Recognizing that going to synagogue for the first time can be a challenge, we offer you our booklet, What To Expect At A Synagogue. In it, you will find an overview of what Shabbat is, and how it is celebrated in synagogues. Language is explained, the prayer services are broken down, and many common questions are answered.
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InterfaithFamily Shabbat is an opportunity for your synagogue or organization to join with other welcoming communities in a bold statement that we will continue to build an inclusive Jewish community in our local areas and across the country.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Like many, I started hearing about the colorful plans for weddings, non-profits and individuals alike doing what they could to prepare for the throngs of couples who will want to take advantage of the new law shortly after it comes into effect. (One of my favorites? The “pop-up chapel” planned for July 30 in Central Park.)
But then, via our free Jewish clergy officiation referral service, we received an email requesting a rabbi to officiate at what will be New York’s “first gay marriage.” Enthusiastically, we jumped on the task. (Not that we’re biased, but the office was maybe slightly more enthusiastic about this request than the hundreds of others we receive – but only slightly, of course, since we’re thrilled to be able to help out so many of you!)
Sarah Silverman, if the unicorn wasn’t Jewish, we could help you.
Do you know someone who’s looking for a rabbi for their interfaith wedding? Let them know about our clergy officiation referral service, matching couples, individuals and families with Jewish clergy for weddings, bris or baby namings, bar or bat mitzvahs, conversions, counseling*, funerals, and more.
[sub]*Sarah, you and your unicorn might be most interested in this…[/sub]
Manhattan lawyer [Epstein] recently asked New York federal judge Kimba Wood to grant him a day’s reprieve in a criminal trial to attend the bris of his grandson. Epstein’s daughter has not yet given birth — so he doesn’t yet know the sex of the baby. But Epstein wanted to give Judge Wood ample notice to consider his request, given that his daughter’s due date is Dec. 3, smack in the middle of the scheduled trial.
So Epstein was stuck in the slightly awkward position of asking Judge Wood for a day off if, in fact, the baby turns out to be a boy. If it’s a girl, well, no bris, no day off needed.
Wrote Epstein, in this letter filed with the court on Thursday:
“Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, ‘as long as it’s a healthy baby.’ … However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and family will arrive … for the joyous celebration … known as the bris. … My presence at the bris is not strictly commanded, although my absence will never be forgotten by those that matter.”
Judge Wood, in a note written at the bottom of the letter, granted the request. But she did Epstein one better. Wrote Wood:
“Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.”
I then learned of virtual bar mitzvah studies via the NY Times:
If dating, shopping and watching TV can be revolutionized by the Internet, why should bar and bat mitzvahs be immune? Parents who once might have turned to their local synagogue for Hebrew lessons and spiritual guidance are now turning to Google…
It was interesting but it’s too bad that they focused on the downside of group learning – or highlighted the ease of individual learning. Learning with others (chavruta especially) holds many benefits for both religious and secular studies.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that our clergy referral service isn’t just for weddings – we can direct you to clergy for all life cycle events, from a baby naming or bris to bar or bat mitzvah to weddings and funerals.
I admit that ever since the dramatic season finales of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, with its disgruntled widow shooting spree, and its spin-off Private Practice, with the death of Dell Parker by a drunk driver, I was wondering how they would begin the new seasons. I was happily surprised to find both episodes dealt with life-cycle events for interfaith couples on last Thursday’s season premiers.
On Grey’s Anatomy, Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) married Dr. Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd). As described on Judaism/2009/08/Jewish-TV-Characters.aspx?p=2">BeliefNet, Christina considers herself Jewish; the character converted as a child when her mother married a Jewish oral surgeon, Dr. Saul Rubenstein. Christina has, from time to time, brought up her Jewish background. Both of Dr. Yang’s engagements were to non-Jews; it would have been great to see her plan/have an wedding that reflected her Jewish identity.
Dr. Yang’s first wedding, which was planned, but never happened, was to happen in a church with no Jewish clergy present. This wedding was planned by Dr. Yang herself, and not by a future mother-in-law, which gave Christina the perfect opportunity to have included a local rabbi in her ceremony. (InterfaithFamily.com has several rabbis and Jewish professionals in the Seattle area to whom we could have referred her.) I am disappointed that the recent season premier episode completely ignored her faith as well. This was a missed opportunity to portray how meaningful an interfaith wedding could be.
Summer ended this weekend and I was thinking it would be nice to ease into the Jewish New Year, spend some time quietly introspecting on the past year and what’s to come. Instead all signs are for a year of creative ferment in attitudes in the intermarriage world, started perhaps by
my August op-ed in the Forward, The Missing Mazel Tov, which expressed my dismay at the reaction of Jewish religious leaders to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and continuing in the debate between Rabbis Leon Morris and Evan Moffic over weddings on Shabbat.
Almost nowhere among Jewish leadership — even in the liberal movements — has there been a full shedding of the preference for in-marriage. And that preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families.
You simply cannot say, “We welcome everybody equally, but we prefer one kind over another.” Maybe the difference in the way people are treated doesn’t always manifest on the surface level, but it bubbles up. This is not to say that we can’t discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when one parent is not Jewish; what I’m talking about is the open preference for one type of couple over another, even when both may choose to raise Jewish children.
I urge you to read the entire essay. Here’s the conclusion:
Over the last quarter-century, nearly as many American Jews have married non-Jews as fellow Jews. Today, there are more intermarried than in-married households in the U.S., perhaps by as large a ratio as 60%-40%. The high rate of intermarriage can be seen as the defining opportunity to transform the Jewish community from an insular, tribal entity to a diverse and expanding peoplehood based on key common causes and beliefs. But first we have to make sure our common causes and beliefs are the right ones to be shouting from the mountaintops (hint: “don’t intermarry” isn’t one of them), and then we have to let go of the fear and begin genuinely welcoming as equal all who would select Judaism for themselves or their children.
had come to understand that halachah reflects not so much the truth of God as the pragmatics of attempting to live in the world connected to divine norms whose claim, by definition, eludes one’s ability fully to realize. This understanding has guided me as a practicing rabbi as I have been called upon to make practical decisions, especially in areas where there is no precedent. Like intermarriage.
Until five years ago, he worked with intermarrying couples do design a ceremony but would not officiate himself. Then
I began to acknowledge that my legal scruple about officiating or co-officiating at such a wedding was not consistent with my willingness to discount many other traditional norms. The halachah’s non-recognition of a particular action had never restrained me from praying in an egalitarian minyan where a woman might serve as cantor, for example, or joining in a service at which instruments were played on Shabbat….
My problem with intermarriage, I now realize, is based on legitimate fears about the survival of our people, period. But what if our people is in fact evolving into new forms of identity and observance? What if we are indeed generating new models of Jewish commitment and engagement with the world? …
Again, I urge you to read the entire essay. Here is the conclusion:
I submit that it is time for Judaism to formulate a thoughtful, traditionally connected ceremony through which a Jew may enter into marriage with a non-Jew, a prescribed way or ways by which a rabbi may officiate or co-officiate at such a wedding. I believe we are the ever-evolving people and that there will always be among us those who are rigorously attached to ancient forms. I believe it is critical that there will also always be among us those who vigorously dream and search for new vessels into which to decant the sam chayyim, the living elixir of Torah. If we only look backward as we move into the future, we will surely stumble. We need scouts, envoys, chalutzim, pioneers to blaze new ways into the ancient-newness of Judaism.
Perhaps for example we might note that there may be stages of entrance into and levels of engagement with the Jewish people, which might find liturgical expression both in the wedding ceremony and at other lifecycle events going forward. After all, becoming a Jew, like becoming a person, takes a lifetime. And just as we want to be able to invite our ancestors to the weddings and brisses and bat mitvahs of the present generation, we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to feel drawn to the love and joy of being connected to the Jewish people. We want them to know that we have not forgotten that the Jewish people is “a covenant people, a light of nations.”
Next is a news article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, about Rabbi Noa Kushner (daughter of our own Karen Kushner), Judaism for Gen X: Get your Jewish on. Not ostensibly about intermarriage, Rabbi Kushner’s approach may be exactly what would appeal to young interfaith couples. Her motto is “Do Jewish stuff” and her goal is to get people to explore Judaism beyond traditions like services and seders, particularly the young families in her Marin County community. She created Nita (a project of Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael), a group made up of primarily Gen Xers who meet periodically and informally for occasions from monthly Pop-Up Shabbats (featuring great music and takeout so no one needs to cook), to Havdallah House Parties and Storahtelling. She also created Lift Kits – a portable collection of items (including Shabbat candles, organic soap, a hot pink mezuzah and a directory of Jewish organizations) designed for High Holy Day preparation and to help people celebrate traditions wherever they happen to be. Here are some of Rabbi Kushner’s comments, and again I urge you to read the entire article:
Gen X’s less-than-enthusiastic response to synagogue life simply means there’s a new generation stepping forward, one that needs to figure out how “do Jewish” on its own terms.
There is a big distinction between somebody’s religion by birth and what they are willing to do. We are careful to note: Anybody can do Jewish stuff. I am not interested in lineage and pedigree. I am only interested in what someone is willing to do right now, Jewishly speaking.
Similar to yoga’s metamorphosis, if we want people to grow Jewishly, we need to encourage them to do Jewish. I am not asking anyone to sign on the dotted line or join a group. There is no identity shift.
Just a couple of other things to mention, with Rosh Hashanah imminent. Reboot has started a national project, 10Q, that asks people to answer a question a day online for ten days during the High Holidays, beginning on September 8. Visit their website to participate.
Finally, and I’ll have more to say about this later on – I have been nominated for the Jewish Community Hero award, given by the Jewish Federations of North America. They start with an online voting contest; the top twenty vote getters are then judged by a panel, which selects one winner and four other honorees, each of whom receives a grant for their organization, all announced at the General Assembly in November. Please vote for me on their website. You can vote every twelve hours, so vote early and often!
Right now I’m number 17 in the voting. I don’t care about winning an award for myself. But the JFNA hasn’t talked about intermarriage much in the past. I wish the other candidates well – but most of them come from the traditional Jewish world. It would be great if the federation world recognized not me personally but the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life – especially when we are in a time where a new, heavily intermarried generation needs to figure out how to “do Jewish” on its own terms, when we are evolving new models of Jewish commitment and engagement with the world, and when we have an opportunity to transform the Jewish community from an insular, tribal entity to a diverse and expanding community based on key common causes and beliefs.
To all who are welcoming in the New Year, I wish that it is a happy, healthy and sweet one for you and your families. Shana Tova!
I would love to quote the entire piece here but please read it on the Forward site. In a nutshell, I think the significance of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding is because of their celebrity the way they conducted their wedding could inspire many other interfaith couples to seriously consider incorporating Jewish practices in their weddings – like Chelsea and Marc did so prominently – and hopefully in their lives together after their weddings. In addition, I think it was very fortunate that Chelsea and Marc were able to find a rabbi of the stature of James Ponet to co-officiate the wedding with a Methodist minister.
Instead of an enthusiastic, hearty “Mazel tov,” the reaction of Jewish leaders, as detailed in my last blog post, was to pronounce the wedding as “not a Jewish event.” This was the worst possible response to express, because it can only serve to discourage and push away not just Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, but the thousands of other interfaith couples who are watching.
Because of space limitations, the Forward cut two paragraphs, which I’ll include here:
“There is a serious disconnect between what young couples want and what our religious leaders want to provide. Thirty to 45% of the requests made to InterfaithFamily.com’s Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service are for rabbis who co-officiate. In recent research done for us, rabbis who do not officiate reported overwhelmingly that they are able to successfully tell couples they can’t officiate without alienating them; but interfaith couples emphasized that a rabbis’ refusals to officiate are likely to turn them away from their congregations.”
“JTA quotes Jewish sociologist Steven M. Cohen as saying that we should celebrate the marriage of these individuals, but not the type of marriage it represents. The head of the Conservative movement said “intermarriage is not ideal” but we “must welcome interfaith families.” This have-it-both-ways response simply won’t cut it with young couples. If you were Chelsea Clinton, considering whether to get more involved in Jewish life, how would you feel?”
I hope you will read the entire piece and welcome your comments and suggestions here.
It’s been a long week at InterfaithFamily.com, starting with the news last Saturday night that Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky had a rabbi and a minister at their wedding with very evident Jewish traditions. In this post I’m going to try to just summarize the coverage. I’m still reflecting on the significance of it all, and will have more to say about that.
At the beginning of the week the media coverage from the Jewish angle focused on what happens next for newly married interfaith couples. On Monday there was a story on ABCNews.com, Chelsea Clinton’s Interfaith Marriage Challenge: Kids, Holidays, Soul-Searching.The writer, Luchina Fisher, noted that the wedding featured many Jewish traditions: the couple married under a chuppah or canopy; the groom wore a yarmulke or skull cap and tallis or prayer shawl; friends and family recited the Seven Blessings typically read at traditional Jewish weddings. She then quoted me:
“To me that’s an indication that the groom identifies Jewishly,” Edmund Case, the head of InterfaithFamily.com told ABCNews.com. “It’s also apparent that Chelsea must have been fine with it or it wouldn’t have happened. Also, given the prominence of her family, they must have been accepting of it.”
The website InterfaithFamily.com offers DVDs for a Love and Religion course created by Marion Usher, a marriage and family counselor who has run workshops for interfaith couples for 16 years at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. DVD sales soared after Usher began offering advice online timed to the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding.
Later on Tuesday, though, the coverage from the Jewish perspective turned away from what couples like Chelsea and Marc face, and started reporting on negative reactions to the wedding in the Jewish world. Jacob Berkman had a story for JTA, which is starting to be widely re-printed in local Jewish papers: Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding raises questions about intermarriage. After a great introduction – “Is it possible that the first iconic Jewish picture of the decade is of an interfaith marriage? Photographs taken Saturday show the Jewish groom wearing a yarmulke and a crumpled tallit staring into the eyes of his giddy bride under a traditional Jewish wedding canopy with a framed ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, in the background.” – Jacob starts quoting Jewish leaders expressing ambivalence.
First, Steven M. Cohen tries to have it both ways: “we should celebrate the particular marriage of these two fine individuals, but we ought not celebrate the type of marriage it constitutes and represents.” Then Rabbi Eric Yoffie reportedly told JTA, “The Reform movement frowns upon its rabbis conducting weddings on the Sabbath.” “Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said intermarriage is certainly ‘not ideal,’ but that the Conservative movement in 2008 decided that it must welcome interfaith families and ‘help their spouses along their spiritual journeys.’” At least Rabbi Yoffie also said, “I look at the couple and my response is, ‘I hope they will make a choice to raise their children in a single religion and tradition and second, as a Jew and rabbi, I hope it will be Judaism.”
It was left to me to make an unequivocal statement: “Case said that accepting this marriage and welcoming this intermarried family into the Jewish fold could help pave the way for the Jewish community to be more accepting of others.” I was also quoted as saying that “the Clinton wedding certainly had stirred interest in intermarriage, noting that traffic to his website was up 35 percent in July compared to the same month last year. “
Also on Tuesday, Julie Wiener put up her article that would appear in the New York Jewish Week, which focuses on co-officiation. Julie says that “Even as the number of liberal rabbis willing to preside at weddings of Jews to gentiles appears to be growing, co-officiation with clergy of another faith, while hardly unheard of, remains taboo.” Julie quotes me:
“The mainstream of the Reform rabbinate is not with co-officiation yet,” says Ed Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, which since 2007 has run a free referral service for interfaith couples seeking clergy to officiate at their wedding. Despite the mainstream opposition, 40 percent of the almost 400 rabbis and cantors in IFF’s database (some ordained by the Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries, some by nondenominational ones) are willing to co-officiate, and in the past six months 31.5 percent of the approximately 120 couples each month using the service have sought someone to co-officiate. (In 2009, 43 percent of couples contacting IFF were seeking someone to co-officiate.) “I’ve had Reform rabbis say they don’t want to have anything to do with us because our referral service” provides co-officiating rabbis to those couples who want them, Case says.
Julie interviewed Rabbi Ellen Dreyfuss, the president of the Reform rabbis’ association, who said “The rabbi’s presence and officiation at a wedding is reflective of a commitment on the part of the couple to have a Jewish home and a Jewish family, so co-officiation with clergy of another faith does not reflect that commit. It reflects, rather, indecision on the part of the couple… Religiously it’s problematic because [the bride and groom are] trying to create a both and there’s no such thing as a both.” Rabbi Richard Hirsh, executive director of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, also says that “having a co-officiated ceremony points in the direction of a home that won’t be primarily Jewish.”
As Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of JOI aptly points out, however, “the common assumption is that when a couple wishes a rabbi to co-officiate, the couple is going to bring up the future children in two faiths or the couple has not made a decision…. That’s probably a premature conclusion to make.” And I said, about Rabbi James Ponet, who co-officiated at the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding, “I think it’s really significant that a highly regarded rabbi would be willing to co-officiate and before Shabbat was over. I think it’s positive too. Maybe it will have some influence.”
Julie gives our own Rabbi Lev Baesh the last word:
Lev Baesh, a Reform rabbi and CCAR member who is the director of InterfaithFamily.com’s resource center for Jewish clergy and oversees the referral service, says he co-officiates because, “My view is that any Jew who wants Jewish ritual in their life should have it.”
Even if a couple hasn’t yet decided whether or not to have a Jewish household, “the wedding is a great opportunity to show Judaism is something that has meaning and value for them.”
The hope is that if they have a good experience, then “down the road” these couples will get more engaged in Jewish life.
“I know that I’m not just hoping this, because I also do a lot of baby namings,” Rabbi Baesh says.
Finally, on Thursday, Allison Gaudet Yarrow at the Forward wrote Wedding Blues: Rabbis At Odds With Their Rules, which again focuses on co-officiation. Yarrow’s summary: “Top leaders from all the major streams of Judaism – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist – were at pains to stress that the Sabbath day nuptials of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky were not a Jewish event.” She quoted me as saying,
In his work with Interfaithfamily.com, which offers, among other things, a clergy referral service, CEO Ed Case sees a disconnect between rabbis who feel they can navigate the interfaith issue without offending interfaith couples and those particular couples’ experience of interacting with rabbis who won’t perform or recognize interfaith unions.
“For better or for worse, what couples want and what lay people want are different than where the rabbinate is. People don’t feel bound by requirements or traditions, and they want to do what they want to do,” he said.
Case hoped interfaith couples would look at the Jewish rituals in the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding and think, “If this is good enough for Chelsea Clinton, it’s good enough for me.”
I wrote a feature for the Huffington Post that was published today: What Chelsea Clinton’s Ceremony Might Look Like. It’s written to explain, to people who might not be familiar with Jewish wedding ceremony customs, what they might be seeing if the couple decides to have a Jewish wedding or incorporate elements of a Jewish wedding in their own.
I’ve been getting a lot of calls from the media about upcoming wedding. It occurred to me that the decisions Chelsea and Marc make could have a big impact on the decisions of other interfaith couples. For better or worse, what celebrities do has a lot of influence. Think how many people got interested in kabbalah because of Madonna.
If Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky were to make Jewish choices either for their wedding or after, a lot of other young interfaith couples might want to think twice and more favorably about doing the same for themselves.
Thanks to Phillip Weiss for putting this story out – Hillary Clinton was interviewed by NBC Nightly News on July 18 and starting at about 14 minutes and 54 seconds into the interview, she was asked how she felt about Chelsea marrying “in an interfaith context:”
I think it says a lot about not only the two young people involved and their strong love but also their deep faith, both of them. But it says a lot about the United States, it says a lot about this wonderful experiment known as America, where we recognize the right that every single person has to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And over the years so many of the barriers that prevented people from getting married, crossing lines of faith, or color or ethnicity, have just disappeared. Because what’s important is, Are you making a responsible decision, have you thought it through, do you understand the consequences? And I think that in the world we’re living in today, we need more of that…
Other than pretty much confirming that Bill Clinton will not be officiating, Secretary Clinton didn’t disclose any more details about the wedding. When she said both Chelsea and Marc have “deep faith,” maybe that suggests a co-officiated ceremony. It remains a mystery.
The media is abuzz again about Chelsea Clinton’s upcoming wedding to Marc Mezvinsky. It’s now been reported that the nuptials will take place on July 31 at Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, New York. But apparently no one in the press knows who will be officiating at the wedding.
The overall fascination with celebrities in our culture is another subject, but there certainly is incredible fascination with this wedding in the Jewish community. Back in November we had an early blog post as soon as the engagement was announced, followed by a longer post on the subject of rabbinic officiation, under the title “Chelsea Clinton may not need help finding a rabbi for her wedding, but…” The traffic to our website was the highest we’ve had in our recent history, with more than twice as many visits as our usual highest days.
All of this is prelude to the latest – a long post on Sunday July 11 on Politics Daily by religion reporter David Gibson: Will Chelsea Clinton Convert? Jews Wonder — and Ponder the Implications.
The post is interesting, not because it highlights the “lively discussion” on our site, but because Gibson, himself a Catholic, takes the occasion to provide a short review of the Jewish community’s overall response to intermarriage. He starts by saying that the usual level of interest in the issue is magnified: “Yet this being the Clintons, and the religion in question being Judaism, the interfaith angst is taking on a significance far beyond that of the usual family tsuris over such matters.” After reviewing a number of different issues, Gibson concludes that “’official Judaism’ is taking steps to adapt” and refers to “a growing body of research that indicates welcoming a non-Jewish spouse can benefit Judaism in the long run.” He quotes Rabbi Lester Frazin’s comment on our discussion board about why he changed his position and started officiating at weddings of interfaith couples: “I have found in my career that you attract more people through compassionate acceptance than obstinate refusal.” Gibson’s take on the issues is well worth reading.
There’s an interesting discussion of Gibson’s post from Rabbi Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi I recently “met” when we were featured on a web chat hosted by the Detroit Free Press. Rabbi Miller lists a range of issues that the wedding brings up, including whether observant Conservative and Orthodox Jews won’t be able to attend a wedding on July 31, a Saturday (although we don’t know the time of the wedding, as far as I know). He also quotes Rabbi Irwin Kula for a trenchant as usual observation that “This is great article for studying just about every pathology in American Jewish life… an entire article on intermarriage and Jewish weddings all about its threat and not one sentence on the possible meaning of the ritual that might actually create meaning and value. It’s chuppah/Jewish wedding as tribal marker and intermarriage as either threat to the tribe or grudging opportunity to increase numbers. Why should Chelsea convert? To make sure we don’t lose her kids to our tribe so worried about our size!”
The title of Gibson’s post doesn’t exactly fit because there’s not much in the post about whether Chelsea Clinton will convert – a subject that we never raised. There’s more emphasis on “the idea of Jewish pride at one of the tribe finding a catch such as Chelsea Clinton” that he attributes to our friend Julie Wiener. He quotes Samuel Heilman as saying “most American Jews will be looking for some nod to Judaism not being second class at the wedding – a chuppah, the crushing of a glass under the groom’s heel, maybe a yarmulke here or there.” But we’re still wondering – and hoping – that the couple will have decided that they want to have a Jewish wedding, with a rabbi officiating.
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