New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
I donâ€™t have any weddings in sight â€“ my children are married and Iâ€™ve been married for 43 years myself. Nevertheless, I loved reading Anita Diamantâ€™s The Jewish Wedding Now.
Iâ€™m most interested of course in interfaith couples, and highly recommend The New Jewish Wedding to them and their families too, because the book clearly is written with you in mind.
Describing changes over time, Diamant says â€śthe huppah, the wedding canopy, has become a very large tent, open to Jews of all descriptions and denominationsâ€¦ and people from different faith traditions. The status and validity of some of these weddings is the subject of intense debate â€“ par for the course in all things Jewish â€“ but this edition reflects the facts on the ground.â€ť She explains that there is no chapter devoted to interfaith couples because the book â€śis a menu for all who wish to include meaningful Jewish choices as they plan their ceremony and celebration; choices that are the same for everyone.â€ť
Thatâ€™s the overall tone Diamant takes toward interfaith couples â€“ intermarriage is happening, interfaith couples are welcome to make the same Jewish choices as everyone. To those who say the presence of interfaith couples under the chuppah is a threat to Jewish tradition, she says â€śthe countervailing tradition of adaptability is the reason why Judaism has survived and thrived.â€ť The addition of new faces under the chuppah, she says, are â€śa healthy infusion of living waters, mayyim hayyim, and another chapter in a long, lively, disputatious history.â€ť
If you stop to think about it, given that many in the Jewish community would not recognize a wedding of an interfaith couple as a Jewish wedding, it is quite remarkable that a prominent author revising a book about Jewish weddings for the third time would so matter-of-factly and explicitly help interfaith couples design their own Jewish weddings.
When I first read that there was no special chapter for interfaith couples, I was concerned, unnecessarily as it turned out, that the special considerations that interfaith couples do indeed have would not be addressed. To the contrary, in a few pages under the title â€śNon-Jews under the Huppah,â€ť Diamant succinctly addresses the history of attitudes toward intermarriage, states that now â€śintermarriage is the communal normâ€ť (I strongly agree), discusses some of the questions interfaith couples encounter, and says â€śCouples who can talk about religion before their weddings are much better prepared to handle knottier questions later onâ€ť (I strongly agree). She also addresses ways to inform relatives from different faith traditions about what will be happening, and ways to include them in the wedding ceremony. I love how she casually mentions the presence of other traditions, when she talks about including phrases written in Chinese or Hindi on wedding invitations, translations of interfaith ketubot into Spanish and Japanese, and chuppot made from Scottish tartan or African textile.
I love that she talks about the phenomenon of couples having friends ordained for the day to officiate at their weddings, but gently says â€śyou need a rabbiâ€ť to create a Jewish wedding. I love that Diamant encourages interfaith couples to find a compatible rabbi to officiate at their weddings, describing some of the rejection they may encounter and resources available to help them.
As Diamant says, debate is par for the course in all things Jewish. I donâ€™t agree with Diamant saying that the term â€śinterfaith is only appropriate if the non-Jewish partner has an ongoing connection to another religion and wants that tradition reflected in the wedding ceremony and in married life.â€ť As Iâ€™ve said before, â€śinterfaithâ€ť today doesnâ€™t mean anything about religious practice, that couples are practicing two faiths, or one and none; it just means they come from different faith traditions. I also try not to use the term â€śnon-Jewâ€ť because people donâ€™t define themselves as â€śnonsâ€ť and would have preferred to see the admittedly ungainly phrase, â€śpartner from a different faith traditionâ€ť throughout the book.
Moreover, a not insignificant proportion of interfaith couples are looking for rabbis to co-officiate their weddings with clergy from other religious traditions; The Jewish Wedding Now is, I believe, silent about that phenomenon. As I noted above, the book is extremely informative about Jewish wedding traditions, with parts appealing perhaps more to those interested in more traditional ceremonies. I would have liked to see a nod to couples looking for co-officiation â€“ something like, â€śThis is a book about Jewish weddings, not really about weddings that are conducted in Jewish and other traditions, although you can find elements of Jewish weddings in it that you might incorporate in such a wedding.â€ť
Itâ€™s a tribute to The Jewish Wedding Now that it would in fact be informative and helpful to the whole range of interfaith couples planning a wedding and wanting their wedding to include Jewish traditions, and itâ€™s written in a way that makes those traditions accessible and inviting to interfaith couples.
Stay tuned for InterfaithFamily’s Facebook Live with Anita Diamant. Follow us on Facebook here.
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission
Thereâ€™s been a steady stream of intermarriage news related to the Conservative movement. In April Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, an emeritus rabbi who weâ€™ve applauded before, who was expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly because he officiated for interfaith couples, was published in theÂ Washington Post:Â I performed an intermarriage. Then I got expelled.
Then in May a much younger Conservative rabbi, Steven Abraham, a 2011 JTS graduate, offeredÂ Itâ€™s Time to Say â€śYes.â€ťÂ Our friend Rabbi Brian Field (a Reconstructionist himself) responded that Rabbi Abraham is not alone, and gave a wonderful explanation howÂ The Torah of Inclusion Offers Us a â€śYesâ€ť to Interfaith Couples.Â But another young Conservative rabbi wrote aboutÂ five steps to â€śsave Conservative Judaismâ€ťÂ â€“ with no mention of interfaith families.
In June an article in theÂ ForwardÂ about rabbis trying toÂ make the Conservative movement more gay-friendlyÂ mentions Rabbis Adina Lewittes and Amichai Lau-Lavie as leading advocates within the movement for intermarried spouses; â€śLau-Lavie will not perform any weddings until the movement revisits its blanket prohibition on rabbis officiating marriages for them; Lewittes resigned from the R.A. in order to lead interfaith ceremonies.â€ť
Lau-Lavieâ€™s Lab/Shul hadÂ announced an annual celebrationÂ on June 13 featuring â€śthe revelation of our groundbreaking response to intermarriage and the evolving identities of Jewish Americansâ€ť â€“ but the news is out in an piece by theÂ Forwardâ€™sÂ Jane Eisner,Â Why This Renegade Rabbi Says He Can Marry Jews â€” And The Jew-ish.Â As Eisner describes it, Lau-Lavie plans to use theÂ ger toshav, resident alien, concept â€świthin a halachic framework to justify intermarriage under certain conditions.â€ť He will ask prospective couples to devote six months to learn about core Jewish values and to demonstrate a genuine commitment to community (he wonâ€™t co-officiate). He will engage academics to â€śstudy whether this explicit welcome-with-conditions will result in a strengthened Jewish commitment.â€ť He will most likely have to resign from the Rabbinical Assembly.
Eisner, who is hostile to intermarriage, says she is â€śfascinatedâ€ť by the experiment, but skeptical. She apparently lined up Steven M. Cohen, also hostile to intermarriage, toÂ simultaneously commentÂ that while we â€śneedâ€ť Lau-Lavieâ€™s approach, it wonâ€™t succeed unless Jews â€śunderstand that Judaism believes that Jews should marry Jews.â€ť
I have enormous respect for Amichai Lau-Lavie. I look forward to his own explanation of his approach, and I hope that it helps the Conservative movement address intermarriage. Rabbi Steven Wernick, head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, hasÂ expressed open-nessÂ to the experiment â€” but cautions that itâ€™s the Rabbinical Assembly that makes halachic rulings. But creating a status that confers certain benefits, which necessarily means that another status does not have those benefits, is not the inclusivity that liberal Judaism needs to thrive in the future.
In the newÂ ForwardÂ piece Cohen says that about 8% of the grandchildren of intermarried couples are being raised as Jews-by-religion, but last fall he gave me data that showed a total of 38% were being raised as Jews-by-religion, partly Jews-by-religion, and Jewish but not by religion. He of course will say that if children arenâ€™t raised Jews-by-religion, itâ€™s not really good enough. Cohen and Sylvia Barack Fishman, also hostile to intermarriage, have aÂ new paperÂ released by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute with their tired analysis that intermarried Jews donâ€™t measure up on their traditional scale of how Jews ideally would behave, and offering policy suggestions to get Jews to marry Jews.
That train has left the station and trashing intermarriage just pushes those who intermarry away. Â Eisner says she wants to â€śsustain and enrich modern Jewish life;â€ť Cohen says â€śBeing Jewish gives us meaning because it makes demands upon us â€“ to treat others kindly; to help improve the world; to engage in Jewish learning; to imbibe in Jewish culture; to mark the Jewish holidays and live the Jewish calendar; to be involved in the affairs of the Jewish people, State, community and, yes, family.â€ť We will experience more people gaining that meaning and doing their best to follow those demands â€“ and thereby sustaining modern Jewish life â€“ with a radically and totally inclusive, truly audacious welcoming, of interfaith couples.
In an otherwise really nice article,Â How My Daughterâ€™s Bat Mitzvah Almost Didnâ€™t Happen, Peter Szabo, who is intermarried, marvels that somehow, the Judaism within his family â€śsurvived assimilation in Hungary, Holocaust machinery, suburban assimilation in America.â€ť Â Szabo can be excused for incorrectly citing the Pew Report as saying that 80% of the children of intermarriages are not raised Jewish, but theÂ ForwardÂ editors surely know that the correct figure is 37%.
In an otherwise fine article titledÂ College doesnâ€™t turn Jews away from Judaism, Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, senior director of research and analysis at the Jewish Federations of North America, says that Jews with and without college degrees are just as likely to have a Jewish spouse, then says â€ścollege education and assimilation do not go hand in hand.â€ť In other words, he equates not having a Jewish spouse â€“ being intermarried â€“ with assimilation. He should know better.
Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackleyâ€™sÂ TEDx talkÂ about how they are raising their children withÂ Christianity and Islam has interesting parallels to Jewish-Christain couples doing both.
Iâ€™ll be writing more about new editions of two books that are great resources for interfaith couples. The second edition of Jim Keenâ€™sÂ Inside IntermarriageÂ â€“ I was honored to write the Foreword â€“ will be available on August 1 but can beÂ pre-orderedÂ now. The third edition of our friend Anita Diamantâ€™sÂ The New Jewish WeddingÂ â€“ now titledÂ The Jewish Wedding NowÂ â€“ came out this past week.
Well, I went to the water one day to pray.
As a Jewish woman who feels deeply rooted in her African- and Native-American familyâ€™s heritage, the famous Negro spiritual â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť holds multiple and profound layers of visceral meaning for me. It was a central component of an alternative Rosh Hashanah ritual I created and observed in Washington, DCâ€™s Rock Creek Park a couple years ago. And a couple years before that, â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť was bittersweetly at the heart of a soft-spoken, yet powerful conversation between Alana, a dear friend of mine from college, her Hungarian-Jewish grandmother and me in her grandmotherâ€™s home in Mayen, Germany.
The classic spiritual was originally among a number of songs used as vocal instructions sung in the cotton fields to help fugitive slaves navigate the treacherous, but ultimately liberating path of the Underground Railroad.
One night during a five-day layover in Germany in 2009, Alana shared with me that the â€śWade in the Waterâ€ť segment of Alvin Aileyâ€™s famed â€śRevelationsâ€ť dance sequence was once playing on her grandmotherâ€™s television. She explained to her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, how enslaved African-Americans used the song to escape from slavery. After a few moments of silence, her grandmother began crying as she asked Alana, in German, â€śWhy didnâ€™t we think to do that?â€ť With Alanaâ€™s permission, I gently broached the subject with her bubbe a couple days later. What ensued was one of the most meaningful conversations of my life.
Black people, my people, literally found their way to freedom through song. Similar to making aliyah or immersing oneself in the mikveh, song is a spiritual vehicle that guides and elevates both individuals and communities to higher ground. The Jewish people, also my people, are well-versed in spiritual elevation, as well as immersion. It is embedded in the mundane to mystical elements of our religion.
One of the nicest ways that spiritual immersion is still alive and thriving in the Boston area is found at Mayyim Hayyim. Now in its 10th year of existence, the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center is a community mikveh that has stayed true to its mission of reclaiming and reinventing one of Judaism’s most ancient ritualsâ€”immersion in the mikveh. Mayyim Hayyim has brought this sacred tradition to life by encouraging its traditional, as well as creative contemporary spiritual use. Each year the center teaches thousands of interested visitors. And on a daily basis, it models how to make the mikveh a sacred space that is open and accessible to all Jews and those who are becoming Jews. This was the vision of Mayyim Hayyim founder and acclaimed author Anita Diamant.
As Mayyim Hayyimâ€™s founding executive director Aliza Kline once stated, â€śThe explicit mission of Mayyim Hayyim is to provide a space that is warm and welcoming of the broadest sense of the Jewish community.â€ť In a world where not enough Jewish communal spaces fully embrace interfaith families, let alone the rest of the Jewish communityâ€™s expansive diversity, the Newton-based non-profit stands in a distinctive category of its own. It has become a destination for interfaith families and Jews across the spectrum of observance and affiliation. Mayyim Hayyim actively welcomes interfaith, multiracial and LGBTQ members and families.
â€śWade in the Water,â€ť along with many other songs and poetry from Jewish and other spiritual traditions are resources Mayyim Hayyim has available for visitors of their mikvehs to use as they feel inspired.
Whether you are undergoing conversion, a life cycle event or a personal journey of healing or transformation, I recommend you schedule a visit to Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Mikveh.
If you havenâ€™t read Anita Diamantâ€™s bestselling novel, The Red Tent, here is some extra incentive. Lifetime is launching what they call an â€śepic movie eventâ€ťÂ on December 7, starring Rebecca Ferguson, Minnie Driver, Morena Baccarin and Debra Winger based on the book. Even if it doesnâ€™t go on your summer reading list, here are five fun facts that will make watching it even more fun. Did you know that:
1) Â The book was a sleeper until Diamant got the idea to send doomed-to-be-shredded copies of the novel to rabbis who then used it in their teachings and made it a worldwide phenomenon?
2) Â Diamant used the first chapters of the book of Genesis as a launching pad for her creativity, based in the silence of the character of Dina who is said to have been raped in Genesis, Ch. 34?
3) Â Goddess worship in the novel is based in scholarship of the biblical period? In fact, even the Torah itself tells us of the matriarch, Rachel, taking off with the household idols.
4) Â The Red Tent purposely gets the birth order of the tribes wrong? The author plays throughout the novel with the ideas of storytelling and authorship, maintaining that women were absent from the construction of the Torah and, therefore, left out of the telling of our history.
5) Â Countless midwifery communities have named themselves, The Red Tent, after the novel?
And now a bit of explanation.
The Rent Tent was published in 1997 with limited success, and within a few years went from being unheard of to a bestseller. What turned it into a book group phenomenon? Anita Diamant was well-known long before the novel for those of us who help people create Jewish life-cycle rituals. She wrote several how-to Jewish books that are the first ones I recommend when someone is planning a Jewish wedding, baby naming or thinking about conversion (The New Jewish Wedding Book, The New Jewish Baby Book). But then Diamant wrote her first novel, The Red Tent, an imaginative telling of the life of the matriarchs in the book of Genesis. When the book wasnâ€™t finding great success, the author got an idea. She sent copies of the book to Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, many of whom knew her earlier work well, and later to women ministers and independent booksellers. Leaders found that the book opened up a much needed conversation about women in our texts and historical silence. Before long, no book group was without its Red Tent month. It became a bestseller.
You donâ€™t have to know the story of Genesis to appreciate the book. But many readers have found that they want to crack open a Torah for the first time in eons to distinguish what is actually written in the Torah about the matriarchs of Genesis and what is Diamantâ€™s creative retelling. She jumps off from the Genesis stories, only using them as a frame. But even the pieces she fabricated are largely based in research. Not only did she include details that come from traditional Jewish sources like the Midrash (see below), she based much of her story in research about the lives of women in the biblical period. She studied daily life in the region at that time, including ancient goddess worship, birthing rituals and midwifery, medicine and funeral practices.
The worship of gods and goddesses, for example, is rampant in her story which reflects what scholars know about near Eastern practice and is hinted at in the book of Genesis and the prophetic writings of the Torah. The matriarch, Sarah, is referred to as a priestess in The Red Tent, another gleaning from early feminist biblical scholarship. She gives names to women who are left unnamed in the Torah. She imagines that Dinah was following a tradition of being a midwife when the events of Genesis 34 unfold.
She once said of her novel, â€śDinah is one of the silent women of the Bible. Her silence intrigued me…gave me a window. Where there was silence, I created three-hundred pages.â€ť [Cynthia Dettelbach, â€śEntering The Red Tent With Anita Diamant.â€ť The Cleveland Jewish News 74, no. 2(1999): 4]Â In her version, women tell their own stories and, at times, are frustrated at hearing them mis-told by the men in the family. She goes as far as to insinuate that the â€śwritersâ€ť of the biblical tales made mistakes because womenâ€™s voices were not involved in the construction or transmission of the Torah.
Within Jewish circles, there has been some controversy stirred by the novel about who is â€śallowedâ€ť to interpret and reinterpret Jewish texts. Diamant says she wrote a work of historical fiction, not midrash (a creative elaboration of the Torah, filling in the gaps in the Torah narratives), but still some argued that her work pretends to fit into that textual tradition dating back to the Rabbis of the 2nd-6th centuries BCE. Her response to one such opponent was that, â€śIt is my birthright. My audacity is the Jewish approach to Scriptureâ€¦Every word of Torah has seven hundred faces of God and six hundred meanings. There is no one correct interpretation of Scripture as Jews have made up storiesâ€¦for centuriesâ€ť. [Joan Gross, â€śJacobâ€™s Daughter Hits the Bigtime in 2001.â€ť The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California 105, no. 13 (2001): 40.]