What are three questions I can ask on a date or in a relationship if I'm seeing someone who isn't Jewish to understand how compatible or incompatible our values are? For example, I know I'm uncomfortable with the symbol of a crucifix, but I'm not really sure why. I am hoping for questions I could ask or scenarios I could present that really flush out the core value differences between Jews and non-Jews.
One of the interesting aspects of your question, to me, is that you externalize questions you should ask yourself. If you're willing to enter a relationship with someone who isn't Jewish, your Judaism isn't, apparently, enough of a defining aspect of your life to make such a relationship impossible on its face (just as, in a different context, people who enter an interracial relationship don't see race defining them so much that they can't see having a relationship with a person from another race).
So I'd think you'd want to ask yourself questions or pose scenarios, to understand where you stand. A first one is, what does Judaism mean to me; what role does it play in my life, and what role do I intend to have it play in my life going forward? You give another one yourself: Why does a crucifix make you uncomfortable, and what does that say about the possibility of you having a relationship with someone to whom the crucifix is important? And, for one more of many, what does it mean to you to have Jewish children, and how would that play into an inter-religious relationship?
When you've answered these questions for yourself, you can, I think, approach your relationship life with a clearer picture of where there is or isn't room for someone from another faith.
As an Orthodox rabbi, I can't let myself stop here. I note that the Torah itself seems to prohibit all relationships outside the religion. While some authorities thought the prohibition applied only to the seven Canaanite nations, everyone agreed that the Rabbis were clear that marital and/or sexual relations outside the faith are prohibited. When Ezra and Nehemiah returned from Babylon, one of the banes of their attempts to rejuvenate the Jewish community was that so many people had married outside the faith. This wasn't only a problem in itself, but it also meant that Jews didn't know their own traditions, culture, or even language. From your question, it seems that this might not matter to you, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.
I want to first begin by thanking you for asking this question. In doing so I think you have helped clarify for me that there is something deeper going on for you than simply finding the right questions to ask someone you’re dating. Before you start thinking about what to ask another person about their beliefs, I would encourage you to do some soul searching. More specifically, I think that it’s important for you to find meaningful answers for yourself about what you believe about Judaism, what role it has played in your life, how it impacts you at present, and how you envision it being a part of who you are in the future (family, children, professionally, etc.) As important as it is to ask similar questions to your future partner as you search for compatibility, it might be even more critical to make sure you know what you believe before inquiring of another.
As a Conservative Rabbi, I recognize the very real tension of encouraging endogamy on the one hand (Jews dating and marrying within the faith), and the fact that people are dating, falling in love with, and marrying people independent of faith. Yet, faith always seems to reenter the scene as relationships develop, both intrafaith and interfaith. At the same time, there seems to be some personal discomfort inherent in your question, specifically with regard to a crucifix, that is worth some additional self-exploration. Perhaps it requires learning a bit more about the symbol, talking about it with your rabbi, friends, or family, or thinking more about why rituals and objects give you meaning, Jewishly or otherwise. We often get in the habit of “doing” without understanding “why” we do.
If the time comes for you to ask questions, I would suggest that you ask broad, open-ended questions, that allow you to engage another person (yourself included) in conversation rather than closed, “yes” or “no” type questions. Reflect on meaningful Jewish experiences you’ve had, why they were meaningful, and what role they have played in your own development not to mention your desire for them to be a part of your life in the future. And if you were looking for three, I’d start with three questions or areas that Judaism holds in high regard: family, values, and aspirations. In the realm of family, Judaism places high regard on teaching our children how to live, questioning/answering as well as living the tradition, and finding ways to really engage the family through ritual, holiday observance, and being a part of a community. For me, values requires us to think about our priorities and the choices we make, insuring that we treat others with dignity (kavod) and respect, making ethical choices in business, in our spending habits, and in pursuing justice in our lives. And aspirations speaks to our working toward a higher purpose (God/something Divine), tikkun olam, doing our part to heal the world that we live in through acts of kindness, compassion, having mercy on others, being forgiving, and pursuing peace. First and foremost, start by answering for yourself, and I’m confident that you will receive the clarity and direction you need to move you and your relationship in the right direction.
As a rabbi, I feel compelled to observe that your question, and the discomfort that runs through it, leaves me wondering whether you’ve considered making a serious effort to date other Jews.
That being said, and regardless of whom you date, it sounds as though you’ve got some work to do on your own first, to figure out what your core values are when it comes to a relationship—interfaith or otherwise. Your feelings of discomfort around the symbol of a crucifix may or may not have anything to do with the values of any person (say, for example, a person you’re dating) who may wear or display such a symbol. You say you’re not sure why the symbol makes you uncomfortable. I suggest you look to yourself for the answer. While you’re at it, you might spend some time reflecting on what you are looking for in a potential life partner.
Jewish tradition and sources give us many suggestions regarding where to begin. What do you feel is most important when making decisions about how to spend your time or money? In what ways do you believe yourself to be connected or obligated to other human beings, and to the natural world? How do you define terms like “justice” and “mercy,” “security” or “freedom”? How do you balance these values in the way you choose to live? What are your hopes and dreams? What do you wish to accomplish in life? Is there a higher purpose or power at work in your life? These are some of the questions I like to ask myself from time to time, and that I bring to my relationships with others. You just might not want to ask all of them, though, on a first date.
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