Marrying Out

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Meaning of Being Jewish


Being a Jew is not just a means of alleging Jewishness, becoming Jewish overnight, or using the term  to get a husband or a wife or to seek advantages by thoughtlessly assuring the listener that he or she will become converted someday.  Recently a group of young folk were told by the Rabbi of a conservative synagogue that he does not question the non-Jew if he or she says  that he will convert to marry a Jewish person but does or does not have the  intension of so doing.  Being Jewish is not just a word.  A real and honest conversion is a serious task and needs conviction,  belief, and effort.  It is not a means of creating more folk who delude themselves into a label that satisfies their current need.  It is by no means a path to achieving a goal which has no meaning except to the person whose wish is to get what he wants.  Judaism is a culture.  It comes with a history, a love of learning, of feeling, of knowing, of understanding. It is a path, a way of life, of following not only the ten commandments; of having some knowledge of the “caryagim mitzwot” (613 blessings or good deeds), of special practices, of knowing the real meaning of the Schabbat, the Holy Days, and much more.  It is knowing the importance of not embarrassing others (“mevayisch machen”); of ideally having a “lev tov” (good heart).  The new Jewish person must know and learn the practices from birth to death of an authentic Jewish individual.  He must know what the meaning of practicing Judaism is about and be aware of the falsehoods assigned to the Jewish person and be willing to defend his belief  and those of his fellow Jews  if and when the need arises. 

Even if the well intentioned and honest convert takes on his new obligations, he must be serious in wanting to be Jewish, because to him it is more important than any other religion that is in existence.  The person must also know the difficult aspects of his new faith  and be willing to defend his conviction, his belief, his choice.

It is a well known fact that when the young Jewish person marries a non-Jew, the children almost always  become non Jews.  It is understandable since we are a very small minority of the world’s population, and it is easier to be of a larger group of people with a religion which has less strictures, or be an agnostic.   

Even more difficult than becoming a conservative Jewish person is becoming an orthodox one.  The orthodox rabbi has to attempt to change the person's mind, to talk them out of taking on that responsibility.  To become orthodox is exceptionally difficult.  The person must want to be converted with his heart, his soul, and his deeds.  To follow the very strict regimen of orthodoxy, one must follow an exceptionally difficult path.  The person does not have the freedom or independence that was his.  He must be convinced.  He must give up his former lifestyle, follow a restrictive food law, kashrut, must not work on the Sabbath or yom tovim (holy days, and there are many), and must fast on certain special days.    The men must be circumcised (if they were not as a child) and the women have to attend the Mikvah, a special bath after menstruation (to be clean in a very special fashion), and much more.

For those young Jewish men who marry out of their religion, they must remember that they are giving up their past, their convictions, and a considerable part of their identity.


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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