Interfaith Relationships

What happens when people of different faiths fall in love? I'm finding out, because it's happened to me. My girlfriend and I are very much in love and thinking about marriage and children. One of us was raised Jewish, and, while not very religious, hopes to raise these theoretical children in a Jewish home. The other of us was raised Catholic, is spiritually connected to that faith, and does not want to convert to Judaism.

There are many issues facing couples in interfaith relationships, including family acceptance and how to navigate family concerns, holidays, and traditions. If the relationship is a serious one, these questions include what type of wedding ceremony to have (church, mosque, or synagogue?), how will the children be raised, what traditions to continue, and which, if any, symbols from each faith (such as a cross or a menorah) are displayed at home.

Christmas Tree or Menorah? "Interfaith relationships do work, but they require a great deal of sensitivity, respect and honesty--qualities required by all relationships, but perhaps more so by interfaith ones" says Ronnie Friedland, managing editor of InterfaithFamily.com, a webzine that explores Jewish perspectives on interfaith issues. "Our philosophy is that it is best to choose one religion for the children, although the other parent's religion should also be honored," she adds.

"If religion is not an important factor in the spiritual, educational, social, psychological and emotional sphere's of one's life, then there may not be a religion-related issue for the couple," says Mel Roth, executive director of Jewish Family Services in Orange County, CA and the director of a support group for interfaith couples. "Problems can develop, however, if religion is important in these spheres of life for either or both of the partners. My recommendation is that partners in couples examine this very closely, especially if they are considering a long-term relationship. Love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship unless it is reinforced by shared values with respect to how we live our lives," he adds.

Tough Questions The most important ingredients for success in interfaith relationships are communication, respect, and understanding. For starters, both partners should devote some time to learning about the other's faith and beliefs. The following issues are important for interfaith couples to consider. Once these issues have been identified, the couple can work together to find solutions.

  • How will your family react to your interfaith relationship, and can you accept their reaction?
  • Will one partner convert to the other's faith? Will he or she observe the other's faith and participate in its holidays, traditions, and symbolism?
  • How will children be raised? Will they have dual religions?
  • Which holidays will be celebrated?

As one half of an interfaith couple, I expect to encounter obstacles along the way, but overall, I feel optimistic. By demonstrating a willingness to learn about each other's faiths, my partner and I will teach our children the importance of respecting others in spite of their differences. This lesson is a cornerstone of most religions, no matter what holidays you celebrate.