The following is a response by Tuvya Zaretsky, a Messianic Jew, to an actual letter from a gentile believer in Jesus with a Jewish husband.
Dear Cynthia (*a pseudonym),
Thank you for your honesty and the relevant questions in your letter. I receive an increasing number of queries at this time of year from gentile Christians like you who have a Jewish spouse. In December, Jewish-gentile couples are trying to sort out how to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas.
It’s good to recognize the need to find spiritual harmony with your husband. While I appreciate your desire that your husband would join you in following Jesus, I also understand how he feels. I too am Jewish and at one time I shared his same resistance to Jesus. I also understand your dilemma. You can’t pursue spiritual harmony through a conversion to Judaism because it would require you to give up your foundation of faith in Messiah Jesus. Your husband’s challenge is how he could investigate Jesus without the fear of jeopardizing his Jewish identity. And though he loves you deeply, that may not relieve concerns about how intermarriage impacts his connection with Jewishness. That isn’t a judgment on either of you. It’s just the reality that you both share.
So you experience frustration at how difficult it is to have a discussion of spiritual subjects with your husband, especially around the “J word” (Jesus). You might need to explore why that is hard for him. Meanwhile, hang onto your assurance that Jesus is the sure way for all people, Jews and gentiles, to belong to the one God. Messiah Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
You said, “My husband doesn’t believe in Jesus, so how can I find spiritual harmony in our case?” One starting place is with why spiritual union doesn’t come naturally.
In all human relationships, our natural tendency toward selfishness creates a barrier between partners and a spiritual barrier between God and us. The Bible teaches that all human beings miss God’s target for “goodness” (Romans 3:9, 23; Daniel 9:11).[ 1 ] So even loving marriage partners feel the effects of being broken and self-centered. How do you fix THAT? Well, we can’t fix ourselves, because we’re all damaged. It’s like our operating system is corrupted. Thankfully, God dealt with our brokenness with His gift of forgiveness in His Messiah Jesus.[ 2 ] He can fix us and bring us together in spite of ourselves. Spiritual harmony is possible, but getting there takes work from both of you.
A Mutual Hope
The one true God can be found by anyone, and that includes both of you. He promised that if people seek Him, as He wants to be known, they would find Him.[ 3 ] The God of Israel said that relationship with Him is possible by following His instruction: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[ 4 ] That’s a good route for Jews and gentiles to follow. Maybe it’s easier for your husband to talk about Scriptures that are more familiar to his culture.
Cynthia, your journey of faith led you to the God of Abraham through His Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). You loved Him, and discovered that He loved you even more! He wanted to forgive your moral imperfection. So, weird as it sounded, God put judgment for all of our immoral nature on His own Son, the Messiah.[ 5 ] That was the really good news.
God’s deep love is available to everyone through His Son. Fixing a broken relationship to God can’t be earned with good intentions, negotiated through reason or won by sheer effort. God’s forgiveness for human selfishness is available to Jewish people and to gentiles in a way that He alone provided.[ 6 ]
So, there is a way to have spiritual harmony in a marriage. The good news is that Jewish people don’t have to give up their cherished ethnicity. Like everyone else, we only have to surrender the idea that we can overcome moral brokenness with reliance on self-effort. That’s the same path that all people from every nationality must follow to connect with God. It is a way that couples can find spiritual harmony and a mutually comfortable faith in God.
Marital intimacy is relational glue for a long-lasting marriage. Couples need to be able to communicate with one another about their inner lives with transparency and safety. That condition is aided when both are able to experience the love of God.
You also wrote, “I don’t know anybody else in my situation.” Cynthia, you and your husband are not alone! In fact, today you two are actually a picture of the American Jewish “norm.” Demographic studies over the last 25 years reveal a trend toward Jewish-gentile couples. The 1990 National Jewish Population Survey reported that Jewish people took gentile spouses 52% of the time. That rate has held fairly constant in America. It is now estimated that over 42% of married American Jews are in Jewish-gentile couple relationships. In no way are you alone.
American Jewish community leaders have described intermarriage as a crisis threatening Jewish survival. Jewish-gentile couples describe that strong reaction as making them feel marginalized. Some synagogues have attempted to create a “big tent Judaism” where “strangers” are welcome. However, unless gentile partners agree to convert, that approach would change American Judaism.
Survival is a core Jewish value. So, it’s not a surprise that Jewish people fear losing their ethnic connection by investigating or potentially believing the message of Jesus. Finding spiritual intimacy in marriage can be a challenge. Cynthia, there is a way for you both to have a relationship with God that is fair to both of you.
You asked, “Is it best for me to proceed in a way that focuses on the commonalities of our faith?” Sure, why not begin the conversation by asking what he believes about his religion? I know he might be functionally secular with only a traditional attachment to Judaism.[ 7 ] But start the conversation with an effort to understand what Judaism means to him. That can help build trust and it could lead to safer discussion of personal beliefs. That, in turn, can lead to mutual appreciation and spiritual intimacy.
I’ve found that gentiles have far more appreciation for Jewish rites, rituals and life cycle events than Jewish partners do for elements of Christian belief and practice. Some traditional elements of Judaism are not contradictory with Christian faith. Both religions share a common monotheistic view of God and a respect for the first five books of the Bible. However, differences are considerable in how Judaism understands the nature of humanity. Christians speak easily about the sin nature, and God’s means for dealing with it. Your husband might have a totally different understanding of those subjects or none at all.
So back to your question, “How do I find spiritual harmony?” A good first step is to seek agreement that you both have to contend with brokenness. What does the Bible say about the subject of sin? Together, go on a Bible search from the Torah through the Gospels. For example, the Torah says that the God of Israel “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6–7). So, that states the problem and a promise, but how did He accomplish that? John the disciple wrote, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (Messiah).[ 8 ] You both can look at our helpful Bible study called “How to Know God.”[ 9 ] Choose a few biblical subjects for study, discovery and discussion together.[ 10 ]
Appreciation and Explanation
Cynthia, a mentor of mine taught me the law of apperception. People don’t grasp easily any idea that is outside of their cultural experience. So, in order to discuss a new idea you first have to learn the other person’s point of view and the terms of their understanding. Once you’ve acquired appreciation for what they know, you can stimulate their thinking about something new. The goal is to introduce a new idea, not necessarily to find agreement.
December is a wonderful opportunity for discovering new concepts. You want to look beyond the secular and commercially driven cultural symbols of the season.
The Jewish observance of Hanukkah celebrates Jewish survival against oppression. Reading about the Maccabees can give your children a sense of connection to the heritage of their father’s people. The “miracle” of Hanukkah is not found in any historic texts. The account in the Apocrypha makes no mention of a miracle in the Temple. However, there are many biblical accounts where God did miraculously intercede to save the Jewish people. You can read those biblical stories together to learn about God’s covenant faithfulness in preserving His Jewish people. You and your husband can use the occasion to increase your children’s awareness of their ethnic identity during the holiday.[ 11 ] Light Hanukkah candles and teach your children about the Lord, Israel’s mighty hero. Help them to appreciate God’s covenant faithfulness to Abraham and his people.
Then with the same energy share the meaning in your celebration of Messiah’s birth. You can read Luke 1:67–2:40 about the birth of Israel’s Messiah. Pay special attention to all the passages of Hebrew Scripture quoted in it. Messianic prophecies like Isaiah 9:1–7 can be eye-opening references to Jesus. Let the Bible reveal the real meaning for your celebration of the Messiah’s birth at this season. During the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, you all can read related Bible stories or a devotional series.[ 12 ] Create your own ways to find the true meaning of the December holy days.
December is a wonderful season to think about what God has done to preserve Jewish survival and why He’s done it. It’s a phenomenal time to consider that God sent His Messiah into the world and why He did that! I hope these practical ideas will help you both to eventually find spiritual harmony.
[ 1 ] “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Romans 3:9); ” . . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); “And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him” (Daniel 9:11).
[ 2 ] “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13: 38–39).
[ 3 ] “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13); “You will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29).
[ 4 ] Deuteronomy 6:5
[ 5 ] “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
[ 6 ] “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
[ 7 ] The term traditional has come to mean a Jewish person who is by conviction secular, but will observe some Jewish religious or cultural practices like keeping a Passover seder, attending High Holy Day services or showing support for the State of Israel.
[ 8 ] John 1:17
[ 9 ] See “How to Find Spiritual Harmony” at http://www.jewishgentilecouples.com/spiritual-harmony/42-how-to-find-spiritual-harmony
[ 10 ] For a picture of the whole Bible, see Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Recovering the Unity of the Bible: One Continuous Story, Plan, and Purpose (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009).
[ 11 ] See “Who is Israel” by Tuvya Zaretsky in Israel: The Land and the People, H. Wayne House, editor. (San Francisco: Jews for Jesus, 1998) [ISBN 0-8254-2878-5].
[ 12 ] See Christmas Joy! By Mel Lawrenz, available for download in .pdf at http://www.thebrooknetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/ChristmasJoy.pdf