Can a Catholic Marry a Jewish Person?


Wedding couple photo

Until recently, it was unheard of for a Catholic to marry outside his/her faith. The same case applies to Judaism, where Jewish leaders frowned upon a believer marrying a Non-Jew. Such situations have caused wide rifts in both believers’ fractions, and to date, the issue of Catholic-Jewish intermarriages remains controversial.

So, can a Catholic marry a Jewish person? A Catholic can marry a Jewish person depending on the specific Judaic denomination. The Catholic Church is open to mixed marriages, although it discourages it due to the challenges that come with it. On the other hand, strict Judaic denominations such as the Conservatives and the Orthodox strongly oppose marriage to Non-Jews, unlike more liberal Judaic groups like the Reformists that allow it. Regardless, a Catholic-Jewish marriage can occur as long as the believers meet specific guidelines of their respective religions.  

Intermarriages pose some challenges to the couple, given the varying belief systems. However, we hope to find out whether the case can be different in Catholic-Jewish marriages. Read on as we tackle all the issues surrounding such marriages between Catholics and Jews.

Catholicism and Mixed Marriages

The church is strong in its ground that marriage is a sacramental union. This fact has not changed even as modernism takes a toll on their beliefs. The good thing is that the church has agreed that inevitably, its believers will choose to marry from outside the church.

Hence, the church has no say in dictating who the right partner is for a believer. So, over the years, they have allowed people to marry from outside the church.

There are two instances of outside marriages among the Catholics; ecumenical marriages and interfaith marriages. An ecumenical marriage is when a Catholic marries a Non-Catholic Christian; the marriage is guided by Christianity but outside the Catholic Church.

In a mixed marriage, the Catholic marries an individual of a different religious affiliation, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or any other religion.

There are various challenges and emerging issues in matters of a mixed Catholic marriage. Hence, the traditional church strongly opposed these unions to make it easier for the believers’ married life. Up until now, the same issues arise, which makes the church discourage the practice.

However, the church tries to support the unions as long as the partners can find common ground. The church may even chip in to help them live a peaceful life led by the church’s teachings.

The most important criteria for a Catholic Church marriage is that the union must be valid and sacramental, and the church only recognizes the union if it meets these guidelines. In ecumenical marriages, the union is valid and sacramental since Christianity is the foundation.

Some people also argue that any union, as long as one partner is Catholic, should also be sacramental since he/she is also getting into a covenant. On the contrary, the church only deems an interfaith marriage as valid if the Catholic partner obtains dispensation from the parish bishop.

A dispensation is an official approval by the church for the union to carry on. Without this go ahead, the church will not see the marriage as valid according to the stipulated canons. Thus, as long as there are no detriments to the union, a Catholic can marry whoever he/she finds fit.

Lastly, the church strongly believes that the believer can make sound decisions under the Holy Spirit’s guidance; this is the power that baptism and confirmation confer to a believer. It would therefore be unfair to dictate a Christian’s decisions even if the church discourages it.

Similarly, based on Jesus’ teachings of fairness and equality, it would be best to treat others fairly, regardless of their religious affiliation. With this in mind, the Catholic-Church has no qualms with interfaith or ecumenical marriages.

Judaism and Mixed Marriages

Judaism is about strong principles and guidelines. Conventionally, the religious leaders were stringent with the rules on intermarriages, and even presently, some leaders are still reluctant in such issues.

According to the Talmud and other subsequent rule books (before the onset of new Judaic movements), any union with a Non-Jew (gentile) was null and void. This issue still sparks a lot of controversy among the believers, most of whom view that one should make his/her personal decisions in finding a marriage partner.

Over the years, the Jewish began to ease their rules to allow their members to marry outside the faith. It began with the declaration that although these marriages were void according to Jewish law, they were still civilly valid.

The next step was to allow interfaith unions as long as the spouses would raise the subsequent children as Jewish. Later on, the Jews also allowed intermarriages between a Jew and a converted Jew; such a union is valid.

These rulings slowly paved the way for other Jewish groups to accept interfaith marriages. Such groups consist of Reformists and Reconstructionists who deviated from the traditional aspects of Judaism. Similarly, liberal rabbis officiate ceremonies where the other partner is a Non-Jew; actually, most of them willingly conduct intermarriages.

These liberal movements’ aim when allowing intermarriages is mainly to strengthen Judaism, as most hope that the other partner converts to the religion. They believe that letting them marry from other religions has a positive impact on Judaism’s growth and strength.

Notably, the children resulting in intermarriages may either end up marrying other Jews or becoming Jewish. As some leaders would say, granting the go-ahead for intermarriages also shows that Judaism is open to diversity and unity, and what better way to attract non-believers to the Jewish community?

On the contrary, Orthodox Judaism and Israeli Jews strongly prohibit intermarriages; hence, most rabbis from these groups will not participate in such unions. The Orthodox leaders view that a Jew marrying from outside the religion is a deliberate decision to reject Judaism, and consequently, he/she is cutting away from the Orthodox society.

However, the Orthodox law considers that any child begotten of a Jewish woman is still a Jew; hence some rabbis may consider maintaining intermarried Jewish women.

Some groups do not allow intermarriages but a union between a Jew and a Non-Jew is still a valid union according to their respective states of residence. Similarly, denominations like the reformists allow inter religious unions. Given that other Judaic groups allow such unions an interreligious couple can term the union as valid.

Can a Catholic Marry a Jew?

There is the Jewish and the Christian view in this matter. One religion may be open to it, while the other may have reservations; therefore, it is best to look at the two parallel sides to determine whether a Catholic can marry a Jew.

First, intermarriages are not a new concept in the Catholic Church. The only hurdle to clear when a Catholic wishes to marry a Non-Catholic is the issue of obtaining a dispensation. Since he/she wishes to go against the canonical form of marriage, the bishop’s approval is paramount.

Not doing so may render the union null and void in the church’s eyes. As long as they obtain the dispensation, the marriage can occur anywhere, and the church will not hold it against the member.

The church’s only concern is that the marriage is well prepared and that the couple will amicably deal with the issues presented by marrying from another faith.

For instance, the couple needs to address issues such as the religion that they will both practice and how they will go about the future problems brought about by their respective families. If the Jew and the Catholic can maintain peace and unity, then they can marry.

In contrast, Orthodox and Conservative Judaism are still rooted in the foundations of traditional Judaic laws. Therefore, it is a challenge for an Orthodox or a Conservative Jew to marry outside the religion.

This law is further fixed by the rabbis, who maintain their grounds on not officiating intermarriages. On the other hand, there are more lenient Judaic movements like the Reform Jews. They may discourage it but do not necessarily prohibit it. Here, the Jew can marry a Non-Jew as long as there are no grave impediments.

The rabbis of these liberal religious groups can officiate the unions. However, there are still varied opinions about the validity of mixed marriages; the Reformists solely leave it up to their rabbis to decide whether they can officiate the marriage. Thus, a Jew can find a rabbi to be a celebrant at the union.

As long as there is common ground between the two, they can easily get married. Since the Catholic partner only requires dispensation from the church, they can hold the wedding anywhere they prefer, even at the synagogue. In most cases, the rabbi officiates the union if the wedding takes place at a neutral site.

Considering that the church has reservations about weddings outside the church’s walls, the priest may not officiate the wedding at any other venues. Some couples may opt to have two parallel ceremonies; this way, they can include both partners’ religions.

Do Jews Tend To Marry Catholics?

Several studies have confirmed that there is indeed a tendency of Jews to marry Catholics when they intend to intermarry. Based on U.S. Religion Landscape Survey, 39% of intermarriages between Jews consist of Jewish-Catholic unions. This finding is remarkable, given that they are almost twice as many Protestants as there are Catholics. However, more than two-thirds of Jews are in purely Jewish marriages.

This situation begs the question; do Jews tend to marry Catholics? There is a tangible number of Jews wishing to marry Catholics and vise versa. These intermarriages may be due to various factors such as geography, patterns, and other similarities in the religious systems. Thus, we may say that the intermarriages result from certain socio-economic factors and not from a particular preference between the two groups. 

Geographically, the Jews and the Catholics reside in the Northeastern region; therefore, their integration is imminent. These frequent interactions have made it possible for the two groups to get into close relationships, which sometimes leads to marriage.

This fact is also due to the traditional migration patterns where most Jews and Catholics charted the same course from Europe to America in the early 1900s.

Similarly, the two religions have similar values and strong moral foundations, making it easier for any two people to feel drawn to each other. The similar belief in God as the supreme being also serves to bring them together. Even if they are different religious aspects, the groups’ firm structure makes a Jew and a Catholic find common ground in their relationship.

The main reason for Jewish-Catholic integration is modernism. This factor links to modern aspects such as technology and education. In the long run, the Catholics have slowly interacted with the Jews, which has led to increased intermarriage cases.

Emerging Issues in Catholic-Jewish Marriages

There are various emerging issues in intermarriages, especially between traditional groups like the Catholics and the Jewish. As much as it may be allowed, we need to address aspects such as; what happens to the children? How does the couple cope with their diversities? Does one spouse have to convert to the other religion? What about validity? We expound on these and more issues.

Canonically, the Catholic Church expects the couple to faithfully adhere to Catholicism and raise their children on the same philosophies. Even before the union’s commencement, the Catholic partner has to commit to raising the children according to the Christian way of life. Previously, this rule was more absolute until 1983.

Before then, the partner had to make a solemn vow that the children would know no other religion other than Christianity. Similarly, the Non-Catholic partner had to actively participate in raising the children on the principles of Christianity. Nowadays, the only requirement is that he/she is aware that the other party has to meet the church’s religious obligations.

Based on the Talmud, a marriage with a Non-Jew is forbidden. A man also does not have any parental obligations to fulfill to children obtained from a relationship with a female gentile.

However, with time, these rules have eased to allow the Jews to marry from other religions under the argument that, even though the unions are null under the Jewish law, these unions are still civilly valid. Therefore, the Jewish parent still has to fulfill his/her obligations. The Jewish customs also dictate that the parents should raise the child under the Jewish laws and customs.

Since both religions advocate for inclusion in the child’s life, the only way to achieve it is to teach the child the ways of both religions. Doing so will help the child feel both religions so that as they get older, they may choose which way is better.

Catholicism dictates that the union must be in the Catholic Church; however, the bishop can grant a dispensation to allow the two to marry in the other partner’s synagogue. Since there is no such allowance in Judaism, the couple tends to marry in the synagogue after obtaining the dispensation; this way, both religions will still deem their union valid.

If they decide to have the wedding in the church, then they can invite the rabbi. But he will not actively participate in the union since it is in the parish priest’s jurisdiction and only, he has the authority from the church to unite the two in the Catholic Church.

Both the church and the synagogue do not require the other partner to convert to be married; however, they strongly encourage it. Due to modernism and an individual’s belief system, nobody has to convert for the sake of marriage; instead, it is a personal decision.

If you feel that conversion will bring you two closer and strongly agree with the other religion’s teachings, you may convert. The only contentious issue may be bringing your family on board.

If it may bring discontent among your family relationships, it may help to reconsider. However, the decision on the religious way to go is personal, so no one should coerce another when they have already made up their mind. Most couples, however, choose to each follow their religion instead of converting.

They both incorporate their daily customs as long as it does not infringe on the other partner’s beliefs. Therefore, the best cause of action is to find common ground between the two affiliations and be more understanding of each other.

Final Verdict

The intermarriage issue is and will always be contentious among the believers of any religious affiliation, especially when the two religions have parallel doctrines. The case is no different in Catholic-Jewish unions, so if the couple finds a way to make the marriage work, they will have to go through certain hurdles in their married life.

While there is a universal Catholic Church, there are different segments of Judaism (each with varying philosophies). Thus, the Judaic inclination of the Jewish partner will determine whether the union is possible.

It may be easier if he/she is in more liberal groups like the Reformists or the Reconstructionists (groups that allow intermarriages). Even if he/she is an Orthodox, you can rest assured that the Catholic Church and the law will deem your union valid.

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