Article Discussion: Uncompromising Compromises

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October 14, 2009 at 4:00 am #3859


Click here to read the article: Uncompromising Compromises

October 14, 2009 at 5:05 pm #3866

Melissa Dinwiddie

Thanks for a lovely article Juliet! I’m from an ‘interfaith’ family myself, am in an ‘interfaith’ relationship, and I make my living as a ketubah artist, with my largest client cohort being interfaith couples. I love how thoughtfully you engaged with this process. I know each of my ketubah couples goes through their own version of this journey. It can be such a rich one!

October 15, 2009 at 3:50 am #3873

Debbie B.


I too have a “Ketubbah-like document” (KLD). I could not have a real ketubbah when I got married 22 years ago because I was not Jewish, but my husband and I wanted to have a similar document to express our love for each other, our hopes for a household filled with ritual, and our commitment to a shared life. My KLD is a very beautiful work of art made by a high school friend of my husband who did lovely calligraphy on real kidskin with illuminated letters in real gold leaf. Because we commissioned the friend to do it and paid her for it, she was able to use the money to buy plane tickets for herself and her husband to attend our wedding which they otherwise would not have been able to afford. Like your KLD, the wording of our KLD is closely modeled on the wording of a traditional ketubbah (with one side in Hebrew and one side in English), so there are many similar phrases in our two KLDs.

I now also have a real legal Jewish ketubbah in the traditional Aramaic. After I converted to Judaism, we had a halachic wedding attended just by two observant friends for kosher witnesses, one friend’s wife, our daughter (these four held the chuppa poles), and of course the rabbi (whom I had studied with for my conversion). But our KLD will remain on the wall of our living room. My husband asked me whether I wanted to have a custom-made ketubbah, but I felt that we already had our custom-made KLD which still represented our beliefs and commitment, and now testified to our long-lasting marriage in which those hopes have been fulfilled. I also treasure my real ketubbah, but just as we chose to have a small ceremony, for me it is a more private document.

My husband suggests that we should slide the legal ketubbah into the frame behind the KLD. Then some day a descendent may find and compare the documents. I wonder if they will smile when they see that although the documents were 22 years apart, they were both signed on the Hebrew date of the 24th of Sivan. Interestingly enough, although we initially scheduled the Jewish wedding for the day before so my son could attend since he went off to camp the next day, there were several scheduling issues which forced the day to the exact Hebrew anniversary of our civil wedding. I think it was “beshert”, just as we were meant to become a couple in the first place.

October 20, 2009 at 5:02 am #3917

Debbie B.

A comment on the discussion about Juliet’s husband’s nice article encourages me to ask a few nosy questions about the reaction of Juliet’s congregation to her marriage:

Current USCJ guidelines prohibit acknowledgement of intermarriages in Conservative synagogue newsletters. Was there any acknowledgement of your civil marriage by your shul? When I got married, also in Berkely, but back in 1987, I was not aware of what I now feel were unnecessarily harsh rules by the Conservative movement about how to treat Jews who had intermarried. There are responsa from the 1980’s which suggested denying membership, honors (e.g. taking an aliyah), committee membership, and other penalties to Jews with non-Jewish spouses.

My husband and I had attended services every Shabbat morning and holidays for three years at the UCB Hillel. The Hillel rabbi whom we really liked had gently told my husband that he was prohibited by the C. Rabbinical Assembly from officiating at an intermarriage. My parents would have completely rejected the idea of a rabbi at the wedding anyway. However, Rabbi B. did allow my husband to chant a Torah portion on the Shabbat before our wedding as for a traditional “aufruf”. At the time, I did not realize that Rabbi B. was actually being extremely lenient in essentially allowing a celebration in his synagogue of an upcoming intermarriage. Unfortunately, Rabbi B. was killed in a car accident, so I cannot thank him for what I now know to be an usually welcoming and non-judgmental attitude for a CJ rabbi at that time or for providing the Introduction to Judaism that would eventually lead to my own conversion.

Did any friends or relatives not attend your wedding because it was an intermarriage? We did not invite Rabbi B. to not put him in the possible situation of not being able to attend because it could be seen as sanctioning an intermarriage and worrying about hurting our feelings.

How did the rabbi and other congregants of your Orthodox shul react to your marriage?

October 21, 2009 at 3:20 am #3923


Debbie B. – some great questions, which I’d also love to hear the answers to.

The Conservative movement at times shows minimal support to intermarried familes, but unfortunately, is committed to maintaining the ideal of inmarriage over intermarriage. That is fair enough for the Conservative movement, but I honestly can’t understand why intermarried families would want to support it by joining its synagogues, etc, when ultimately they condemn intermarriage. Some non-Jewish partners do eventually choose to convert, and that is a beautiful thing, but it should not feel like the only option for being welcomed into the Jewish community. In addition to the fact that children of intermarriages raised in the Conservative community will inevitably, one day, hear some rabbi or layperson condemn intermarriage – and they will feel confused and hurt, and wonder whether they belong in the Jewish community.

The Jewish community needs to change its attitude towards intermarriage in a radical way. This is not a halakhic question – halakha has been creatively molded by the Jewish people based on our cultural evolution through history. The Conservative movement, theoretically, could bend/work with halakha very creatively on this issue if it chose to. Like Juliet, Conservative rabbis could create innovative ceremonies that reinterpret the “halakhic” definition of marriage and sanction the union. It’s not halakha that is in the way, it is the attitude towards the “Other.”

In response to the article itself – I am so amazed to discover an Orthodox Jew who is intermarried, and who is incorporating observance into that intermarriage, and to an agnostic! This is a truly beautiful and inspiring story. It takes real strength and commitment to be observant, particularly when your observance is not necessarily mirrored in your life partner’s behavior. It shows that a strong partnership can sustain and enhance each person’s differences, and that those differences can be enriching.

October 21, 2009 at 5:17 am #3925

Debbie B.


The Conservative movement has become much less hostile to intermarriage since I got married in the 1980’s. The Mens’ Club Federation had a very welcoming program of “kiruv” which was initially opposed by some because they thought acceptance of intermarried people and families implied endorsement of it and a devaluation of in-marriage. In my opinion, that is like saying that if you believe in being nice to and not mistreating women then you want everyone to be female and are saying that it is bad to be a man.

I think more CJ now are realizing that all the harsh policies were not effective in reducing intermarriage, but rather were actually responsible for reducing the number of Conservative Jews—some joined Reform temples, some dissociated altogether from Judaism. The old view was that intermarried people were already lost to Judaism, but now there is a growing understanding that many intermarried people left because they were pushed away, not because they were already hostile to Judaism. And Judaism  lost not only the Jewish spouses, but the children of those families too.

More recently the CJ leadership has also come to understand that pushing for the non-Jewish partner to convert is NOT welcoming. Some *may* choose to convert later, but that is a personal decision. I was heartened to read that a Jewish leader said that non-Jewish spouses would be welcome “forever”, not conditional on conversion.

I think intermarried families join C congregations because they like more traditional services and the C approach to Judaism. Some C congregations are welcoming. Ours welcomed my family warmly, with members inviting us to their homes for holiday and Shabbat meals. The minyan does have strict rules that non-Jews cannot be “official members” or take ritual honors, but nevertheless they always considered me to be a valued member of the community. (See my article “The Unofficial Member”)

My lay-led minyan was “independent” when we joined and only later became affiliated with the USCJ. But it has always used the CJ siddur and has always been egalitarian, although it does full traditional services in Hebrew differing from the Orthodox service only in a few words. Most of the members observe kashrut and Shabbat (e.g. no driving, some do not turn on/off lights). What we like best about our minyan is that it is participatory (with no paid clergy) and it is  a supportive community. For example, families “sitting shiva” for a death in the family will be supplied with meals and members will visit to make a minyan to pray and allow them to say kaddish in their homes for that week.

Basically, we like the traditional aspects of our CJ minyan and have found that its high observance levels have inspired us to raise our own level which in turn has allowed us to enhance our spirituality. We also like being part of a close-knit community.

I have become firmly committed to Conservative Judaism because I believe in its basic tenets and its approach to Judaism. I don’t feel that means that I have to agree with CJ attitudes and policies toward intermarried people and families. It’s OK not to agree with everything in a movement—most Rabbinical Assembly responsa have dissenting opinions too, and I know that my sponsoring rabbi does not agree with some majority opinions of the RA. I am glad that CJ is changing its attitudes to intermarriage.

Reform Judaism may have more welcoming attitudes to intermarriage, but I would not choose a synagogue solely on that criterion. More importantly, the RJ understanding of God and Jewish life and its approach to religion do not correspond with my beliefs. Also, at this point, I am more familiar with an Orthodox service which is nearly identical to what I am used to compared to Reform services which vary widely by synagogue because there is not a fixed liturgy. I feel relaxed and comfortable with the familiarity of a traditional service which is how my husband felt before I got used to it myself.

Some people would expect that because my minyan is quite traditional in religious practice that it would not be welcoming of intermarried families. But they would be wrong. So I’m wondering if those assumptions are similarly wrong for Juliet’s Orthodox congregation. Another factor is that Juliet was a long-time member of the congregation, so they already knew her and perhaps that made it easier for members of the congregation to understand that her marriage to a non-Jew did not mean that she was not a committed Jew.

October 21, 2009 at 12:14 pm #3926


Well put, Debbie!

October 21, 2009 at 3:00 pm #3927

Debbie B.

I’d like to add a response to the question of what it would be like for my children. My daughter is 15 and my son is 12, so I asked them not long ago if they had ever had their Jewish status questioned. After all, they don’t “look Jewish” because they are half-Chinese. It seems that this has mainly occurred outside of the synagogue context, mostly at their public schools which are about 30% Jewish, mostly Reform.

My daughter says that when people challenge her Jewish status, they mostly back off when she tells them that she took a dunk in a mikveh when she was young. My son says that since the person asking is usually much less observant than our family is, it doesn’t bother him because he feels “more Jewish” than most of the Jewish kids in his school. I don’t think any of the Orthodox kids in my kids’ schools have ever questioned my kids. Perhaps this is because the Orthodox kids all have “special needs” which cannot be met at the day schools that their siblings attend. Since they are also “different” maybe they are more understanding about people being “different” in a Jewish context.

My children’s Jewish status was never questioned in our lay-led minyan. One Orthodox member once asked if we had converted our kids, but it was curiosity, not a challenge. My son’s bris was attended by so many minyan members that there was barely room for people to squeeze into our apartment (most minyan bris are done in homes). It was performed by the same Orthodox mohel used by the other minyan families, although the blessings were slightly different since the bris was done “for the purpose of conversion”. Incidentally, the mohel was very respectful to me, more so than one of the Conservative rabbis at the mikveh for my son’s later conversion.

The C synagogue where we sent our children to Hebrew school has on its web site a whole web page for interfaith families which is how I found out about this IFF web site. If perhaps other Hebrew school kids have questioned their Jewish status, again my kids are confident in their “Jewishness” because our family is more observant than almost all of the families of the kids in Hebrew school. The more observant families of the synagogue send their kids to Jewish day school.

I am glad that my kids have high self-esteem and strong Jewish identities. My daughter does not even understand why I should worry about such things. She says that *I* must have self-esteem issues for thinking that people might question whether I or my children are Jewish.

I wonder if Juliet’s family will encounter more negative reactions when dealing with other OJ institutions in the future such as day school or OJ summer camp. And now that I’ve filled up this discussion thread with my family’s experiences as CJ, I do hope that we will hear more from Juliet and Birge about Orthodox reactions to their interfaith family.

October 27, 2009 at 12:51 am #3942


There are so many adoptions – especially from overseas – that it should not  be surprising to encounter interracial Jewish kids.

November 6, 2011 at 11:26 am #6265


I doubt that Juliet’s children’s jewishnessness will be questioned by the Orthodox. She is a born Jew and the Orthodox movement’s focus on kiruv (outreach) make them quite accepting of anyone with a Jewish mother

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