racial separatism that would have been at home at a Ku Klux Klan meeting in the Deep South. Both the rhetoric and action of organizations like the terrifying Yad L'Achim, with their stern anti-gentile warnings and “daring” rescues of Jewish women from their evil gentile husbands, have no place in a society of right-minded people. I value the transparency though, as I always say; I prefer my bigots in the open, so I can keep an eye on them.

I had a recent encounter with one of the social-argument-anti inter-marriage Jews recently, which, I think, illustrates this hidden racism pretty well. A non-Jewish friend of mine here in Israel (we shall call him Mr G. Rohl for our purposes) asked a Jewish friend of his to set him up with one of her, also Jewish, friends and she refused. When G. Rohl asked her why, she told him that she didn't want to be responsible for her friend “getting hurt" because she had seen too many interfaith relationships fail.

This is one of the most common, yet fallacious, arguments against inter-marriage. Even if we ignore, for a moment, that this girl assumed that G. Rohl would be more likely to hurt her friend because he's not Jewish, the idea that two people of different religions cannot have a successful relationship is preposterous.

Yes, interfaith marriages and relationships often end, this much is true. They end because people cheat on each other, have money problems, because of sexual incompatibility or because of boredom. They end for all the same reasons that same-faith relationships do. And, sure, they can also be destroyed by the religious gap between the parties.

The funny thing is that we have to assume the people engaging in the interfaith relationship aren't particularly concerned about being in an interfaith relationship. This makes it pretty likely that they don't place too high of a value on their faiths, so compromise on religious issues shouldn't be too hard to find. If that’s the case, we have to look elsewhere for the problem. Don’t worry, it's not a long journey.

Families and communities are, in my experience, the ones to blame here. The guilt, scorn, rejection and contempt that they place on interfaith couples can, and often does, easily drive them apart. When your spouse's family and friends all disapprove of you, you have some real obstacles to overcome.

Ironically enough, this means that the aforementioned girl's reluctance to set her gentile friends up with Jewish people for fear of the relationship failing is the very mechanism that so often leads to that failure. Reinforcing the social taboo created by the religious fanatics will only serve to isolate interfaith couples more from their families and communities, making a self-fulfilling prophecy of unhappiness and failure. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is no way to run a society.

Josh Mintz is completing his degree in International Relations and Middle Eastern studies and is the communications director at Friend a Soldier, an NGO that encourages dialogue with IDF soldiers.