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Prospect of Marriage Can Lead Away from Interfaith Dating

The Kansas City Star
Posted on Sat, Jul. 20, 2002

Miri Hoch's Jewish parents never told her she had to date a Jew, but she knew they weren't thrilled when she started dating a Catholic.

"They respected my right to make my own choices," said Hoch, who lives in Prairie Village. "And they knew I would grow up and come around."

She did, and as she grew older, it became more important for her to date men within her faith. Now at age 25, Hoch is engaged to Jeffrey Spiegel, 31, of Overland Park, who also was committed to marrying someone Jewish.

Ann Pavlich, a devoted Catholic, tells a similar story. She had dated non-Catholics but always felt something important was missing -- a common faith.

"As you get older, you start thinking about what type of home life you want and how important it is to raise your children in the faith," said Pavlich, 30, of Mission.

Pavlich is now dating a practicing Catholic. Both come from large Catholic families, love the traditions and practices of their faith and attend Mass together.

In a society that emphasizes diversity and tolerance, many people from various faiths are saying no to interreligious dating. They love their faith and want to marry within it. To them, it makes sense to date members of their religion.

To Live On

For Jews, it's a matter survival, some say.

The leadership council of Judaism's Conservative movement has strongly condemned intermarriage and urged Jews to marry other Jews.

The majority of Jews who intermarry cease to practice Jewish traditions and often do not provide a Jewish education or experience to their children, said a 1995 statement from the leadership council. The result: "Over 70 percent of children of intermarried couples are not being raised as Jews, thus further diminishing the Jewish people."

"We must continue to articulate that it is important for Jews to marry other Jews to continue the ancient and historic mission of Judaism," the Conservative leadership said. "...Our young people and their families must comprehend the direct relationship between interdating and intermarriage."

Youth groups in all of the Jewish movements have programs that address interdating and intermarriage, said Rabbi Joel Meyers of New York, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly (of Conservative Rabbis).

"This is a serious concern, a serious problem," Meyers said.

Fifty-one percent of Jews intermarry, according to a 2000 national survey of Jewish identification, conducted through the graduate center of City University of New York. The figure has changed little from 52 percent in a 1990 survey.

Throughout American culture, studies show a decrease in ethnicity and an increase in personal choice, Meyers said. This has a bearing on interdating and intermarriage.

One factor that affects the intermarriage rate among Jews is the high rate of people living together outside marriage, said Egon Mayer, a sociology professor at City University's Brooklyn College, who headed the Jewish identification survey.

"Part of the reason we have not seen an increase in interfaith marriage is that it has been offset by people living together," Mayer said. "People who are in mixed relationships are less likely to marry.

"The big push since 1990 has been at increasing the opportunities for young Jews to meet and mate with other Jews. The emphasis has been in education about the religion. But the jury is still out as to whether that works because most people get educated in childhood but marry in adulthood."

The message apparently is making an impact on some young Jews, who are deciding early that they want to date and marry within their faith.

Ethan Pack, an 18-year-old who lives in Prairie Village, said he prefers to date Jewish girls. Pack has been influenced by his participation in Young Judaea, a Zionist youth movement sponsored by Hadassah, a women's Zionist organization. The movement provides a wide range of youth activities, including peer-led clubs and summer camps.

"Dating can present a tough challenge," Pack said. "If my feelings were to go in one place and my beliefs go in another, that would be a problem. If I dated someone who was not Jewish, it would have to be someone who is open-minded and be willing to convert."

According to Scripture

Many Christians who hold to a stricter biblical interpretation say God mandates marriage within the faith. They cite 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"

Most of the 60 to 80 active members of the Plaza Heights Baptist Church youth group in Blue Springs date other believers, said Daniel Dorr, youth pastor.

"We deal with dating a lot," he said. "We tell them the Bible says they should not be bound with a nonbeliever and that God has a design for relationships.

"A dating relationship is more than just going out and having a good time. You want to find a mate, so you want to date someone who has a like faith and practices as you have."

Phil Dietz, associate pastor of students at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, tells his two sons, ages 16 and 18, the same thing he tells the young people at church:

"I discourage them from dating someone outside their faith," he said. "If you raise them right and sit down and talk to them and explain the reasons why, they really respond well."

Jonathan Kinyon, 34, of Kansas City said he has never dated anyone who was not a Christian. Kinyon is a member of Equally Yoked, a Christian singles organization, where he met the woman he is currently dating.

Kinyon believes dating another Christian provides compatibility in prayer time, fellowship and building a friendship.

"I have seen some so-called `missionary dating,' dating them until they get saved," he said. "But this is not successful very often."

Course of Conduct

Boys and girls of the Muslim faith do not date, and marriage within the faith is mandated for women and recommended for men.

Hamed Ghazali, principal of the Islamic School of Greater Kansas City, said the school emphasizes no dating and no physical contact between the sexes, not even shaking hands.

The Qur'an provides marriage guidelines for Muslims. One passage states: "He created for you spouses from yourselves that you might find peace in them" (30:21).

Sherita Mohammed, 15, of Kansas City, said she accepts the fact that she cannot date.

"If someone asks me out, I tell them in a nice way, `I can't go out with boys, and you can't call me,' " she said. "If they ask why, I say because I am a Muslim. When I wear the head covering, usually that's when boys come up to me."

Mohammed said she has met some boys she has liked who were not Muslim, but she knows she wouldn't be able to marry them.

Many young Muslims meet one another at annual Islamic conventions, such as the Muslim America Society convention, said Sherita's father, Imam Bilal Mohammed of the Al-Inshirah Islamic Center in Kansas City. Composed primarily of African-Americans, the convention includes a lot of seminars and activities for youth.

"The young people get a chance to interact in public places," he said. "They are chaperoned heavily by all of us, under our watchful eyes. Then they may keep in touch through writing or e-mail."

Intermarriage is not a problem among Muslims even though the United States is a pluralistic society, said Sayyid Syeed of Plainfield, Ind., general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America.

"Now that there are more Muslims in this country, there are even more choices, and most marry within the faith," Syeed said.

Many people of various religions believe the best way to carry their faith into the next generation is to marry within the faith and raise children in that faith. Usually this process starts with dating.

"I would get nervous if my son or daughter started dating people of other faiths," said Matthew Siegel of Leawood, who is Jewish. "I would not have a rule that they should not date outside their faith, but I would teach them the advantages of marrying within their faith.

"And I have the utmost respect for anyone, a Catholic, a Baptist, whoever, who would want their children to marry within their faith."

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