Rabbi I Have a Problem

I’m Jewish, my husband’s Muslim, how do I raise my son?

An Orthodox and a Reform rabbi tackle problems in contemporary Jewish life


QUESTION: I am a Jewish woman, married to a Muslim man. According to Judaism, my son is Jewish, but according to Islam he is Muslim. How do I solve this issue?

An Orthodox perspective

If, like me, you do not have a good sense of direction, then you will also see Google Maps (other Sat Nav apps are available) as a godsend.

I am not sure how I managed to find my way around before, but now I just put in my starting location and choose the destination and it calculates the best route for me. My favourite feature is the multiple options that it offers including fastest, most fuel efficient or route that avoids congestion.

Like the millions of road users in the UK, everybody in this world has a unique spiritual destination and the route they need to follow to reach it will depend on the faith, religion or culture into which they were born.

The Talmud teaches that no two people’s faces are the same, so too, for each person, the starting location of their life is different as will be the route that they choose to take in order to arrive at their destination.

For someone born of a Jewish mother, their path is clearly defined by the Torah and the Talmud. This is based on the fact that, in Judaism, we see the physical world as a reflection and manifestation of a deeper spiritual reality. A human being is an amalgam of the two, possessing, as we do, both a body and a soul which need to be nurtured and nourished in their own way.

Rabbenu Bachya (1255-1340) teaches that every single person is divinely allotted specific qualities and afforded all the needs to fulfil the mission that they were created to achieve. This must be our constant goal, to assure that we are achieving our life’s purpose.

The qualities given to us are not only physical but also spiritual in order that we are able to reach our potential both in this world and ultimately for the World to Come.

In his great wisdom, King Solomon teaches in Proverbs, “Educate the child according to their way” meaning that, regardless of their choice of life partner, a parent has a responsibility to provide their child with the knowledge of the heritage and destiny while infusing them with an enthusiasm and commitment to it.

A child, whose parents are different religions, may face a more complicated journey than one whose share the same belief system and their challenge will be to navigate it with both sensitivity and respect. However, they can be reassured that, in the eyes of Jewish law, they are entitled and even expected to give full expression to their soul through the teachings and practice of Judaism.

Alex Chapper is senior rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree (United) Synagogue

A Progressive view

There are some who will read your query and immediately think, “That poor boy - it must be so confusing for him!” Others might react the exact opposite and say, “What a lucky chap - inheritor of two traditions!”

Which is the right response depends greatly on how you and your husband interact religiously. Some couples neglect to discuss before marrying how they will bring up any children in terms of religious identity or domestic rituals, resulting in children later becoming a battlefield between them.

Others have worked it out in advance and come to a mutually acceptable solution, be it in one faith, both or neither, making the home a religion-free zone.

The best way forward is to separate religious status (what the children are officially in the eyes of each faith), religious identity (how the children view themselves) and religious knowledge (what education you give them).

This allows for a variety of computations, including the version that often goes well if agreed: that children have the emotional security of being brought up in one faith, but have familiarity in both. They can therefore feel at home in both worlds and relate to family on each side.

But many other versions are possible and what works best is whatever you and your husband conclude amicably. What is key is to keep options open, so that if they wish to explore or adopt one faith as they grow older, they can do so and without either parent feeling rejected.

But please avoid the mistake many make of saying, “We’ll do nothing now and let them choose when older”, as you cannot choose from a vacuum. Meaningful choice can only come from knowledge of both traditions, otherwise they will most likely lapse into a “none” and lose out spiritually.

The fact that, in your case, your son has official status in both faiths could be seen positively, like having dual citizenship and being enriched by both.

We tend to categorise people - Jew, Muslim, Christian - and dislike that which we cannot define. But perhaps in this new world of inter-faith harmony we can be less insistent on labels and judge others by their values.

I certainly hope that no rabbi would deny him the right to take up his Jewish inheritance, attend religion school or Jewish day school and have a barmitzvah if you, your husband and he so wished.

Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue

If you have a problem to put to our rabbis, please email

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive