I have recently started becoming more religious, and have been really enjoying exploring my faith. All along, I just naturally assumed I would marry a Jewish man although I have dated other non-Jews before. I know that our different religions is an obstacle, but I want them to be one that we can overcome. To that end, when we started talking about marriage to each other, I brought up the “religion question,” but whenever I bring it up, he shuts it down or shrugs it off, saying that it doesn’t matter what religion you raise kids with, as long as you give them good morals. I’m sure he thinks that now while he isn’t married and doesn’t have kids, but his tune could change when he realizes he wants his kids to have a Christmas tree and an Easter bunny as much as I want them to have Rosh Hashana and Passover. Or maybe he thinks that he can later convince me to go his way. Or maybe he actually is OK with raising them Jewish. But I have no idea which it’ll be. And if we aren’t going to be able to come to some agreement on this matter, I would like to know that now, not five years into the relationship, or worse, five years into marriage. This issue is standing in the way of me feeling all-in in this relationship, so is there a way I can actually get him to talk about this subject? Or, am I crazy for making this something we discuss now? — Inter-faithed
You certainly aren’t crazy in thinking this is something you can discuss now, one year into a relationship in which you have started to seriously discuss marriage and children (with each other). To be honest, it wouldn’t have been crazy to discuss this subject much, much earlier on — say a month into your relationship (at least, in an abstract sort of way). I don’t know if you’re aware, but my husband, Drew, is Jewish and I’m not. I was raised Lutheran, though I don’t practice any religion at all now. I can’t say for certain, but it may have even been on our first date that Drew said he was adamant about raising his children Jewish. I respected that he put that out there so early on, so that I could choose whether to invest in a relationship with him or not, knowing that that could be a deal-breaker.
Luckily, I couldn’t care less what religion my kids are raised in (as long as they get some sort of spiritual base). Like your boyfriend, I’m much more concerned with the values and morals they’re instilled with, rather than the religious traditions they learn and practice along the way. It doesn’t hurt that I also happen to have a lot of respect for Judaism — as much as I understand it, that is — and know now, even if I didn’t know the first day I met him, that Drew will be an amazing father and my kids would be lucky, lucky, lucky to have a dad like him. The Jewish thing? It was really secondary to that.
But! I want my kids to have a Christmas tree … and visits from the Easter Bunny! In my mind, these are more cultural things than religious things, anyway. I mean, there’s no Easter Bunny in the bible. Santa is not a Christian invention. So, I told Drew way before we got married that I was fine with raising our future kids Jewish — I’ll even take some Judaism classes before then — but the deal is he’s got to be the driver in that regard — I’ll be a passenger along for the ride — and we have to incorporate some of the cultural traditions that are important to me.
So, how do you and your boyfriend come to making similar agreements that work for you? First, you need to know exactly what you want and what you’re willing to compromise on. If your boyfriend, like me, is willing to raise your kids Jewish but wants them to have a Christmas tree, are you okay with that? If not, you need to be ready with a good argument why. Once you’re certain about how you want to raise you kids, think about your wedding. Do you want a strictly Jewish wedding? This, more than raising kids, may be a more immediate concern for your boyfriend and could get him thinking about the larger picture. I’d suggest the next time you’re having one of your conversations about marriage, you come out and ask him how he’d feel about being married by a rabbi – assuming that’s what you want. If he isn’t okay with that — and he’d have to be willing, obviously, to have at least some pre-marital counseling with a rabbi — then that’s a pretty good indication he wouldn’t really be okay with raising his kids Jewish and there wouldn’t be any sense in you continuing your relationship with him.
So, start there, my dear. Start with the idea of your wedding and build from there. Keep pushing him to have these discussions. Explain to him how important they are — how serious you feel about him and how much you need to have these issues resolved before you can move to the next stage in your relationship. And if he isn’t ready to be thoughtful about these topics, it may be time for you to think about moving on. A year is a pretty long time to invest in someone who’s afraid to move forward. Having serious discussions about your future at this point is normal and if he can’t handle it now, he probably won’t be able to handle it five years from now either… Not that I’d ever advise waiting that long for some resolution.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at email@example.com.