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How should we raise a child of intermarriage?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein


Library » Jewish Identity » Non-Jews | Subscribe | What is RSS?



Greetings! I am not Jewish, but came to this site because I am sure I can get answers here. I am a mom of a grown son. We are of Christian faith. My son met and fell in love with a young woman. The young woman is Jewish. Now my question: my son and this you woman have a baby girl on the way. When we first found out there was a baby in the picture I agreed that we would teach the baby about both faiths. However, now "mom" says the daughter is "JEW". What I want to know is does the woman rule the Judaism and carry the faith through the generations? How does Judaism look at the unequally yoked couple bringing a Christian/Jewish (visa-versa) baby into the world? Your help is greatly appreciated and valued - Nonna


I don't know if I should offer congratulations or sympathy, or both at the same time. There is obviously a little bit (or a lot) of both dynamics here. On the one hand your son is in love with a lovely young woman, and they are having a baby. On the other hand there already seems to be friction over the identity of the baby, and the baby is not even born yet. Imagine what will be after her birth, during life cycle events, holidays etc. And never mind the friction of those around her (parents, grandparents, pastors, rabbis etc), imagine her own confused identity.

The technical answer to your two direct questions is:

1) According to the laws of Judaism Jewish identity is matrilineal. So the woman is right, the child will be a Jew and obliged by Jewish law.

2) Judaism recognizes that this is unpleasant and even unfair for the non-Jewish father and his family, and that is why Judaism prohibits such a relationship in the first place.

But this relationship happened. We can't cry over spilled milk. Yet, if we are going to clean up the spilled milk we have to be willing to acknowledge that milk spilled.

So I don't mean to come down hard on anyone involved. I am only being blunt so that your son and his girlfriend understand full well the situation they (unknowingly) entered. This is the only way they can make an educated decision about what they want to do next. This is the only way to make the best out of a non ideal situation.

The current situation is a situation of dichotomy, differences, and therefore potential strife. The cure will be to find a point of unity and harmony to focus on.

And that point is the child.

All parties involved must realize that the child will be Jewish according to Jewish law and that if anyone wishes to subject the child to any other identity, it will be a denial of his/her biblical, historical, and cultural identity. Needless to say, subjecting a child to that type of contradiction is to subject a child to a life of confusion. It will also perpetuate the dichotomy and strife, but this time within the mind and heart of a single innocent child.

It is not the child's fault that his/her parents got caught up in a sticky situation. The parents (and grandparents) should do everything in their ability to change their lifestyles and compromise on their own desires/dreams so that the child may unequivocally follow his/her path. And not the other way around.

As difficult as it may be to forego the privilege of having a (grand)child celebrate a holiday with you, joining you in church, and carrying on your beliefs, the child should not be subject to split beliefs, lifestyles, values and personality, just to accommodate the dreams, even beautiful life long dreams, of his/her parents and grandparents.

Through bearing the child's best interest in mind this challenge can be solved (to the best extent it could be), as everyone works in harmony, and happily, for the benefit of a common cause.

(This might include very tough choices such as considering authentic conversion or divorce. However, it is of utmost importance to remember that at the root of every decision we must consider (not what I want, but) what is in the best interest of the child (even if that makes my life more difficult).


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child of intermarriage

Posted by: Anne Buzzell, clayton, NC on May 13, 2009

I absolutely agree with this! I am a child of intermarriage. When I was born there was no question between my mother or father of whether I was a Jew or "half Jew" as some like to say. I have never had any confusion with my Jewish identity thanks to my parents. Although my father's family always seemed resentful of the fact that I was Jewish, happy to be Jewish, and that I did/do not feel obliged to attend church with them.


Jewish Identity » Non-Jews » Intermarriage
Life Cycle » Marriage » Intermarriage