Chelsea Clinton may not need help finding a rabbi for her wedding, but…

Chelsea Clinton’s engagement to Marc Mezvinsky is big news; Ruth Abrams’ blog post here yesterday
was picked up by the Atlantic’s blog, the Atlantic Wire.

Ruth said it would be interesting to see how the famous couple handles the interfaith aspects of their relationship. One aspect of that of course is whether they will want to have a rabbi officiate, or co-officiate with other clergy, at their wedding.

One blogger speculated that Mezvinsky is affiliated with the Conservative movement based on the couple’s attendance at High Holiday services at the Jewish Theological Seminary. If the couple do want to have a rabbi officiate at their wedding, Conservative rabbis aren’t allowed to do so; they’ll have to look elsewhere.

I’m sure that such a well-connected couple should not have any trouble finding a rabbi. But that isn’t the case for everyone. One of the most important services InterfaithFamily.com provides is our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service. So far this year, we’ve responded to 1,135 inquiries from couples all over the country asking for help to find a rabbi or cantor to officiate or co-officiate at their wedding. (In fact, we’re running a “promotion” right now – couples who request a referral are eligible for a drawing for a $500 gift card – that’s quite an engagement present!)

If it were easy for couples to find Jewish clergy for their weddings, we wouldn’t be experiencing demand for our service. We’d actually be glad if, some day, our service was no longer necessary. But officiation is still controversial among rabbis, so we don’t see that happening any time soon.

The reason we offer our referral service is simple. Recent research confirms that the negative experience many interfaith couples have seeking Jewish clergy to officiate at their weddings is a “huge turnoff” (Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys, National Center for Jewish Policy Studies 2008). Through our officiation referral service, and our work with rabbis, we hope to make that experience one that leads to more Jewish engagement, not less.

So if Chelsea and Marc do want to have a rabbi participate in their wedding, we hope their experience is positive, and we hope it leads to more Jewish engagement – we think Chelsea Clinton would be a great addition to the Jewish community in whatever way she chooses to participate. And the former President and the Secretary of State wouldn’t be too shabby as grandparents for Jewish grandchildren, if that’s the direction the couple decides to take.

And if by any chance they would like help finding a rabbi for their wedding, we have some great ones on our list, both  in New York, and ones who travel to Martha’s Vineyard too.

Why We Help Interfaith Couples Find Rabbis

InterfaithFamily.com has a Clergy Officiation Referral Service. Here’s why.

According to the last National Jewish Population Survey, about 47% of Jewish people getting married in the United States are marrying people who aren’t Jewish. Before 1970, only about 17% of US Jews married non-Jews. In the past, when Jews married non-Jews, the Jewish community interpreted this as an expression of lack of interest in Judaism. In the present, this is not a valid assumption. Many Jews enter interfaith marriage with the wish to retain their Jewish identity and religious practice, and to raise Jewish children, with the person they love. The non-Jewish partner is very often on board with this goal.

[float=left][/float]A 2008 study by sociologist Arnold Dashefsky and the National Center for Jewish Policy Studies found that 87 percent of those intermarried couples who were married by Jewish clergy later raised their children as “Jewish only,” compared to 63 percent of the couples married by co-officiants, non-Jewish clergy or in secular ceremonies. Also, 50 percent said it was very important that their grandchildren be Jewish, compared to 18 percent of the second group.

Traditional Jewish law doesn’t have a category for  interfaith marriage. In past societies where Jewish family law was only binding on Jews and there was no civil marriage, an interfaith relationship had to be unequal and to leave the female partner unprotected by any one legal system. But we don’t live in such a society any longer. It’s ironic that civil marriage makes interfaith marriage possible, but as more Jews enter  interfaith marriages, more want those marriages to be  Jewish. Many (at one time, it was most!) rabbis want to keep Jewish law and don’t perform marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

A wedding is only the beginning of a marriage, and many rabbis and Jewish leaders who don’t believe in officiating at interfaith weddings do a lot of other work to engage interfaith couples and their children in Jewish life. We aren’t pushing every rabbi to officiate at interfaith weddings. We just don’t want potentially interested couples to be pushed away from Jewish life by the traumatic experience of being rejected at the point of marriage.

According to one study, about 50 percent of Reform rabbis are willing to officiate at interfaith weddings. The question is, can every interfaith couple find a rabbi to marry them where they live? For many, the answer is no.

InterfaithFamily.com’s clergy referral service can link interfaith couples with fantastic rabbis and cantors who will help them have deeply meaningful weddings. If we match them up just right, they’ll want Jewish clergy at all their lifecycle events. It could be, as Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, the start of a beautiful friendship.

So if you have a friend in an interfaith couple and they are trying to find a rabbi, send them the link to our Clergy Officiation Referral Service. We can find your perfect match.

Do You Remember Steve Urkel?

Do you remember Steve Urkel, the nerd character on Family Matters in the 1990s? I always liked Jaleel White, the actor who played Urkel. I like him even more in his new role in the web TV series Road to the Altar. White plays the very attractive Simon Fox, who is engaged to Rachelle Shapiro (Leyna Juliet Weber), a Jewish girl from Brooklyn. To complicate things further, though Rachelle is not Orthodox, her family is. Yes, they are portraying an interfaith couple planning a wedding! If they were a real couple, I would refer them to the weddings page.

Even in the teasers and excerpts posted to Youtube.com, there’s been attention to issues of cultural difference. For example, in this scene, Simon has to figure out how to respond to Rachelle’s Orthodox cousin’s modesty when they’re shopping for bridesmaids’ dresses:

This web series looks entertaining. Perhaps Rachelle’s character is a little stereotypical–in the clips online now she’s a bit of a princess–but perhaps she’s more fleshed out in the full episodes. I hope so. Certainly her over-the-top persona contrasts well with Simon’s straight-laced rational character, who reminded me of Ross Geller, the nerdy Jewish paleontologist from Friends.

The show is filmed to look like a reality series. It’s a great gimmick for showing the emotional road to a wedding and the issues involved with an interfaith wedding. I look forward to seeing this show unfold. I’m already curious about how their ceremony and party turn out!
Check it out and let me know what you think.

June is Hope Month

June is LGBT Pride Month in the United States. It couldn’t come at a better time.

Last week on Tuesday we got the bad news that the Supreme Court of California had ruled to uphold the legality of Proposition 8, the statewide referendum against same-sex marriage. I live in Massachusetts, one of the five states that has same-sex marriage, so I have lots of reasons to think it’s a good thing.

The ruling actually had the seeds of hope in it. It said that people who got married between the California Supreme Court court case that declared same-sex marriage legal, and the passage of Prop 8, were still married. Why? Because Prop 8 is a change in the law. Unless someone introduces a specific, discriminatory clause into the constitution, civil marriage is not limited to opposite sex couples. Continue reading

An Orthodox Rabbi Who Does Not Think Intermarriage is the End of the Jewish World

Nearly three years ago I moved to St. Louis. A friend of ours insisted that we join a local synagogue with a rabbi he described as the most thoughtful and knowledgeable he had ever met. It sounded like a plan–the synagogue was a quick walk from our home. The next day was Shavuot, when we celebrate revelation, and I was eager to see why my friend was so enthusiastic. I was shocked. There were Jews from every denomination attending classes taught by rabbis and teachers from every denomination. (This is really unusual in an Orthodox synagogue.)

Over the next two years, I got to know the synagogue’s rabbi, Hyim Shafner, who insisted I call him Hyim and not rabbi, which is also unusual. I was always struck by his spirituality and how he helped everyone who walked into Bais Abe to connect with their Judaism and spirituality. He just concentrated on helping those around him and developing a community of like-minded individuals. He never judged and I rarely saw him criticize. He is also a great counselor.

Rabbi Shafner just finished writing The Everything Jewish Wedding Book . A wedding blogger who reviewed the book interviews Hyim about intermarriage in the context of being an Orthodox rabbi. When asked how he feels about interfaith weddings, Rabbi Shafner puts interfaith weddings into both a historical and spiritual context:

Half the Jews today marry someone who isn’t Jewish. Fifty years ago, people married non-Jews as a way of leaving Judaism and becoming more American. Today, it’s almost the opposite. For some people, the first time they start to think about Judaism is their wedding. For some Jews, intermarriage is a gateway into Judaism.
The goal of Judaism shouldn’t be to have Jews marry other Jews. The goal of Judaism should be to get something out of Judaism. To have a connection with God and to live a spiritual life.
An interfaith wedding can be useful, it can help people re-engage with their religion.

Rabbi Shafner is certainly not advocating interdating or intermarriage, but does not discount the impact a wedding can have on one’s spirituality and connection to their heritage.

A Wedding on Planet Obama

Rachel Getting Married
From L-R: Anne Hathaway, Tunde Adebimpe, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mather Zickel in Rachel Getting Married.

As a ravenous consumer of film (insert shameless plug here), I make it a point to see as many of the Oscar contenders before the show as I can. Given that the Oscars are in less than three weeks–and nominations only came out a week-and-a-half ago–I’m in a bit of a film frenzy. Last night, I saw Rachel Getting Married.

Rachel Getting Married is about a recovering addict/bulimic/human grenade, Kim (Anne Hathaway), who is released from rehab for a few days to attend her sister Rachel’s (Blake DeWitt) wedding. Kim is a narcissistic mess of a human being who proves that the only person more tiresome than an addict is a recovering addict.

But this post isn’t about Kim. It’s about Rachel and her husband, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), and their cross-cultural mishmash of a wedding.

Continue reading