The Challenges of In-Marriage

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Lois Leveen, a Jewish writer/performer who lives in Portland, recently wrote an article with an interesting twist on interfaith marriage. Published in Minneapolis’ American Jewish World (via, and titled “Interfaith Marriage: Sometimes it’s Easier,” Lois makes the argument that in-marriage poses just as many challenges to a family’s religious beliefs as intermarriage. She writes:

But in our household, I’m the last word on Jewish observance. Also the first word. And, of course, all the middle words. Whether I fast on Yom Kippur or drive on Shabbat, that’s my choice. It may inconvenience my partner, but it doesn’t interfere with any of his religious practices.

I might not have realized how lucky this makes us, if it weren’t for the travails of various friends and relatives who are in two-Jew couples.

Aaron and Lisa for many years had one of the most challenging interfaith relationships I knew. He was raised an Orthodox Jew. Her father and grandfather were both Conservative rabbis. In their relationship, both parties knew exactly how to be Jewish. They also knew exactly how wrong the other one was.

Whether her argument is true or not is beside the point. The message of her piece comes at the end, when she says: “No matter what the ritual observance or deity belief system, any two people trying to make a life together are embarking on a lifetime of compromises.” For an interfaith family, that might mean agreeing to have a Christmas tree and a Menorah in the home. For an in-married family, that might mean deciding on whether to drive or walk to synagogue on Saturday morning.

Lois’ piece is a little tongue-in-cheek, but her point by the end is well taken – and it speaks to what we do here at JOI. Our mission is to make the Jewish community more inclusive and welcoming for everyone, especially interfaith families and the unaffiliated. But the first step is respect – respect for decisions people have made, and an understanding of how they want to live their lives. Just as a relationship can’t succeed without these two key elements, we won’t be able to grow and strengthen our community until we truly open ourselves up to the diversity of today’s Jewish households.

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