Another Problematic Article About Intermarriage

The other day I blogged about an article about intermarriage that got a lot of recent attention. Three Jewish women’s non-Jewish husbands didn’t participate in raising their children Jewish. I said it was a sad story, but not typical.

Another article about intermarriage, this one in the Huffington Post, also elicited a lot of comment recently: Interfaith Families: Can You Be Jewish and Christian at the Same Time, by Kate Fridkis. I won’t say this one is sad, but again, it’s not typical, and it’s problematic.

The article starts off with the provocative question, “Can someone identify as a Jew and a Christian simultaneously?” and says that people involved with The Interfaith Community
are doing just that by educating children of interfaith marriages in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

I know and respect Sheila Gordon, the founder of The Interfaith Community, as a serious and well-intentioned person. Sheila persuaded me years ago to list the IFC on InterfaithFamily.com’s Network, even though the Network is primarily meant to connect interfaith families with welcoming Jewish organizations, by contending that the Jewish identity of the Jewish partners was strengthened by their involvement with IFC.

After that InterfaithFamily.com still didn’t want to have much to do with IFC, although our thinking has evolved. We now would be happy to present, to people who gravitate to the IFC’s approach, the Jewish perspective and the model of interfaith families choosing  Jewish identity for their children while learning about and respecting the other religious tradition in the family.

I’m sure that there are some number of interfaith couples for whom the IFC’s approach resonates. At IFF we would not presume to pass judgment on them or suggest they were making a mistake. But educating children in both traditions is not the approach we recommend.

Fridkis writes that “a growing number of people are unwilling to give up their religious tradition just because their partner has a different one.” I question whether she has any data to back up that statement. She may be right that there is a trend in that direction – but I hope she isn’t.

I also question what “giving up a religious tradition” means in this context.  When IFF does holiday surveys, for example, we consistently find that high percentages of couples who are raising their children as Jews participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations, but not as religious holidays involving affirmation of the divinity of Jesus. Have the parents who are not Jewish in those families “given up their religious traditions”? Other than the theological beliefs – no.

I don’t like the imagined conversation Fridkis  scripts in her article. She suggests that most interfaith couples are not observant “so maybe they can just flip a coin” and has the partner who is not Jewish describe Easter as “the most bored I’ve been in my life” and the partner who is Jewish saying “I eat bagels and lox ALL the time, though.” This depiction remains demeaning of interfaith couples even after Fridkis says “OK, so maybe people don’t really talk like that.” I hate to come off as humorless, but it isn’t funny.

The serious point Fridkis makes is the argument that educating children in both traditions allows for “more in-depth future exploration” and leaves them “better prepared to make their own choices.” Here is the brief counter to that: I once heard a young adult woman express the great sadness she felt when her parents left her to pick a religious identity and community – she felt like she was choosing between, not her mother and her father, but between her two grandmothers. And there are numerous personal narratives and “expert” opinions on InterfaithFamily.com to the effect that being grounded in one religious identity and feeling part of one religious community is important for children and young adults.

What motivates the Board and staff of InterfaithFamily.com is the firm belief that engaging in Jewish life can be a source of profound meaning and value for interfaith couples and their children. It’s a shame that Jewish leaders and institutions have neither presented Jewish life in compelling ways nor genuinely welcomed interfaith couples to engage in it. If that were to happen more of the folks who are attracted to the idea of “doing both” might decide that the identity of their family and their children is Jewish while one parent’s is not, and that the non-theological traditions of that parent can still be part of the family’s life.

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7 thoughts on “Another Problematic Article About Intermarriage

  1. Is it really so terrible to imagine that people want to hold onto their faith while at the same time allowing their partner to hold onto a different faith?

    If the situation were reversed, if you were a Christian arguing that a Jew who marries a Christian should be actively discouraged from maintaining their own faith, wouldn’t this be coercive assimilation?

    Just because we are a minority worried about preserving our history doesn’t mean that we ought to be encouraging ourselves into coercing the people we claim to love the most in our lives.

  2. I’m sorry, Jannon, but you misunderstood. I am not talking about either partner giving up his or her religious tradition for him or herself, and I am not talking about coercing either partner to do anything. I am talking about whether it is better for children to be raised with one religious identity, or two. There are many Christians married to Jews who hold on to their faith for themselves but consider their family and their children to be Jewish.

    And in a Jewish-Christian intermarriage, I would rather see a child raised as a Christian, while learning about and participating in some Jewish traditions, than see a child raised as “both.”

  3. Ed if you didn’t mean what Jannon thought you meant you should have chosen your words more carefully. You wrote:
    [quote]I also question what “giving up a religious tradition” means in this context.  When IFF does holiday surveys, for example, we consistently find that high percentages of couples who are raising their children as Jews participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations, but not as religious holidays involving affirmation of the divinity of Jesus. Have the parents who are not Jewish in those families “given up their religious traditions”? Other than the theological beliefs – no. [/quote]
    To me that reads as “If you’re a non-Jew raising Jewish children, you can have an Easter egg hunt as long stop believing Jesus is the Messiah”. How else am I supposed to parse that paragraph?

    There are people who have a devout faith in their own religion and are raising their children in a different faith. Each of them has to find their own way to make theological peace with that, although the number of Christian sects who believe that the covenant between G@d and the Jews is still in place can provide a starting point for some (even Ann Coulter believes that good Jews go to Heaven). I think it does religion a great disservice to reduce it to whether or not you have a Christmas tree.

  4. I was thinking more of this paragraph:
    [quote]Fridkis writes that “a growing number of people are unwilling to give up their religious tradition just because their partner has a different one.” I question whether she has any data to back up that statement. She may be right that there is a trend in that direction – but I hope she isn’t.[/quote]

    To me that reads like Ed is hoping that people will be willing to give up their religious traditions.

    That’s not what I hope. I hope that families can compromise, value, and respect the choices and traditions of their members and find communities that will support, welcome, and empower these choices.

  5. Ed–

    I agree that the [i]Huff Post [/i] author wrote a somewhat naive and unconvincing treatment of the topic of raising children in an interfaith community. I didn’t find the dialogue funny, either. The author is not an interfaith child, nor intermarried herself, nor a longtime member or leader of an interfaith community. I am all three. I often link to interfaithfamily.com on my blog ([url=http://onbeingboth.com]onbeingboth.com[/url]), and continue to appreciate all the excellent work your organization does to welcome interfaith families to Jewish life, even while we continue to disagree, in that I believe raising children with both religions can be both good for the kids, and good for the Jews. As groups like IFC and the Interfaith Families Project here in DC ([url=http://iffp.net]iffp.net[/url]), continue to thrive, I look forward to continuing a dialogue on this important topic.

    Respectfully,
    Susan Katz Miller

  6. @Susan
    Actually, I am an interfaith kid. And I am about become half of a married interfaith couple. I am a longtime member of and leader in the Jewish community, the community I personally chose to identify with. You might want to check out more of my work before making statements like this about me!

    And @Ed
    I don’t know much about your organization, but I do think that there’s plenty of room in the world for people to make diverse choices about religion, and to have a sense of humor, too! Yikes! Maybe you’ve forgotten just how delicious a good bagel is?

  7. Kate–
    I do apologize! I have corrected this info in the post on my blog. I did read your bios and several of your previous posts without encountering the fact that you are an interfaith child.

    I find it fascinating that you did not include this (very salient) fact in your original post. For me, it considerably strengthens your argument to know that you are an interfaith child, secure and highly-educated in your own Judaism, defending the controversial path of teaching both religions to interfaith children.

    On the other hand, since we know interfaith children always have to spend energy defending their identities (no matter what those identities are), I guess I can understand not wanting to divert attention away from your central argument (with which I heartily agree!) and into the inevitable “Who is a Jew” argument.

    Anyway, thank you for stimulating this important conversation.
    –Susan
    onbeingboth.com

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