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This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
Michelle Shain, a researcher at the Cohen Center at Brandeis, has written a very damaging article about the Cohen Centerâ€™s game-changing study, Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage, about whichÂ Iâ€™ve said, â€śThe many rabbis who donâ€™t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples because they think those couples wonâ€™t engage in Jewish life no longer have that leg to stand on.â€ť Shain says she is a social scientist and wants people to understand exactly what the study demonstrates and what it does notâ€”but she picks and chooses pieces of the study that support the apparent intention of her article to support maintaining Conservative rabbisâ€™ opposition to officiation for interfaith couples.
The key findings of the study were that interfaith couples who had a rabbi as sole officiant were far more likely to join synagogues and raise their children as Jews. Shainâ€™s main point is that those who chose to have a rabbi had richer Jewish experiences, so that the â€ślogical conclusion is that their stronger pre-existing Jewish commitments led themÂ bothÂ to seek a rabbi to officiate at their weddingsÂ andÂ to engage in Jewish life after their weddings.â€ť She says that on four measures, including having a special meal on Shabbat, there was no difference between couples who had a rabbi and those who did not after controlling for the pre-existing differences.
What she doesnâ€™t say is that the study says (at p. 21) that after controlling for pre-existing differences, â€śintermarried couples who married with a sole Jewish officiant were still significantly more engaged in Jewish life than other intermarried couples on many of the outcomes discussed above. In particular, they were significantly more likely toÂ raise their oldest child Jewish by religion, enroll children in a Jewish early childhood education setting,Â belong to a synagogue, attend religious services, celebrate Jewish holidays, participate in Jewish community activities, donate to Jewish or Israeli causes, and talk to family and friends about Judaism.â€ť (emphasis added)
Shain also stretches to mentionâ€”without citationâ€”a 2010 study that she says shows that officiating rabbis donâ€™t have subsequent contact with couples, and take the standard pot-shot that without a random sample survey, no one can say anything about the impact of officiation on subsequent Jewish engagement.
Shain like anyone else is entitled to her views on policy, but is it appropriate to position oneself as an objective, dispassionate researcher and be selective like this? Conservative rabbis who oppose officiation have already made the pre-existing differences argument, and now have support from a researcher at the Cohen Center itself, when the key findings about raising children and synagogue membership arenâ€™t touched by that argument.
I would urge Conservative rabbis to consider what the study very carefully does say, without claiming causation: â€śâ€śInteractions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the coupleâ€™s prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.â€ť That is entirely consistent with common sense and experience, which sometimes are as important as research.
Fortunately, there have been five very positive responses to intermarriage in recent weeks â€” you can read about themÂ here.
Postscript September 19
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
August 1, 2017 is the publication date for the new version of Jim Keenâ€™sÂ Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partnerâ€™s Journey Raising a Jewish Family. I was honored to write the foreword to this one-of-a-kind book: the warm, personal, light-hearted but very serious story of a Protestant man raising Jewish children together with his Jewish wife.
When Jim Keen and his fiancĂ©e Bonnie were planning their wedding, her Jewish grandmother wasnâ€™t sure she would attend, because she disapproved of intermarriage. But she chose love, and danced with Jim at the wedding, saying â€śyouâ€™re my grandson now.â€ť That story brought tears to my eyes, and it and others in this book might to yours.
Interfaith couples like Jim and Bonnie who care about religious traditions face what I call â€śeternalâ€ť issues. Not in the sense that the issues canâ€™t be resolved, because they can be, as Jimâ€™s story vividly demonstrates. But all interfaith couples who want to have religion in their lives have to figure out how to relate to each other and their parents and families over religious traditions; they all have to resolve whether and how to celebrate holidays, to be spiritual together, to find community of like-minded people.
This book follows Jimâ€™s journey through all of those issues. From dating, falling in love, meeting the parents, deciding how children will be raised religiously, considering conversion, to getting married; from baby welcoming ceremonies, to celebrating holidays, finding community, and meeting his own needs in a Jewish family. Itâ€™s a deeply moving story, told with humor, and itâ€™s an important one.
Jim Keenâ€™s example of one interfaith coupleâ€™s journey to Jewish continuity is reassuring. Interfaith couples who are or might be interested in engaging in Jewish life and community can learn from Jimâ€™s story how doing so can add meaning and value to their lives.
Along his journey, Jim shares extremely helpful insights. For example: His and his wifeâ€™s feelings and attitudes changed over time, with him moving from feeling different, â€śstanding out,â€ť â€śnot belonging,â€ť to feeling â€śpart of.â€ť For another: Interfaith couples, no matter what path they follow, have to make a conscious effort to work out their religious traditions, which can lead to more thoughtful and deeper engagement. And another: Interfaith couples arenâ€™t alone, and itâ€™s very helpful to become friends and work through issues with other couples.
Interfaith couples follow many paths, and Jim Keen doesnâ€™t say his path is right for everyone. He continued to practice his own religion; some partners in his position donâ€™t practice any religion, or practice Judaism, or even convert. Jim and his wife chose one religion for their children; some couples decide to raise their children in two religions, and many couples havenâ€™t decided, or havenâ€™t yet. The clear advice Jim does give is that there are solutions to the issues that interfaith relationships raise, and that the key to resolving them is early and ongoing respectful communication. How Jim spells out the negotiation and communication he and his wife had over many issues will help couples facing the same issues, no matter what paths they may be thinking of taking.
Jim expresses deep gratitude for finding very warm and welcoming JCC preschool and synagogue communities, and especially a rabbi by whom he felt genuinely embraced. It is essential that more interfaith couples experience that kind of welcome. Most Jews have relatives in interfaith relationships now, and many Jewish professionals are working with people in interfaith relationships. This book promotes better understanding not only of the eternal issues interfaith couples face, but in particular the perspective of the partner from a different faith background.
Jim Keen doesnâ€™t promote interfaith marriage, but he does recognize its positive impacts, including an appreciation for tolerance and diversity. He writes that being in an interfaith relationship has broadened his perspective and enhanced not only his life, but also his parentsâ€™ and in-lawsâ€™ lives too. He still enjoys â€śbelonging to [his] Scottish-American, Protestant group, but itâ€™s a warm feeling being able to see the world through Jewish eyes, as well.â€ť He also rightly recognizes his and his familyâ€™s contribution to the Jewish community: â€śI am proud to say, there are some Keens who happen to be Jewish. I love it.â€ť I love it, and I think you will, too.
Today, with intermarriage so common, Jim Keenâ€™s perspective is more important and valuable than ever. Jim Keen and his family â€“ on both sides â€“ are heroes of Jewish life. They are role models for how a parent from a different faith background and a Jewish parent, together with all of the grandparents, can support the Jewish engagement of their children and grandchildren. They all deserve deep appreciation for this utmost gift, Jim especially for shedding light on the journey.
You can order the bookÂ here.
A Reform rabbi, a Conservative rabbi and a 17-year-old Orthodox Yeshiva student sit down to eat Shabbat dinnerâ€¦ Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right?
Well, itâ€™s not.
It was my family last Friday night. We were also joined by my two younger children. In myÂ family, weâ€™ve got a taste of kâ€™lal Yisraelâ€”the whole Jewish communityâ€”under one roof. I often tell my younger kids jokingly (well, mostly joking) that if my oldest son goes on to get Orthodox smicha (rabbinic ordination, which many males in his Orthodox community do) then I want one of them to be ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, so we can have rabbis in all four major denominations of Judaism in our immediate family.
I was thrilled to have my oldest son home for a weekend break from his Yeshiva (Orthodox boarding school focused primarily on the study of traditional Jewish texts) and to have my whole family gathered together around our Shabbat dinner table. As I blessed my children after lighting the Shabbat candles, I put my hands on each of their heads and then kissed them, and I thought about how lucky I was to have each of them and how much I love each and every individual in my religiously diverse Jewish family.
Sure, having a very observant Orthodox child (which he has been for two years now) in our family isnâ€™t always easy. I had always assumed that my kids would all live at home until going off to college at the age of 18, but instead my oldest began boarding at an out-of-town Yeshiva this past September, when he was 16-and-a-half, and I miss having him at home. But when he is at home itâ€™s challenging that our level of kashrut (Jewish dietary observance) isnâ€™t as strict as his. While my husband and I will eat fish or vegetables at regular restaurants, heâ€™ll only eat at a kosher restaurant with a hashgacha (kosher certification) that he accepts. His lifestyleâ€™s very different from ours so that, even when heâ€™s not at school, itâ€™s not really possible for him to travel with us unless we were to go to places where predominately Orthodox families travel, so that he can pray, eat and follow laws of modesty in ways that are comfortable to him. But those same lifestyle choices might be uncomfortable for the rest of us.
We make it work. When heâ€™s home, we go to our favorite kosher restaurant. Last December we took our two younger kids out of school a few days early to go away over winter break so that weâ€™d be back in time for our oldest son to come home for his long weekend off that started on December 29.
As I tell the interfaith couples that I work with, and as Iâ€™ve come to appreciate in my own life: Being in a relationship means respecting differences, honoring the person you love even when you disagree, compromising where you can, and knowing what issues are non-negotiable for you and for the other person. (For example, my son wonâ€™t attend a service where men and women sit together, so I accept that he wonâ€™t come to my synagogue when heâ€™s home. And he accepts that, while Iâ€™ll wear a long skirt and follow the other laws of dressing modestly while visiting him at school, unlike his classmatesâ€™ mothers, I normally wear pants.)
Equally important is working hard not to judge the other person. When my son started to become very observant, my husband and I sat him down and said to him: â€śWeâ€™re very concerned about you being Orthodox, because Orthodoxy is so judgmental.â€ť My son looked us in the eyes and without missing a beat said: â€śDo you have any idea how judgmental youâ€™ve been of me and of my being Orthodox?â€ť The words stung, because we knew he was right. We werenâ€™t really being as open-minded, tolerant and accepting as we thought we were. Sure, itâ€™s easy to be tolerant of whatever youâ€™re already comfortable with. Itâ€™s a lot more challenging to be tolerant when something is outside of your comfort zone.
I often speak to parents whose adult children are in interfaith relationships. I tell them that when our children are young, we can choose how we raise them and what we expose them to. We have all kinds of expectations about what they should be like and what they should do as they grow older. And we think that by what we tell them and with the example we set, we can control how theyâ€™ll later lead their lives and the choices theyâ€™ll make.
Sometimes this is true. But other times, our children will follow their own paths, and fall in love with someoneâ€”or in my sonâ€™s case, a way of lifeâ€”thatâ€™s different from what weâ€™d planned. This can be difficult, but ultimately we need to respect and honor our childrenâ€™s choices. This same advice I give to parents whose kids are in interfaith relationships applies to my own religiously diverse family.
Being in a family with intra-faith differences, like being in an interfaith family, has its challenges. But just like being in an interfaith family, it also has its blessings. The bottom line is that I love my wonderful, crazy family with all of our intra-faith diversity. It isnâ€™t always easy, but itâ€™s my family, and I couldnâ€™t imagine it any other way.