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.


  1. all relationships/marriages have their challenges whether they’re same-faith or interfaith. what it comes down to in the end is communicating openly and effectively, understanding what is important to each other, and how to avoid uncomfortable situations. sometimes, what’s on the surface doesn’t always translate to real life. look at Ms. Leveen’s description of her in-married friends: they’re both Jewish, but do they agree on everything? not necessarily. there are probably many in-married couples who are like this, so this isn’t an isolated case. this is not to say that being an interfaith couple is smooth sailing either, because there are more challenges present than with an in-married couple. but whether both partners are Jewish or only one is, the best tool you can utilize to having a successful relationship is communication.

    Comment by h. — October 24, 2008 @ 10:09 am

  2. The problem with the interfaith marriage is that the children will see Judaism as something Mom does, but Pop doesn’t. At least with the inmarriage the kids will see that Judaism is something Mom and Pop care deeply about.

    Comment by Dave — October 26, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  3. this may be true, but not all in-married Jews are affiliated or care deeply about Judaism. that’s also a challenge.

    Comment by h. — November 10, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

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