Jewish Dating: A View from the Inside

by eHarmony Staff

Jewish Dating: A View from the Inside

The thought of one Jewish person dating another Jewish person seems simple and straightforward, but sometimes it’s not! Read on for an inside perspective on Jewish dating in America.

By Ellen Baskin

Being Jewish in America means different things to different people in different places. Jewishness is often felt as an identification with an ethnic and cultural group as much as with a religious faith. Then add to the mix the difference between growing up Jewish in a big city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and being raised in a small town.

Urbanites can take for granted the 24/7 availability of Jewish food, theater, educational and cultural organizations and houses of worship. Small towners may feel the unique bond that exists in a tight-knit, minority community. The result? Varying perceptions by non-Jews and a wide range of self-definition by Jews. These factors raise issues in every facet of Jewish life, including dating.

After World War II, Jews everywhere were reeling from the Nazi slaughter of 6 million European Jews. Many of those who survived moved to the United States, which now is home to the second largest Jewish population in the world. (Israel has the largest.) For a number of reasons – some practical, others emotional – there was a lot of pressure in the years that followed for Jewish children to only date and marry other Jews. At the same time, after years of discrimination, Jews were finally being included in mainstream American life, which has led to a more blended population … and more Jews dating non-Jews.

When I was growing up in Queens, one of the suburban boroughs of New York City, the neighborhood was very ethnic and predominantly Jewish. So dating Jewish boys was pretty much the norm all the way through high school, and there would have been strong resistance at home to my having a boyfriend who wasn’t Jewish. Once I left for college there was more freedom to do what I wanted, but since I’ve always felt very Jewish identified, I still tended to gravitate towards Jewish guys. At the same time, it was also fun to meet people from different places with different backgrounds, and I’ve gone out with non-Jewish men as well.

The close-knit sense of community that’s a major part of the Jewish culture is most clearly reflected within individual families. There are many positive elements to the cultural stereotype of a Jewish family – warmth, lots and lots of love, unconditional support, and deep, intense family values (The food can be pretty terrific, too). It can seem like an over-the-top free for all sometimes, and even when you grow up in the middle of a big, close Jewish family, like I did, it can take a lifetime to get used to. When Jews date non-Jews, this can seem a bit overwhelming to someone who might have grown up in a more emotionally restrained environment.

Jewish Dating – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox

 

 The thought of one Jewish person dating another Jewish person seems simple and straightforward, but sometimes it’s not. In the US, more Jews identify themselves through Jewish culture and tradition than formal religious affiliation. Those who consider themselves affiliated generally fall into three categories – Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, which, most basically, refer to levels of observance. Orthodox Jews follow religious laws most strictly – for example, eating a kosher diet and strictly observing the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) – and would be less likely to date Reform or Conservative Jews, who are more flexible about their level of religious practice.

When I’ve dated Jewish men, sometimes there’s an immediate feeling of familiarity, even if we’ve just met. A connection is made, based on a sense of collective history and heritage. But at the bottom line, a relationship is about two individual people, and there has to be more in common than just the fact that both are Jewish. If a close attachment does develop, even if neither person is particularly religious, shared Jewish customs and values can help form a solid foundation in building a lasting relationship. This common bond is one of the benefits of Jews dating and marrying each another. Marrying within the religion also ensures the continuance of the Jewish people, since their children will naturally be Jewish.

Jewish Interfaith Dating and Intermarriage

 

Whatever your own personal feelings are about intermarriage, there’s a very basic reason why Jewish community leaders urge Jews to date and marry other Jews: survival of the religion and culture. There are approximately 6 million Jews in the United States, a little more than 2% of the overall population. According to recent figures, nearly one-half of American Jews marry non-Jews, and of those intermarried couples, only about one-third raise their children as Jewish. Without doing any complicated math, it’s easy to understand why the Jewish community encourages dating and marrying within the faith or conversion of a prospective spouse to Judaism.

When Jews date non-Jews, in many ways it can seem no different than any new relationship. I’ve always thought that part of the fun of getting to know someone is finding out about their upbringing, learning about their family, being introduced to new people and traditions. When it comes to interfaith dating, a lot depends on how big a part being Jewish plays in someone’s day-to-day life. Is this something that’s going to be done separately from the person he or she is dating? What happens if things get serious between them? Would the partner consider converting? Would that matter? What about children? Will they be raised Jewish? These and other similar issues may come up when Jews date non-Jews, and it’s important to address them sooner rather than later down the relationship road.

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