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Celebrating Interfaith Weddings without Apologies or Excuses

A Review of Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony. By Devon A. Lerner. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. 265 pp. $13.95

Why is this book different from other books on intermarriage? The answer can be found in the very title of the book. The author, Rabbi Devon Lerner, not only diverges from the crowd that still views interfaith unions as calamities to be prevented whenever possible, she steps over those who would cautiously "tolerate" such marriages -- and wholeheartedly celebrates them.

This is not a popular clerical perspective despite (or perhaps, because of) the proliferation of interfaith unions in recent decades--over half of all Jewish marriages are currently to non-Jews, most of whom are Christian. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis will not participate in interfaith marriages because they believe them to be prohibited by Jewish Law. Many Reform rabbis refuse to officiate at such ceremonies because they feel intermarriage promotes assimilation and hence, the waning of the Jewish community at large. Despite the fact that Catholic priests are obligated by Church law to do everything to promote healthy marriages, including blessing interfaith marriages, many prefer not to take part in such ceremonies because they personally believe such unions compromise the integrity of Catholicism. Members of the Protestant clergy are typically less conflicted about being part of interfaith ceremonies, but they too are affected by the rising tide of intermarriage.

The people most affected, of course, are interfaith couples who want to honor both religious traditions in their wedding service, vows, and readings. For such couples, Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish Christian Ceremony is an invaluable resource. Rabbi Lerner provides an abundance of practical information, including how to find and work with rabbis, priests, and ministers. She also includes readings from both the Bible and secular literature from which couples may choose to customize their weddings.

Also included in Celebrating Interfaith Marriages are complete versions of various Jewish and Christian wedding ceremonies couples may mix and match when creating their own service. These ceremonies are educative and enable readers to compare and contrast wedding rituals in diverse traditions.

Lerner does realize that even when there is a general desire for accommodation, conflicts regarding customs are bound to arise. For example, according to the American Christian tradition, it is bad luck for a groom to see his bride before the wedding. But it is customary for a Jewish bride and groom to see one another shortly before the service so that both may sign the ketubah, that is, the marriage contract. Not only does Lerner find a way to resolve this and other conflicts amicably--she provides examples of lovely interfaith ketubot. Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Own Jewish/Christian Ceremony is a must read, not only for interfaith couples who plan to start a life together--but for their families as well.

 

 

Hebrew for "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Plural form of the Hebrew word "ketubah," meaning "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. 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.
Marlena Thompson

Marlena Thompson was part of an interfaith marriage that lasted almost 25 years before her husband died in 2003. She is a writer and singer/storyteller living in the Washington DC suburbs and visits Ireland whenever possible. Her mystery novel, A Rare & Deadly Issue (2004), has an interfaith heroine and can be ordered at www.pearlstreetpublishing.com.

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