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A New Book to Help Your Interfaith Relationship

May, 2003

A review of A Nonjudgmental Guide to Interfaith Marriage: Making Interfaith Marriage Work (Xlibris Corporation, 2002, 280 pages), by Steven Carr Reuben.

Are you currently in an interfaith relationship?

Are you planning an interfaith wedding?

Do you want to enter this marriage making sure that you have considered, with your partner, important aspects--children, in-laws, your own needs and those of your partner--of the life before you?

Would you like to know how other interfaith couples have set out to create loving, fulfilling relationships?

If any of these questions pertain to you or to someone you know, A Nonjudgmental Guide to Interfaith Marriage: Making Interfaith Marriage Work, by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D. (Xlibris Corporation, 2002) would be well worth your time to read.

The book's chapters are organized chronologically according to each phase of a developing interfaith relationship--dating, wedding, marriage, children, and divorce. As he addresses each phase, we are able to benefit from the wisdom, knowledge and experience of Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, who has worked extensively with interfaith couples, and also to hear directly from people living in these relationships, as well as their parents and, ultimately, later in the book, their children.

Certain themes emerge and specific approaches are advocated by both the author and people that he interviews. Rabbi Reuben summarizes these sentiments at the end of his book:

  • The need to discover and understand one's own religious desires and feelings.
  • The need to confront honestly differences in background and worldview.
  • The need to develop important communication skills.
  • The need to overcome negative stereotypes and transform them into positives.
  • The need to deal sensitively with in-laws and parental disapproval.
  • The need to negotiate the difficult questions regarding raising children and celebrating holidays, rituals, life-cycle events, and more.

The book is honest and sensitive to the joys and potential plights of an interfaith relationship. In fact, Reuben refers to the finding that interfaith marriages have a three to six times greater risk of failing. To help counteract that risk, Reuben provides the reader with a detailed, practical, and thorough way of thinking through each aspect of the relationship. For example, to help couples articulate the role and importance of religion in their lives he shares a list of ten questions they can answer together. He also acknowledges that the rate of interfaith marriage is high and will probably increase as religious barriers become more and more obsolete. He advocates that we, as relatives, friends, and religious communities of all kinds, open our hearts and minds to these couples, not only to support them but to help our religious communities continue to thrive, as well.

Perhaps one of the most compelling parts of the book is the chapter titled "Advice from Those Who Have Been There." In it we read words of advice from couples, parents, and children, all involved in one way or another in interfaith marriage. As Reuben states, "This book has been an opportunity to stand, as it were, on the perimeter of their lives and glimpse through their discussions and revelations something of the reality of interfaith life in America today."

If there are any limitations to the book, it is that the perspectives shared are solely from people involved in Jewish/Christian, heterosexual relationships. As interfaith relationships in America today extend into non-Western religious spheres and cultures, and beyond heterosexual orientations, the issues of integrating the lives of two individuals and their families may extend further and into other realms as well.

This book is an excellent resource for people involved in an interfaith relationship, their immediate and extended family, and anyone who cares to understand how to make their larger faith community more relevant and more welcoming to interfaith families. It would probably be most valuable to someone who is in the early stages of a relationship, as it is most effective in exposing the joys, challenges, and questions that can arise, as well as in emphasizing the skills needed to nurture a strong healthy relationship.

Rabbi Reuben tells us that as the face of religious America changes, we are given an opportunity. He draws on his biblical heritage to remind us that by opening our minds and hearts as individuals and larger communities, we can also strengthen our religious institutions. He concludes his book with a powerful teaching of three thousand years ago:

"The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as the home-born, and you shall love them as yourself."Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 34

Indeed, in an age of moral and ethical challenges, we need our religious communities to be welcoming, warm and inclusive to all those who seek a home in our congregations.

Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben deserves a lot of credit for writing a "nonjudgmental" guide to help people in interfaith relationships. He exhibits terrific compassion and sensitivity to the individuals that he serves both directly through his rabbinate and counseling services and indirectly through his book. He obviously cares deeply about each individual and soul that he reaches out to regardless of that person's religious background or sexual orientation.

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.
Catherine Fischer

Catherine Fischer is the coordinator of the Center City Kehillah in Philadelphia, Penn. The Center City Kehillah is a community building project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in cooperation with the Jewish Outreach Partnership.

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