Limmud Chicago 2011

I led a session on “changing attitudes towards intermarriage” today at Limmud Chicago. It was fun!

An interesting mix of people came – several who identified themselves as Orthodox, several young adults, several who looked like grandparents, and in between. We did a “take the temperature of the room” exercise where I asked people if they agreed, disagreed, or weren’t sure about, the following statements (thanks to Benjamin Maron for piloting this approach at TribeFest):
* if a rabbi and a priest or minister co-officiate, it’s not a Jewish wedding
* if you intermarry, your family will be a Jewish family only if your partner converts
* you can only raise Jewish children if both parents are Jewish
* if you have a Christmas tree in your house, your children won’t be Jewish.

The more traditional folks present expressed concerns on several fronts – a wedding between a Jew and someone not Jewish under Jewish law is not a Jewish wedding, why does a rabbi have to officiate, why couldn’t a judge officiate; what is the future going to be when there are so many people who identify as Jews who aren’t halachically Jewish; people won’t be recognized as Jews in Israel; etc. The very nice thing about the discussion is that it was civil and respectful on all sides. I don’t think anything was resolved, but I did offer my idea that everyone in the Jewish community could recognize self-identifying but non-halachic Jews as Jews for all purposes except those where halachic status matter.

I saw a lot of heads nodding when I talked about Jewish partners in interfaith relationships who say they get more Jewishly active because of the relationship, and partners who are not Jewish who get very Jewishly involved. People I talked with after the session appeared to be thirsting for ways to positively respond to and engage interfaith couples.

I haven’t been to a Limmud before and to be honest when I arrived it looked like a  mostly traditional set of attendees that made me wonder if anyone would come to my session and how it would be received. But it looked like perhaps 10% of the registration did come and it was a very lively discussion. It was great to be there, and I want to especially thank Debbie Burton, who has written many articles for InterfaithFamily.com, and has commented frequently on our discussion boards, for inviting me.

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4 thoughts on “Limmud Chicago 2011

  1. A big thank you to Ed for giving a wonderful presentation at Limmud Chicago. I would like to add that his session was one of 14 sessions in that time slot, so his estimate of 10% (which I agree with) means that his session was well-attended. Limmud does not ask people to pre-register for sessions, so they can choose to attend whichever sessions they are interested in and it is even thought to be perfectly reasonable for a person to leave a session early if it is not to their liking. (I don’t think anyone left Ed’s session, except for me popping in and out to try to help another presenter who had A/V problems.)

    There were indeed lots of different kinds of people who attended the session. I told Ed later that there were two rabbis that I know in attendance: one with ordination from JTS and one with a “liberal” independent ordination, but both are quite traditionally Conservative in personal observance, and neither is a “congregational rabbi”. (One is my daughter’s Talmud teacher.) My husband was an active participant (but I had neglected to introduce him to Ed because I was dealing with the A/V issues)—he was an “intermarried Jew” for 22 years before I converted. There was an adult who was from an intermarried family. And although I didn’t personally know most of the attendees, I surmise from what some of them said in that session or in other sessions that I saw them in that they did indeed span the range of Jewish observance and self-indentification from secular to Orthodox.

    I liked the way Ed had people get out of their seats and “take a stand” to show their opinions. That way even people who might not otherwise actively participate were forced to think about the issues and contribute. My husband told me later that another participant had commented that he wondered if he was misunderstanding the issues because although he kept being on the same side as my husband, it was for completely different reasons. I think that shows something really important: peoples attitudes toward intermarriage are based on a wide range of considerations—religious or social beliefs, background and personal experiences, Jewish affiliation, etc. Sometimes, I think people are too quick to assume “if you believe A, it must be because you believe B” and may totally misunderstand why the other people think what they do.

    I think Ed’s session really enhanced this 2nd annual Limmud Chicago by offering a Jewish topic that was completely different from anything at the last conference, introducing some perspectives that might be new to some of the audience, and getting everyone to think more about this important topic.

    “Kol HaKavod” Ed!

  2. There can be these kinds of discussions in the Jewsh community evey single day but it won’t change people’s mind.  Ed and Debbie might not believe in the Torah and Halacha but many do and that makes it impossible to accept intermarriage.

  3. Dear Ed and Debbie:

    It was a real pleasure to read this account of Ed’s talk at Limmud. I hope Ed is invited to speak at many future Limmuds. This kind of productive interaction is very helpful to interfaith families.

    Shoshana, I would respectfully suggest that citing the Torah against intermarriage is a knife that cuts both ways — there are innumerable accounts of intermarriage in the Torah.

    With regard to halacha — many children of intermarriage who have Jewish mothers report that other Jews still don’t treat them as “real” Jews, including the Orthodox.  They tell me that they are treated as second-class Jews. So if the halacha is not honored in a matter as important as this, it is hard to ask people working on interfaith family issues to adhere to it.

    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    Coordinator, Half-Jewish Network
    http://www.half-jewish.net

  4. Ed, we were thrilled to have you participate in Limmud Chicago. It’s so important to have voices like yours represented in our communal conversations – thank you! Please come back again next year!

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