As far back as I can remember, the classic rabbinic-style response to why intermarriages don’t generally work comes in the form of an animal metaphor (because all rabbis aspired to be Aesop): a bird may love a fish, but where will they build a home? The meaning was, love is not enough…you have to share a compatibility of living and an environment in which both of you can breathe and be who you are.
When two people from different worlds try to make a life together, they find that some people are more adaptable than others. In the most successful interfaith relationships (to go back to the analogy again) perhaps the bird has grown fins and scales, or the fish has developed wings and found a way to breathe even on solid ground. In some cases, the two meet halfway between their world in a place that’s half-purgatory and half-compromise.
Sometimes, this is even true of relationships between two different kinds of fishes: two different people who are both Jewish, religious even, but are still not on the same page. For instance, take blogger Passionate Life, a deeply feeling, deeply committed, deeply passionate guy in his early thirties who recently became deeply invested in a relationship with “Tzip.” The two seemed passionately in love and genuinely obsessed with each other. They went away for a Shavuot retreat weekend, most of which was wonderful. Then, at some point, a discussion began about religion that led to the following proclamations by Tzip :
* That she believes Moshe was inspired by G-d to write the Torah, and that numerous authors contributed.
* When P-Life countered with “The Rambam says that if one does not believe that the Torah was given by G-d to Moshe at Sinai, that its heresy!?!?!â€ She replied: â€œThe Rambam was an idiot. I read some of his writings and it doesn’t make any sense to me.â€
*Later, after Tzip purchased a sandwich from the cafeteria, P-Life discovered that it was not a strictly vegan place and they also sell [presumably non-kosher] meat. â€œTzip, if they cook and serve meat in the same dishes then what you are eating is 100% Treif!!! (Non-Kosher) You can’t eat the food, nor use their metal silverware or their china plates!!! It’s all Trief!!!
[P-Life] continued, â€œIt’s one thing if you were my friend I could accept you as you are. But as my soulmate or spouse I can not abide by this violation of my bond with G-d. How can I live this way? I want to bring people into my home and show them the beauty of G-d’s love and the amazing instruction booklet that He made for us to help us grow and become closer to Him. How can I bring in strangers when my own wife doesn’t see the beauty and great gift that the laws of Torah are??? I can’t live with that.â€
Tzip got mad. She flung what I thought was a French fry over the deck. â€œFine, being with you means more to me then the stupid carrot! If you think that G-d cares whether I eat this carrot or not, is ridicules. But I love you more then the carrot and I will stop eating the carrots if that’s what it takes to be with you.â€ I shook my head in sadness, â€œYou don’t get it Tzip. This is not about doing something for me. This is about how you feel and relate to G-d. I have a very big problem with it.â€
They drove home and said goodbye. And now, they’re not broken up yet (at least not officially), but P-Life is crying:
“if she had a different opinion then I and she had some kind of reasoning for it, even if I disagreed. I could at least respect her. However her thinking is contradictory and nebulous. She has no solid foundation for her thought process or her religious beliefs. It has reached the point that I don’t want to talk to her about those areas and I can’t stand when she joins a conversation I am having on those subjects. In my heart I know that I could not marry someone like that.”
Although all were sympathetic to his circumstance and heartbreak, his readers made different points in their comments on this issue. There was talk of the Torah having seventy faces, and of each person having seven potential soulmates; there were some posters who urged him to stick to his guns and others who pleaded with him not to let a soulmate get away.
There probably are, in every relationship, lines beyond which there can be no compromise. But to an extent, all human relationships are about finding common ground. How much can we compromise our own approach to observing Judaism for a potential partner? Does a person have to be fully cooked in terms of their religious ideology in order to have a lasting relationship with someone whose religious thought process is more settled? Does compatibility always have to equal sameness? And is our relationship with G-d more, less, or differently important to us than our relationship with a potential partner?
I don’t have answers. None of us does. Each of us decides for ourselves, for each relationship, whether the conflict is cultural, spiritual, logistical, situational, or whatever. If it’s worth trying, we’ll make the effort and try to find a way. And if not, the bird and the fish will just have to fly and swim their separate ways.