Judaism Your Way, and “Seventh Heaven”

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The Intermountain Jewish News has a great article on Rabbi Brian Field, who leads Judaism Your Way, an innovative “synagogue without walls” based in Denver, Colo.

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.

Judaism Your Way functions as an entryway toward Jewish practice, learning and community — if that’s what participants desire.

“One of the things we like to say is that wherever you are along your Jewish journey, we’ll meet you there and help you figure out the next step,” Rabbi Field says.

It’s an accommodating philosophy that sounds eerily similar to the approach used by Chabad.

But Rabbi Field stresses that unlike Chabad or other Jewish outreach groups, Judaism Your Way does not have a Jewish agenda that pulls participants toward more traditional forms of Judaism.

“We have a mutually referring relationship with other synagogues and organizations,” he says. “Congregations refer people to us if the programming members want is unavailable. Similarly, if someone in our group is looking for a deeper sense of community, I refer them to different synagogues, rabbis and Jewish organizations. I’m happy to do that.

“But we’re also aware that there’s a lot more that needs to be done Jewishly to engage all the folks out there. Is there another way of teaching Judaism, studying Torah, praying, and celebrating the holidays and Shabbat that can engage those people whose needs are not being met in existing models?”

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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One thought on “Judaism Your Way, and “Seventh Heaven”

  1. don’t feel too bad, because i never watched ‘Seventh Heaven’ either. but i do recall this particular storyline. however, this isn’t merely a work of fiction. though it’s probably rare that the daughter of a Rabbi and the son of a Minister will ever walk down the aisle in real life, there are offspring of clergy who do intermarry. how the subject of conversion is handled doesn’t always play out like it does on TV or in film. in this instance i think what pissed Rev. Camden off was the pressure his son was facing from his in-laws, not so much the fact that his son had been attending synagogue and classes. i’m sure he was probably delighted to see his son try and learn about his future wife’s faith. he’s right though. conversion is a personal decision and a life-changing choice, and it can’t be rushed into. also, conversion for the sake of marriage is usually frowned upon. i hope that this plot can be of use to anyone who is facing pressure to convert.

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