Recently JTA published this article about the Rabbis at B’nai Jeshurun, an influential non-denominational New York City synagogue, deciding they would officiate the weddings of interfaith couples who commit to raising Jewish children and having a Jewish home.
On the heels of that announcement, the Jewish Theological Seminary committed themselves to their ban on clergy officiating interfaith marriages.
While the B’nai Jeshurun announcement wasn’t perfect by any means and proves we still have a long way to go in supporting interfaith families, it does feel like a step forward and win for those of us in interfaith relationships.
The other announcement– that cuts me to the core.
It’s not personal, I know it’s part of their interpretation of Jewish laws, that interfaith marriage is a grave danger to Judaism. But it always feels like in some ways, it is personal. That they’re telling me I’ll never be enough. That I’m the grave danger to Judaism.
I don’t think the demand for conversion takes into account what you give up when you make that request. While I inherently feel like my community is my community, it doesn’t negate the 23 years I lived as a Catholic. The traditions I had since childhood, my childhood community, me as a person.
According to the Jewish People Policy Institute barely 40 percent of Jews are marrying Jewish spouses and among non-Orthodox American Jews 32 percent are raising their children Jewish. Those aren’t exactly shining numbers for the survival of Judaism as a faith. But part of that is how easy it is to disengage from your religion when you feel like they don’t accept you or your choices. If you spend your life being told you have to marry a fellow Jew by your community, and then you don’t do that, there’s no want to be a part of a place that you know isn’t going to accept you.
When we were first looking at synagogues, because I wanted to join one, a Reform synagogue was friendly up until the moment I asked about support for interfaith families practicing Judaism. Then it was clear that there was a strike against us and we realized that we’d never be fully welcomed. He’d always be a man who married outside Judaism, I’d be a woman who took away a nice Jewish boy, our kids would never be Jews to them. So we didn’t join. Instead our dues and our time goes to a different Reform synagogue with programming and support for interfaith families.
So when a group says they see interfaith relationships as a grave danger to Judaism, or they announce a separate but equal program for interfaith marriage, or they’ll accept interfaith marriage BUT still follow matrilineal descent it does feel personal. Because the way I see it, the grave danger isn’t interfaith relationships, but the othering of interfaith relationships and interfaith kids. Then it’s not just the non-Jewish partner who feels excluded but the Jewish partner because they’re abandoned by their community.
Ultimately some of J’s issues with organized Judaism stems from one of his childhood Rabbi informing him early in our relationship that it was ok for now, but he should marry a Jewish girl. After that, he felt like Judaism wasn’t going to be for him.
People who are interfaith families are going to pick the path that’s right for them and represents themselves the best. For us, it’s mixing in elements of my history and culture but being a primarily Jewish house. We’re lucky that Judaism is an option for us and we feel accepted and at home in our community. For so many people to feel like a community won’t accept them, it’s not surprising to me that less interfaith couples engage with Judaism.