Q: I'm Jewish and have been dating a Catholic man for about five months. Neither of us is very religious, however, I've always followed the Jewish traditions, as I usually attend synagogue on the high holidays and became a bat mitzvah when I was 13. My boyfriend celebrates the Catholic holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) but does not attend church. However, his family is religious.
As our relationship grows more serious, the fact that my boyfriend is not Jewish has been bothering me a lot. We've discussed this issue and he said that if we have children together, he would like to bring them up not necessarily practicing either religion, but just enriching them with the knowledge (traditions and cultures) of both. Then, when they were old enough to decide for themselves, they could decide what faith they'd like to practice -- if any at all.
At first, I agreed to this, as it sounded like a fair compromise, but now it's beginning to bother me. For example, I can't imagine not being able to have a bris or bar/bat mitzvah my children. I'm also nervous that when they were older, they might choose to be Catholic.
I am in love with this man, but now I'm questioning whether we should continue our relationship due to this serious issue. What do you think? -- A., New York City
A: The only thing worse than having a tough choice in your life is having a tough choice and not facing it. We're proud of your courageous honesty in facing a problem that may destroy an otherwise perfect love. What we do when counseling interfaith couples contemplating marriage is to learn the "ruler rule."
We ask the couples to rank their likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs on a 1 to 12 scale, with 1 being "I don't care at all" and 12 being, "This is at the very core of my being." We practice with favorite ice cream flavors (usually ranked down around 1) to favorite sports teams (usually low on the list for women and up near 12 for men).
Our point in graphing all these different likes and dislikes is to help the couples see what they have in common and what they value differently. In general, the simple and obvious truth in solid relationships and marriages is that the person with the higher ranked belief or preference ought to have his or her way.
Of course, sensitivity to the loser in the ruler rule is important, but it's hard to avoid the simple justice of a person who cares less giving way to a person who cares more.
You and your boyfriend need to figure out where you both really rank religion in the ruler rule. If you're a 10 or 11 and he's a 3-4 (which is our first guess) then you ought to be able to raise your kids as Jews because religion just means more to you.
However, if after understanding exactly what it means to your boyfriend to celebrate Easter and Christmas, you discover he's really more religious than you, then you should raise the kids as Catholics. If neither of you can face being the loser in the ruler rule, then sadly but inescapably, your short relationship should end.
We consider his suggestion that you raise your kids as both Jewish and Catholic or as nothing until they're old enough to choose to be a spiritual and parenting cop-out. You wouldn't let your kids decide on their own bedtime, so why make them decide about their own religion? Parents have a simple and inescapable obligation to teach their children their street address and their religious address.
You have an obligation to give to your children the religious roots that nurtured and shaped both you and your boyfriend. Though conversion is always possible, a person has the right to emerge from childhood able to walk into a church or a synagogue and feel at home in one or the other place.
One final word about making promises about raising children in a not your own, particularly if you're the mother who promised to raise your children in your husband's faith. This is bad promise no matter who makes it because you just can't know how you'll feel actually faced with denying your child a baptism or a bris, a first communion or a bar mitzvah.
You're making this promise when you are not yet engaged and childless. What you promise now you may not be able emotionally or spiritually deliver. The best way out of problems is through them, not around them, and we're proud that you're willing to go through this dilemma now.
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