Jewish atheist - seeking advice/shared experiences

Discussion in 'Judaism' started by Crell, Jul 27, 2019.

  1. Crell

    Crell New Member

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    Hi folks. I am facing an religious/ethical quandry, and I am looking for others who have experiences to share that may prove useful. It's a bit of a tricky situation so let me explain.

    I was raised Jew-ish. American Reform, barely observant household growing up. Had a Bar Mitzvah and then skedaddled from the synagogue as quickly as I could and never looked back. In all honestly I never believed in God, and have long since stopped going through the scarce few motions I still kept (eg, Yom Kippur fast). At this point I am somewhat uncomfortable around religious ceremonies of any kind, and participating in them makes me even more uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable even calling myself Jewish (I go back and forth depending on the context), and am not willing to say prayers that I do not believe to a sky gremlin I don't believe in. I'm at the point where I had long ago decided that I wouldn't circumcise my children, even though it's common even in secular American culture, because I saw it as genital mutilation.

    I have been alternately friends and friends-with-extras with a woman for over 9 years now. She was raised Modern Orthodox Judaism. Because of the religious disconnect we've never figured we would ever make a good couple, but we're incredibly compatible in a great many other ways (including some that are really hard to find, as we both have some fringe interests). We have both tried to find other people to date, but finding anyone to our liking has been a challenge, despite both of us actively trying to encourage and support the other in doing so. In the past year or so she's had a crisis of faith, or rather of observance, and has (on her own, not because of me) essentially downgraded herself to what I would describe as Reform-with-extras. (Kosher, Shabbis, Yom Kippur, etc. but the Torah versions of those without the add-ons from the Talmud.)

    She has recently asked/suggested that we should get together as a couple for real, since, well, after 9 years we're halfway there already and with her substantially lower level of religiousness we might be able to meet in the middle. Were it just her and I it would be able to handle only cooking with kosher meat and scrubbing the house for Passover and otherwise just rolling with it, but of course the bigger question is kids, which we both want. She feels strongly about raising them Jewish, speaking Hebrew at home so they're bilingual, at least them keeping Shabbis even if I mostly don't, them eating kosher even if I don't, etc.

    I am... torn. On the one hand, what she describes is about the most agnostic one can get and still be Jewish. And while we're not a perfect match we are close enough that, were it not for the religion factor, we would probably have started dating for reals a long time ago. On the other, I am frankly terrified of setting myself up to be a constant outsider in my own home (eg, the only one not singing songs or praying on Shabbis), or else pressured (not overtly by her, but by the need to present a consistent environment for the kids) to go through motions and say/do things I don't believe in and never will, or having a first son and not being able to bring myself to have him circumcised and causing all sorts of major fallout at exactly the wrong time.

    I know intermarriage is steeply on the rise, especially among Jews, and they somehow make it work. But I also have read ample examples of people describing the ways in which it didn't work. I also know that there's 1001 things that could make us not work as an actual couple long before kids enter the picture. In the month or so that we've been talking about it, I've mentally gone back and forth between "she's a good person and what you're looking for and it's not going to be an issue, you're just being overly picky" and "you'd be settling for a Tevye marriage and giving in on core beliefs and will spend the next 30 years stressed and unhappy in your own home" at least 20 times, sometimes multiple times in one day. And... I really don't know what to do with that.

    We've discussed me doing essentially "Jewish exposure therapy" to see if my discomfort goes down while we date (start keeping kosher now, mezusah's on my house, etc., my idea, not hers), but that's of course a far cry from trying to raise kids that way. I am really not sure what to do with this situation.

    My dad (when I talked to him about it) joked that it would be an interfaith marriage between two Jews, which is somehow a very Jewish thing to do. Which is pretty accurate.

    Has anyone else had a simliar-ish situation, or know people in one? How did it work out? Any other experience/knowledge/wisdom/thoughts to share that may be useful/helpful/insightful/something? I'm open to whatever at this point, because I just don't know what the right thing to do is.
     
  2. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    I for one honor the thought and contemplation you are putting into this. All I can say is I've met a number of folks with mixed christian backgrounds, and Christian/Jewish marriages and race differences.... My.anecdotal view has not seen a difference in longevity of the relationship.

    I was married 20 years, had kids at 13.years, people change over time, in needs, wants,.interests,. Etc.

    All in all seems if anyone can work this out it will be you.
     
  3. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    Welcome Crell!
    I can't give you any relevant insights.
    I would like to point out that it isn't likely that you will read anything here you haven't already thought of. But I like that you at least try!

    When you're ready, just make a decision and do the best you can. There are no sure things.

    I wish both of you the best of luck, and expect yearly updates!
     
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  4. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    I'd like to provide a tad more insight so you can establish a value to my responses.

    I was about to hitch back west after wintering in key west. I was in bed with my girlfriend in the DC area. "I think I'm gonna leave tomorrow" I wish you wouldn't she said. "But I wanna get back west". I wanna go out there with you,she replied. " Now? You wanna hitchhike?" No, I'll come out in the fall. "Should we get married?". Probably. " Arrange that and I'll come back and get you, just tell me when."

    This is the level of planning in my life, and 13 years later two kids who are now better citizens and more responsible than their oa ever was, both college grads, one with a masters. One a teacher, one appointed to the state prosecutors office by the governor.

    When they were three outta the blue after 16 years of marriage and never having stepped into a church for more than a funeral or wedding...my wife says, "They should go to Sunday school, we should goto church!". I became a Sunday school teacher and raised my kids in Unity. I taught them every other year till they went off to college, my wife only went to church when the kids sang in the choir or acted in a play... Life is funny.

    Beyond that I know a number of agnostic and atheist Jews.... They attend services primarily for the social events.
     
  5. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic)

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    Welcome, Crell. I think your dad is very wise. Me and my lovely wife have been married for 25 years. When we got married, I was a religious Christian, she secular. Now I'm an atheist with mystical insights, and she's reconnecting with her Jewish heritage. I grew up in Muslim and Buddhist countries as well as Christian ones. Our child, almost adult now, grew up unbaptized in a majority Catholic region, later went to school with many Muslim classmates, did not develop any interest in religious practice, and is now the secular atheist in our household. Our families eventually accepted the facts of our religious life, and we celebrate feasts as they come, observances are private thing. Spring cleaning nicely coincides with Passover.

    My perspective: Don't let a good thing pass you by just because your imagination is coming up with all kinds of scenarios. You won't be able to predict the future, and what will happen will surprise you anyway.
     
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  6. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Crell,

    How would she feel if the children decided to grow up not being practicing Jews? Would she give them that freedom? How would she feel if one day you decided to expose them to, say, Buddhism?

    Do not go any further in the relationship until you discuss these questions with her.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2019
  7. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    exactly... I sure can't see how one could anticipate all that would happen.


    My son took a world religions class in high school and had me take him to various mosques, temples, shrines, where he listened to whatever was provided and spent time with high school students in that religion to explore more. I've always been interested to see where they end up religiously, not intent to force any beliefs upon them. I think the concept of I'm X because my parents were X, doesn't say much for either the religion or my capacity for reason.
     
  8. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Wil,

    As a matter of fact, I was thinking of you when I wrote my post. I know that you have taken your children to churches, mosques, temples, etc., and you were willing to expose them to widely-differing religions.

    A lot of Crell's success will depend of how much of this type of interfaith-researching-openness Crell's partner is willing to embrace.
     
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  9. RabbiO

    RabbiO הרב יונה בן זכריה

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    I responded to the poster on another forum where he posted the same post. I invited him to private message me and have the lady in question also participate in a conversation.
     
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  10. RabbiO

    RabbiO הרב יונה בן זכריה

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    That's reminiscent of an old joke about Mr. Schwartz being asked as he is racing down the street. "Where are you going?" Schwartz replies, "I'm off to synagogue for Shabbat services." The questioner responds, "Synagogue? Goldstein, I understand. He believes in G-d, but you?" Schwartz answers, "Goldstein goes to talk to G-d. I go to talk to Goldstein."
     
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  11. Crell

    Crell New Member

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    Oh dear. The forum didn't notify me of responses past the first one. Sorry for the slow reply here, and thank you to those that have responded.

    > How would she feel if the children decided to grow up not being practicing Jews? Would she give them that freedom? How would she feel if one day you decided to expose them to, say, Buddhism?

    We've discussed that a bit. Her feeling is that somewhere around their mid-teens they can do what they want, and if they decide to turn their back on Judaism that's their choice, although she'd be very sad about that. She's OK with them doing the bare minimum Bar Mitzvah, too, without even the full ceremony just a little extra Torah study for the year before. Given her own very-well-researched shift from Modern Orthodox to essentially Humanist/Reform, I think she'd be OK with them following any well-thought-through path.

    @RabbiO Responded to you on the other forum, thank you. And ha, yeah, that's Jews for you. :) Currently I have zero involvement in the Jewish community locally and would be perfectly happy to stay that way, so anything we do there would be instigated by her. (That said, I'm sure there's very nice Jews in the area we could be friends with without causing too much trouble.)
     
  12. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Crell,

    I agree that you should get someone besides a rabbi for any counseling you may receive.

    Your partner wants the children to receive a ‘bare minimum Bar Mitzvah’. (What would that consist of? Are Bar Mitzvahs only for boys?) Ask her if it would be okay if you also took them to visit churches, mosques, and Buddhist temples during the same time. Would she allow you to have, for example, Buddhist books in the house? Would she allow you to sit with the child and discuss such books, and do this in your house or apartment? If you allowed a ‘bare minimum Bar Mitzvah’, would she allow the child to go through a Buddhist ceremony called "Taking Refuge in the Buddha" at the same time?

    Any hesitation on her part should immediately put a halt to your relationship going any further at this time.

    Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience dealing with your situation. Here is what usually happens. The partner will usually make promises now about being open to other religions. However, when the child reaches the age where they can begin religion instruction (about age seven), you can expect huge changes. It is common for the partner to suddenly ignore everything they said before and start demanding the child be brought up in the partner’s religion. I have seen this several times. Another, perhaps even more important thing is that her family (especially her mother) will start do a lot of interfering and start loudly demanding that the child be brought up Jewish. The bottom line is that the both of you become very clear right now what you will do if all of this happens at that time. Most importantly, how does your partner promise she will ‘protect’ you if her mother or other relative starts getting really pushy about this?

    What would happen if you suddenly announced you want to join another religion? Would she give you that freedom? Would there be a lot of drama involved? Another example, do you ‘allow’ her to have Jewish groups meet in your house? Would she allow you to have, for example, Hindu meetings or Universal Unitarian meetings in your house?

    No doubt this is stressful for her. I hope you can give her emotional support as she deals with all of this. But does she give you emotional support as you deal with this too? This should be a topic both of you discuss openly. You may need to become very assertive about her giving you this kind of emotional support. (There is nothing wrong with you becoming assertive about her giving you this kind of emotional support. I strongly encourage it.)

    Putting religion aside, there is also the question of general marital problems. Everyone has 'issues'. Have the both of you sat down and thoroughly discussed each other's 'issues'? Have the two of you sat down and worked out strategies of how one person will handle the other person's 'issues'? Which one of you has the stronger personality, and how is this dealt with?

    Just out of curiosity, what is the Jewish teaching regarding a Jewish person who leaves the Jewish faith? Is it said they will go to hell, like Christianity says about Christians who leave Christianity?

    You need to get clear resolution on all of these questions before you allow the relationship to proceed any further. If she has problems with any of this, just tell her clearly, "I will not allow our relationship to go any farther until we get all of these issues resolved."
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2019
  13. Crell

    Crell New Member

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    @Nick the Pilot I'm not following some of your questions, so I'm not sure if you're understanding my explanations/situation accurately. While I obviously cannot predict the future with 100% certainty, the odds of me "finding religion" (any religion) are extraordinarily remote. The only conventional religions I can even consider tolerating, frankly, are Reform/Humanist Judaism (mostly due to familiarity) and Unitarian (which is almost the same thing).

    We've been sitting down and discussing in detail regularly for the past month and will almost certainly continue to do so. She even has multi-page notes in her notebooks of things to discuss. No concern on that front. :) That said, I'm not sure what kind of emotional support you're referring to here. We are already each other's main emotional support source; that's one of the reasons why we're even having this discussion. We're half-way to dating already in practice, and need to either do it for realsies or firmly pull back from it.

    Jewish stance on Jews who leave the faith varies widely depending on the branch of Judaism. Her family already knows/likes me, even with my barely-there Jew-ish ness. (The running joke is that I'm already her father's favorite son in law, despite us not actually dating technically.) My entire immediate family is about where I am. If some Orthodox Rabbi in Israel doesn't like me, well, the feeling is mutual so who cares?
     
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  14. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    Crell,

    I hear what you are saying. It is not a question of you 'finding religion' someday, it is a question of whether she would be tolerant of it if you did. More importantly, it is a question of whether she would be tolerant of your daughter finding a religion other than Judaism (or if your daughter considered being an atheist). If she wants your daughter to have Jewish religious training, I think it is important to find out if she would allow religious training from another religion (or allow an atheist way of thinking). The whole idea is to find out exactly how religiously tolerant your partner is. And as I have said before, I think this will become critical when your daughter becomes seven years old.

    I am glad to hear that both of you are emotionally supportive of each other. I have found a lack of emotional support to be one of the biggest causes of trouble in relationships. Since both of you are emotionally supportive of each other, that is a very good thing.

    "If some Orthodox Rabbi in Israel doesn't like me, well, the feeling is mutual so who cares?"

    --> As long as your partner can accept that without complaining, now or in the future, you are right, it doesn't matter.

    Let us know how it is going for you.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
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  15. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic)

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    Word!
     
  16. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    I honor your thought processes. Either of you have issues with cohabitation to further the discussion and research...
     
  17. Crell

    Crell New Member

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    @wil Funny story. She lived with me for 7 of the 9 years I've known her, for financial reasons. (I'm from an upper-middle-class family and own my own house, she's from a lower economic family and got screwed by the recession, so I let her move in for a while to pay off debt and finish her education.) It's really just where kids come into play that there's concerns. Other than that I know we could make it work if we wanted to.
     
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  18. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai

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    Don't know, Crell, that's quite the quandary. As for me, married outside my nationality, race and religion nearly 31 years ago and never looked back. Best decision I ever made. Though our lives were completely different, our approach to life is exactly the same. It's on that level our bond was formed and has lasted all these years. :)
     
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