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How Rabbi's Views on Interfaith Weddings Evolved

December 21, 2011

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean, reprinted with permission of the author.

A true confession: When each of our three children was born, just minutes after they entered the world, I leaned down to whisper these same three short sentences into their ears, "We love you so much. May God always bless you and watch over you. And please, marry someone Jewish."

But as much as we teach our children to honor and to celebrate their own faith and their own people, we also encourage them to engage the world. And so, if all that is true, how can we be surprised when, living in an open society, they may meet and fall in love with someone who is of another faith, or another race, or another culture or ethnicity than our own? In the end, that choice is no longer ours, anyway, nor should it be.

In the nearly 25 years of my rabbinate, while agreeing to perform interfaith weddings — and after performing literally hundreds of them with pride and honor — I have regularly declined the opportunity to co-officiate at ceremonies of hundreds of other couples who wanted me to perform their weddings alongside clergy of other faiths.

But among the other opportunities to co-officiate, one involved the child of congregants who are very dear to me, regular Temple-goers who are active in leadership roles in the congregation. This marriage involved a young bride and groom who were contemplating having children and who had not reached a clear decision as to which faith, if any, they wished to raise them.

As such, I felt unwilling to participate in an active role in their wedding, though I did offer, as I often do, to recite a blessing over the couple, either at a Shabbat service at the Temple before the wedding or at the wedding ceremony itself.

During a subsequent meeting in my study with the parents, one of them said to me, "You know, Rabbi, I understand your point of view and respect you for it. But even if our child and his future spouse haven't yet decided what they're going to do about their children's faith — and frankly, even if they decide to raise them in both faiths, or even as Christians — our child is still a Jew. Our child grew up here, was called to the Torah here and became confirmed here. This place and this faith hold special meaning to our child. Don't you think our child should be able to have their rabbi represent their faith at their wedding ceremony in an active and meaningful way?"

For me, for this rabbi, that meeting, that conversation, made all the difference. It was not so much that I was wrong, as it was, but that they were right. And so I have changed my position on performing these co-officiated ceremonies. I have evolved in my rabbinate. It was time.

To date, I have co-officiated at only one other ceremony, though I suspect there will be many more in the years to come. Unlike the first, it was in a very public setting, attended by hundreds, including many of our congregants. To be honest, I was extremely anxious as to how they would feel about the ceremony, along with my participation in it. Days after, I received a letter from one of those congregants; to this day, I carry it in my calendar and glance at it often.

It reads: "I attended the wedding and was pleasantly amazed at how Judaism and Catholicism were blended together to join these beautiful people. The ceremony utilized almost all of the traditional symbols of a Jewish wedding, yet the other guests were comfortable in the process and, in the end, shared in the chorus of Mazel Tov, sending the new couple out in the world into their new life."

So there you have it: We can adapt; we can change; we can evolve. I know our rabbi has.

Hebrew and Yiddish for "good luck," a phrase used to express congratulations for happy and significant occasions. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
Rabbi Mark Schiftman

Rabbi Mark Schiftman is senior rabbi at The Temple — Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville, TN.

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