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A New Book to Help Your Interfaith Marriage: Review of Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage

If you're in an interfaith relationship and are thinking of getting married, one of the most prudent courses of action is to seek advice from your priest, rabbi or minister. Perhaps you have thought of having a Jewish marriage and creating a Jewish home. In this case, visiting a rabbi would be more than worthwhile. A rabbi would be able to offer guidance in how to achieve this daunting goal, as well as warn you of the pitfalls you might encounter along the way. Reading the new book, Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage, by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, with Joan Peterson Litman (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003, $16.95), is a great step in this journey.

In this short, well-organized book, Olitzky guides us through dating, marriage, and how to raise Jewish children. Along the way, he offers advice on how to deal with parents, how to approach the holidays, and how to work through life-cycle events. In addition, he also includes chapters on nurturing a Jewish soul, special interfaith situations, and even the option of conversion.

At times, the book gives detailed, step-by-step advice on navigating the interfaith world. The chapter on dating is very specific about the kinds of questions you should ask yourself and your partner when entering into an interfaith relationship. To support his points, Olitzky offers various examples from the multitude of couples that he has counseled. These accounts provide a range of options--both successes and failures.

At the end of each chapter, Olitzky lists three or four tips which summarize the main points. And at the back of the book, he has also thoughtfully included a list of resources, a glossary, and most important, a list of books for further reading.

More than just a "how to" book, however, Olitzky places an emphasis on introspection and thinking through your actions. In addition, much of the book discusses not just what people do, but why people react to certain situations. This is extremely beneficial in helping an interfaith couple work through problems logically, and not just emotionally. In reminding couples to focus on ways in which their different backgrounds complement, rather than conflict with, each other, Olitzky offers readers a refreshing respite from the usual naysayers that we've all heard before.

If there is any drawback to the book, it is that many of the chapters are written primarily for the Jewish partner in the relationship. However, Olitzky admits this several times, and makes a point to also include the possible feelings of a Christian partner.

This is, after all, a book for those who have decided to, or are thinking of, creating a Jewish home. And, some of the chapters may even help the Christian partner in understanding, "Why Judaism?" As a Christian dad in an interfaith family, I was particularly intrigued by Olitzky's synopsis of Jewish ritual and how it can help "provide an anchor amidst the chaos of the everday." In our family, we have discovered how celebrating Shabbat (Sabbath) every Friday night with the kids has brought a little more order to our crazy lives. This book gives even more rituals for us to try.

Overall this is a tremendous book for the interfaith community. Olitzky emphasizes that people do not have to give up their faith just because they intermarry. My wife and I have each kept ours with success. As he correctly sees it, interfaith marriages can be an opportunity to reach out to couples and invite them with open arms into Judaism. Personally, I find it reassuring to know that there is one more advocate who accepts and supports families like ours.

The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Jim Keen

Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

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