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Judaism Your Way targets unaffiliated Jews, but it’s clear that Field’s passion is engaging the intermarried. He officiates at interfaith weddings without making any demands that the non-Jewish partner convert. It’s not a radical stance, but it is in opposition to the position of the local rabbinical association. Judaism Your Way’s services include wedding ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews, baby namings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs or “alternative coming of age celebrations,” Shabbat services, regular holiday observances, and High Holiday services.
I like Rabbi Field’s approach a lot. He knows that synagogues aren’t reaching some Jews but also recognizes that they offer a sense of community that no alternative community or outreach organization can provide on its own. Contrary to the opinions of some critics, synagogues are not hopeless, but they just need a little help from bridge organizations, like Judaism Your Way and InterfaithFamily.com.
On a random note: in the article, Rabbi Field talks about why he doesn’t push the non-Jewish partner to convert. His opinion is that it’s a major personal decision and no one should be pressured into it. His explanation echoed a rerun episode of “Seventh Heaven” I happened to catch while I was at the gym last night (which is really my snobby way of pointing out that I don’t watch the show regularly).
In this episode, the son of Eric Camden (Stephen Collins), a Christian pastor and the star of the show, is set to marry a Jewish woman who is the daughter of a rabbi played by Richard Lewis. Apparently, the son has been attending synagogue with his Jewish fiance for several months and has been taking a conversion class. In an attempt to sabotage the wedding, Lewis’ rabbi suggests that the boy convert immediately prior to the wedding–knowing full well that he’ll be scared and Pastor Camden will be pissed. When his son tells him that he plans to convert, Camden gets so upset that he cancels the wedding, arguing that conversion should be a matter of “personal conviction” not parental pressure. The episode is actually a pretty interesting dissection of the whole issue of conversion before intermarriage. It points out one of the pitfalls of pushing conversion. While for Jews, being Jewish often has much more to do with cultural identity than religious belief, for people raised in Christian households, religion is solely a matter of belief. Asking someone to convert who doesn’t truly believe–or fully understand–the faith they’re adopting is hypocritical at best. Conversion is a powerful, life-changing choice and should never be undertaken lightly, or with a conflicted heart.
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