Noah Feldman on Intermarriage

I went to a fascinating “conversation” last night between Rabbi Daniel Lehmann, the president of Hebrew College, and Noah Feldman, the Harvard Law School professor and frequent New York Times contributor. Feldman’s July 2007 New York Times magazine article about the reaction of his modern Orthodox community’s reaction to his intermarriage was the subject of heated commentary that our Micah Sachs blogged about extensively at the time. Continue reading

New Passover Seder Resource

My nuclear family is going to my mother-in-law this year for Passover, and we are responsible for the child-friendly content of the second night seder. Even though both of us have worked in Jewish education in different capacities, we’ve never been in charge of leading a seder. We’ve always been participants at family seders that older family members led. This year we’re getting trained on doing it ourselves. I don’t think we’re going to be doing it alone, though, since my mother-in-law was a kindergarten teacher for many years and is sure to have a lot to say.

Yesterday my husband went to the Jewish bookstore to get copies of some of the books that I found for the Additional Resources page for the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families. Today my mom sent me a great resource: the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance published a booklet of activities for children and adults to enhance the Passover seder.

I have used JOFA’s materials in the past, when I was a bat mitzvah tutor for a girl who went to Orthodox day school–we used their booklet on Orthodox bat mitzvah options. I was impressed by the level of knowledge that JOFA educators thought a girl could achieve. (One girl in the booklet learned a chapter of Talmud and then had a traditional siyum, or completion party, as her bat mitzvah celebration. Wow.) Still, I wasn’t expecting JOFA to put out Passover resources that would be so useful for people in interfaith families. (I was also kind of surprised to get something from my mom from an organization with “feminist” in its name, since she usually prefaces the word “feminist” with the word “farbrenteh”– Yiddish for “burning”–but my mom is also a very experienced Jewish educator, and you can count on her to know good materials when she sees them.) It fits with my sense that we are all one big Jewish community and that there is continuity between secular Jews and halachic Jews, Orthodox and Reform, inmarried and intermarried, feminist and … not so invested in feminism. You know that if all of our families were leaving Egypt, we would have been redeemed, together.

Kosher for Passover Easter Basket? No, Really

I was really excited, in a silly way, to find out that Lieber’s Candy of Brooklyn makes kosher for Passover marshmallow bunnies and duckies–just like Peeps, only no gelatin! (I found the photo here–go give the kosher food detective some love!) I had this great idea to commission someone to make us an Easter basket with all kosher-for-Passover candy to photograph and feature on our site. In order to be kosher for Passover, candy can’t be made with corn syrup, and there are other kashrut rules about ingredients that apply to foods year-round that also apply on Passover.Pesadik peeps by awhyzip

I wasn’t completely kidding about wanting to blend Jewish food rules with Christian celebratory traditions. We have run one fabulous article by Teresita Levy, who hosts her Catholic relatives each year, Ay Vey, A Kosher for Passover Easter…With Recipes. Our families are increasingly diverse, and I believe with the right recipes and a little metaphoric WD-40 on your metaphoric door hinges, you can open your house to everyone.

I put out a call on Twitter to see if anyone wanted to photograph a kosher Easter basket, and one of my friends asked whether I had contacted Family Table, Greater Boston’s kosher food pantry. See, kosher for Passover Peeps are a cute idea, but there are a lot of Jewish families who can’t afford matzah. It’s a mitzvah, a religious obligation, to eat matzah, and it’s expensive.

Passover is a great time to think about feeding people. We say “all who are hungry, let them come and eat.” It’s emblematic of our freedom that we can host other people at our Passover seders. Right now, in the United States, there are people going hungry. If you are looking for a way to contribute, how about Project Mazon, a national Jewish hunger charity? If you clean your house for the holiday and get rid of leavened food, consider donating unopened packages to the local food bank. Let me know if you have other ideas that will celebrate Passover, Easter or the vernal equinox by making sure that all are fed.

An Orthodox Rabbi Who Does Not Think Intermarriage is the End of the Jewish World

Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)

Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.

Rabbi Shafner just finished writing The Everything Jewish Wedding Book . A wedding blogger who reviewed the book interviews Hyim about intermarriage in the context of being an Orthodox rabbi. When asked how he feels about interfaith weddings, Rabbi Shafner puts interfaith weddings into both a historical and spiritual context:

Half the Jews today marry someone who isn’t Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, it’s almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldn’t be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.

Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on one’s spirituality and connection to their heritage.

European Leaders Changing Ways on Intermarriage?

Munich synagogueMost European Jewish leaders support liberalizing their approach to intermarriage and conversion, a new survey shows.

As the JTA reports, 85 percent of the 251 respondents to a pan-European survey of Jewish leaders felt it was “not a good idea to strongly oppose intermarriage and bar intermarried Jews and their spouses from communal membership.” Further:

… fewer than 27 percent of respondents felt that only those who were born to a Jewish mother or who have undergone an Orthodox conversion should be allowed to become a member of the community. Even among those describing themselves as Orthodox or Modern Orthodox, 43 percent believed that those who have undergone conversion under rabbinic supervision from any denomination should be allowed to join. Similarly, 46 percent of Orthodox respondents agreed that one Jewish parent was enough to justify membership in communal organizations.

Continue reading

Programs Targeted to Interfaith Couples

There is a very interesting discussion going on on a listserv for Jewish professionals maintained by our friends at the Jewish Outreach Institute. I wanted to share here the (very slightly edited) posting that I put on that listserv today.

I believe it is of utmost importance for Jewish organizations and communities to offer programs targeted to interfaith couples and families. It is more than a little dismaying to see uncertainty among the Jewish professionals on JOI’s listserv. Continue reading

Can You Be for Inmarriage Without Being Against Intermarriage?

Can you be for inmarriage without being against intermarriage? My gut says yes. But explaining it is the tricky part.

When people of different religious backgrounds ask what I do, I tell them I work for a Jewish non-profit that provides resources for interfaith couples with a Jewish partner. “So you encourage Jews to marry Christians?” they inevitably ask. Well, no, I stammer, we don’t promote intermarriage, but if people do intermarry, we’re all for welcoming them and showing them the beauty, joys and community of Judaism. Their eyes are usually glazed over by that point.

Continue reading

It Was a Great Purim After All

I didn’t mean to let the entire Purim holiday go by without a greeting on our blog! Today I was the designated parent at home with my son, who has the bug that is going around. I think I’ve caught it too. I feel achy and chilled.

It’s not a hangover, though it feels like one. It’s traditional to get wasted on Purim but that’s one tradition I didn’t think fit my lifestyle this year. Nope, I didn’t have anything alcoholic to drink at the megillah reading last night. (The megillah, newbie Judaism fans, is the biblical Book of Esther, written on a scroll and traditionally chanted in Hebrew. Some people call it “the whole megillah.”)

Purim is a great holiday if you like to party and act silly. This is the first year in about 20 that I haven’t contributed writing to a purimspiel, a play that parallels the plot of the Book of Esther and features contemporary satire. It’s performed at the megillah reading. I did appear in other people’s sketches in the one we performed last night. (I got to wear a black cape!) It was fun, but I was sad that my son couldn’t be there. He’s been gearing up for Purim for a couple of weeks at Hebrew school. He was excited to dress up and be in a play. He was too sick and my husband decided to stay home with him.

This morning, there we were with a pile of articles that need to be edited for IFF, a stir-crazy child and a huge box of sugary treats. My mom sent a special new noisemaker for the kid to use during the megillah reading, and he was making head-splittingly awful noise with it.

I remembered one year when I was little that my parents read us the Book of Esther in English translation instead of taking us to synagogue to hear it read in Hebrew. I decided we could do that.  Continue reading

Jewish Population Shrinking?

The American Jewish population–as defined by religion–continues to decline, according to the just released American Religious Identification Survey. However, as measured by ethnicity, the number of Jews remains relatively stable, say the survey’s principal investigators.

The ARIS 2008 is the third in a series of large-scale surveys conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism and Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. With data culled from more than 54,000 telephone interviews, it has no equal in terms of sample size among American surveys on religion. Even the landmark U.S. Religion Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is based on fewer interviews. Continue reading