I keep a document in my blog planning files that isn’t an editorial calendar, but rather an idea bank of all the things I want to write about in the future. A post about navigating an interfaith relationship has been sitting in there for far too long, but I knew it would be an important one to write since it covers a topic that is relevant for so many of us. At first, I wanted to tie this post back to wedding planning, but it quickly became clear that I had so much to say that I needed separate posts for each facet of the subject.
I have friends and acquaintances who are navigating every possible combination of interfaith relationship – Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic, and so on – and it’s a discussion I’ve had with so many other women. There have been multiple times when I’m sitting with someone new talking casually about professional networking or whatever, and somehow it comes up that one of us is in an interfaith relationship. There’s a, “hey, us too!” moment, and the conversation quickly shifts to how we each make it work.
My experience, of course, only comes from my relationship in a Catholic-Jewish relationship, and I obviously have no religious qualifications to speak of, but I do want to share our journey thus far.
To give you the background, I grew up in a very Catholic household and went to K-8 Catholic school. Daily religion classes were a thing. I made the decision early on that Catholicism wasn’t the right choice for me and I chose not to get confirmed, but it would be impossible to say that growing up in a particular religious environment doesn’t shape you. (Side note: being from the South, I wasn’t actually ever in a situation where I could look around a room and say “everyone in here grew up Catholic” until I moved to DC!) Adam grew up Jewish, observes high holidays, and identifies with Judaism both on a religious and cultural level.
Neither of us was concerned with finding a partner that shared a religious background, which, of course, makes it slightly easier to navigate an interfaith relationship. However, I wouldn’t take that to mean that interfaith is easier based on whether you’re both non-observant – I’ve read that interfaith relationships are most successful when both partners are equal levels of religious, regardless of how religious that is.
HOW WE’RE NAVIGATING INTERFAITH
To be totally transparent upfront, navigating interfaith has a slightly different meaning for our relationship because I’ve chosen to convert to Judaism. I know that for many people that would mean we’re no longer in an interfaith relationship, however, I wasn’t raised Jewish, my family is still Catholic, and our relationship will always consist of observing both traditions when we’re with our respective families. And, I know I’m not the only one with this view – the editor behind the website, A Practical Wedding, also converted to Judaism, but often writes about her experiences as an interfaith couple.
For us, and I imagine many interfaith couples, the reason differing religious backgrounds doesn’t come up as an issue is that, at the end of the day, our values are aligned. You don’t need to believe in the same stories or traditions to both want the same sense of community, faith, and meaning.
START THE DISCUSSION EARLY
The most important step in navigating an interfaith relationship is discussing it. And not waiting until two years in to start having that discussion. You want to open up honest communication about what is important to each of you shortly after deciding that this relationship has a future, regardless of what you know or don’t know about what a future means at that point.
For example, early on, Adam made it clear that while it wasn’t a concern to marry a non-Jew, he did want to raise children Jewish. That wasn’t an issue for me, fortunately, but that is the sort of thing that you need to put out there early if it could be a deal breaker. Discuss how religion presently plays a role in your life, how you see it playing a role in your future life, and how it will impact a future family if that’s the route you take.
Also, discuss what your personal beliefs are, how you see spirituality playing out in your life, how it shapes your ethics and values, and whether any of those will play a role in your relationship. Certainly you can have different beliefs – most of us do – but it’s even more important to put those out there in when you don’t have the same religious background so that you can understand where you’re partner is coming from.
HOW WILL TRADITIONS PLAY OUT IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
By traditions, I mean anything from weekly services to daily prayer to holidays. Discuss whether coming together for Shabbat dinner on Saturday is a meaningful part of your partner’s week or if you love the weekend reset of Sunday morning church followed by brunch. Figure out how your schedule will accommodate both of your traditions and how each of you will take part in the other’s religious life. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to both participate fully in each other’s religious tradition, but it does mean you’ll make an effort to respect their beliefs and involve yourself when it’s important to them.
MAKE A HOLIDAY PLAN
In some ways, an interfaith relationship makes the holidays super easy. We don’t have to split Christmas like my sisters and their significant others do! The days at home in Richmond over Christmas are leisurely and lazy, with no need to run from one Christmas brunch to another Christmas lunch.
If and when we decide to have children, our plan is that we’ll celebrate the Jewish holidays in our own home, and Catholic holidays like Christmas and Easter will be secular celebrations that they celebrate when we go to visit my parents. These celebrations will be framed as a wonderful time to get together with family, but without the religious component.
Also, the conundrum of decorating is worth addressing, but, to be honest, I’m not big on holiday decorations, so this hasn’t really been an issue in our home. We have a white Christmas tree and a menorah. That’s it. I know this is more of a struggle for some couples, so I guess I should consider us lucky that I’ve never gotten into the whole holiday decorating thing?
MORE READING FOR THOSE INTERESTED
For those who are in my same situation as someone raised Catholic (or, I suppose, any Christian denomination) and in a relationship with a Jewish partner, there were a few books that I found super helpful for learning more about the traditions, history, and intellectual views that make up Judaism.
Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant is an amazingly thorough book on history, culture, tradition, and beliefs for anyone who wants to learn more about the religion. It’s an easy read that doesn’t get stuck in the weeds of theology – Diamant has a conversational, approachable way of writing, which is probably why I now own three books by her, including The Jewish Wedding Now, which I’ll definitely discuss when I write about how we’re planning our ceremony.
Why Be Jewish? by David J Wolpe is a book that a friend gave me when I first started exploring the option of converting and it’s a quick, easy, and informative read that I got through in just a couple metro commutes (this is how I measure books). It presents
Again, while I can really only speak to navigating a Catholic-Jewish interfaith relationship, definitely reach out to me if you have any questions or if you have recommendations on how you’ve navigated your own relationship!
Such a thoughtful post! While Michael and I are both Catholic, I enjoyed reading this post on how you and Adam are navigating through your different religious upbringings. Thanks for sharing!