Sundown on August 4, the 15th day of Av, marks a little known Jewish holiday called Tu B’Av. Some liken it to Valentine’s Day, as it is slowly becoming a modern holiday celebrating love. Historically, the holiday was a matchmaking day for unmarried women. On this day, Israelite women would put on white dresses and dance in the vineyards. It also apparently was the only time when those from different Israelite tribes were allowed to mingle and ultimately, marry.
While “marrying out of the tribe” (from one Israelite tribe to another) in the Second Temple Period, when Tu B’Av originated, wasn’t considered “marrying out” in the way that interfaith marriage is considered today by Jews, it does show us that sometimes things were done differently than the norm. Today, the reality is that many Jews do fall in love with and marry those from entirely different religious traditions. I think it would be great if all Jews, those who are in-married and those who are intermarried, would learn about and consider reclaiming Tu B’Av as a day of love.
Today, it’s a little easier to marry outside one’s tribe or faith, but there are still obstacles. Some religious leaders won’t conduct an interfaith marriage ceremony and some religious locations are off limits for weddings. Personally, when I found out that my husband and I couldn’t be married by a Conservative Rabbi, I was disappointed. It felt like a part of my religion and how I was raised was turning its shoulder on my marriage and the love that I found in my fiancé.
I certainly understand the nuances and potential pitfalls of marrying someone of another religion. It can mean significantly different belief systems, differences in raising children and even variations in day-to-day life and rituals. But those pitfalls can occur even amongst those of the same faith. And while every relationship is made up of compromises, one must also be self-aware enough to know which issues can’t or won’t tolerate compromise.
For me, religion was something on which I could compromise—with the right person. I rarely dated anyone who was Jewish and it was not something I really looked for in a boyfriend. Honestly, I’m not sure why. Possibly because I grew up in a small town with very few Jewish families and though I know my parents would have liked me to marry someone Jewish (as they and my brother and sister did), it also wasn’t something they pushed. And now that I am married to someone who is not Jewish, and they love him as much as I do—which is a lot!—it has become even more of a non-issue.
But there were other things that were more important to me. Things like the importance of family, his and mine, and being with someone who communicated and was committed to making a marriage work. I found that in my husband regardless of religion.
When my husband and I were dating and knew marriage was a possibility, we discussed religion. I remember vividly being on vacation, walking the streets of Rome (ahh, those carefree days before we had a child) and the religious imagery and proliferation of Roman churches must have gotten to us.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but we talked about our views on raising children. I wouldn’t give up my religion and wanted to raise our children Jewish, but I also wouldn’t ask him to give up his religion nor his right to raise our children in his faith. He felt the same way. The most important piece of religion to both of us was and still is the familial aspects and the sense of tradition that goes along with it. And that is how we have made it work. That, as well as open communication and mutual respect.
I know there are a lot of people who wouldn’t agree with this. I’ve heard people young and old, married and not, speak out against interfaith marriages. Some Jewish people believe it dilutes the religion, which I guess I get. Sort of. Some say that raising a child with more than one religion isn’t possible. I’ve even had family members who try to dissuade us or guide us. But every marriage is different and for us it works.
I would like to take this holiday that celebrates love and faith and ask that we look at what love and commitment means to each of us individually. I hope we can all be open-minded to one another’s relationships and what matters to each individual. I feel so blessed to have found a husband who loves and supports our family, communicates, shows his feelings and actively participates in our life. It’s not a perfect marriage. None are. But I’d much rather have all this than have someone who only shares my religion, but not those ideals that are most important to me.
I love that Judaism gives us an extra holiday celebrating love and am eager to get my husband on board. OK, I admit, that one may be difficult. He’s wonderful and loving but I think Valentine’s Day may be enough for him. And on that one, I can compromise.