Category: Interfaith

Why Your Interfaith Relationship May be Marginalized by Religious Institutions

By: Tuvya Zaretsky

You and your partner may have cleared the hurdles, had the difficult conversations, and put in the world to build a lasting interfaith relationship. But you may still be facing challenges – but this time not within your relationship, but outside of it altogether.

As a Jewish-Gentile couple, one or both of you may have experienced moments of feeling unwelcome within the other’s community. Maybe it was at a synagogue or mosque, a Bible study, or a community gathering.

Even though more than half of all Jewish marriages are to non-Jews and 70 percent of all Jewish romantic partnerships are with non-Jews, social snubs, dirty looks, or blatant rude verbiage may have you feeling like an abnormal outsider. You may be asking, “If we’re in the majority, why do we feel like a minority in these religious settings?”

Despite the growing normalcy of Jewish-Gentile relationships, communities don’t always adapt to cultural shifts in their social spheres. Changes to traditions or past precedents can be perceived as threats to the entire community and treated as such. The resulting reactions can create an incredibly hostile environment that makes you and your partner want to head for the door.

If you’ve found peace with your relationship, why can’t others? There may be several reasons to explain (not excuse) these hostile reactions in both Jewish and Gentile religious institutions.

In Jewish tradition, strict observance is often thought to be integral to the modern Jewish identity. Thus, a non-observant Gentile partner may feel like a violation of this core value. (Ironically, nearly 70 percent of Jewish people in America identify themselves as secular, having no religious affiliation, yet are still considered Jewish.)

These perceived hostilities could also stem from an instinctual fight for cultural survival. Historically-marginalized cultures, like the Jewish, Native American, and African American communities, have long fought for existence amidst adversity. This history can cause a defensive reaction upon perceived threat, often resulting in a strong “insider” and “outsider” point of view.

Although fear can be a motivator, unfortunately, so can hate. Ethnocentricity, or the feeling of superiority with regards to one’s own people group and culture over all others, is sadly a common outlook. If it pollutes a religious institution or community, it begets exclusionary practices that can marginalize anyone not already part of the dominant cultural class.

It is so difficult to feel that you don’t have a faith community to which you can belong. Both Jewish and Gentile communities would do well to appreciate the wealth of knowledge about cross-cultural challenges that yours and other interfaith couples could contribute.

We’re here to help as you navigate cross-cultural challenges in your communities. We want to offer you and your partner tools and resources to support your interfaith relationship. Fill out the form below and connect with your coach now!