The Mixed Marriage of the Century


I didn’t think the wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky would be eclipsed so soon, but here comes the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. People everywhere are just fascinated by the British royal family. Through our lens here at, we can’t help but focus on the “intermarriage” aspect of the relationship. No, Kate Middleton isn’t Jewish – now wouldn’t that be an interesting situation! – but she is a “commoner” and, well, you can’t be much more “royal” than William, the future King of England.

The Jewish community’s response to interfaith marriages might take a lesson or two from the British aristrocracy’s response to its own kind of mixed marriage. Their attitudes have certainly adapted over the years towards a welcoming approach. It isn’t all that long ago that King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a commoner (and divorcee to boot). But Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles have publicly expressed their complete delight with Prince William’s choice.

The British don’t have any qualms about the status of the children of a royal-commoner marriage: any child of William and Kate will be not merely royal, but, well, the heir to the throne. That goes further than the Reform movement’s approach, where a child of an interfaith marriage is at least presumptively potentially Jewish if raised Jewish.

The British also make it easy for someone marrying in to acquire royal status. I’m no expert on this. I’m not sure if by reason of the marriage, Kate becomes a Duchess or a Princess, or that happens by the Queen just conferring that status on her. Either way, she becomes part of the royal family. It would be nice if the Jewish community considered our partners who aren’t Jewish part of the family in the same easy way.

The press has focused on how solicitous William has been of Kate. After all, he’s lived his entire life with what I’m sure are peculiar or at least particular “rituals” of the royal family, and she’ll have to get used to all of that. William reportedly promised her father that he would help her to adjust. Wouldn’t it be great if the Jewish partners in interfaith couples took the same kind of approach with respect to sharing Jewish traditions with their partners?

Here at we’re positive about the potential for couples from different backgrounds to build fulfilling lives together and to decide to affiliate their family with the tradition of one partner while honoring and respecting the tradition of the other. We’re happy to see that at least at the outset, it looks like Prince William and Kate Middleton have a good chance of doing just that. So we’ll send them an early mazel tov!

Starting the TV Season with Interfaith Couples


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 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. ( 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.   

On Private Practice, Drs. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adlestein) and Charlotte King (Kadee Strickland) start the season making love while discussing how Charlotte’s pastor wants to talk to Cooper’s rabbi.  I hope the powers that be take the opportunity to explore the dimensions of an interfaith wedding for them!

Looking forward to where the season will take these shows… And hoping to see some interfaith issues explored by the two couples!

Reform Movement Task Force on Intermarriage Reports


Our CEO Ed Case is attending the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in San Francisco. The CCAR is the rabbinic association of the Reform movement. I look forward to his opinions on the presentation of the CCAR task force on intermarriage. News reports, including this one in the New York Times suggest a slight shift on the issue. The panel proposed that Reform rabbis work on encouraging interfaith couples to stay in the Jewish community instead of trying to prevent interfaith marriage.

The task force did not suggest any change on rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings. Currently, Reform rabbis can choose to officiate at interfaith weddings according to their conscience, though the Reform movement formally opposes rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings.

Since 1983, the Reform movement has recognized children of interfaith families as Jewish if their parents raise them as Jews–whether the Jewish parent is the mother or the father. This has brought many more interfaith families into Reform congregations, making it the largest of the Jewish denominations in the United States, which is the largest Jewish community in the world. Reform congregations have been working for years on integrating interfaith families and their children and finding ways to honor non-Jewish spouses who support Jewish family members’ practice of Judaism.

If you’re a member of a Reform congregation, what has your experience been? Does your rabbi make your whole family feel welcome? How about the rest of the community?

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 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 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.’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, 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