Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Alexandra Wall and Paul Bosky were engaged in July 2005 and married a little over a year later. Wall is Jewish while Bosky was raised Unitarian-Universalist by his Jewish mother and Catholic father. But the Oakland, Calif.-based couple encountered no obstacles publishing engagement and wedding announcements in their local Jewish paper, j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Indeed, Wall was a staff writer at the paper at the time and her co-workers kept pushing her to put something in. As for her being intermarried? "It wasn't even a question," she says.
How times have changed.
In 1994, the issue of publishing interfaith wedding announcements in Jewish newspapers was so divisive that both The New York Times and CNN covered a controversy sparked when The (Connecticut) Jewish Ledger published an op-ed explaining why the paper doesn't publish the announcements. William Safire followed the Times story up with a column criticizing The Ledger's policy. But at the time, Jonathan Tobin, the editor of The Jewish Ledger and the author of the op-ed, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (today the JTA), that 51 of 64 letters he received supported his position.
Today, of the 21 non-Orthodox Jewish papers InterfaithFamily.com contacted, only four do not publish interfaith wedding announcements. The two largest papers--the (Florida) Jewish Journal, with a circulation of 145,000, and The (New York) Jewish Week, with a circulation of 71,500--however, do not publish announcements. But unlike some smaller Jewish newspapers, neither paper publishes many wedding announcements of any kind.
The Intermountain Jewish News, a weekly that covers the Jewish community of Colorado, also does not publish interfaith wedding announcements. The policy has been in place for 25 or 30 years, said Associate Editor Larry Hankin. "This is a Jewish newspaper so we do Jewish weddings," said Hankin. "We will run an obviously interfaith engagement because we don't know what will happen by the wedding."
The (Boston) Jewish Advocate does not run interfaith wedding announcements--"Historically the policy here was to adhere to community standards," said Editor Hinda Mandell--but the policy is currently under review.
The third- and fourth-largest non-Orthodox Jewish community papers in the country--The (Philadelphia) Jewish Exponent (where Tobin is now the executive editor) and the New Jersey Jewish News, respectively--both publish interfaith wedding announcements. So does the largest Jewish paper on the West Coast, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Even The Baltimore Jewish Times, based in a city with a 21% Orthodox population, publishes interfaith wedding announcements.
The policy of all papers isn't the same, however. The California-based papers place no restrictions on the announcements. "We run interfaith, we run gays, we run everything," said Marc Klein, publisher of the j., "They are paid announcements so we put in whatever they write." Seattle's JTNews has a similar policy. "I don't think it's the job of a newspaper to decide who is and who isn't part of the Jewish community," said Editor Joel Magalnick.
But most papers InterfaithFamily.com spoke with will delete mentions of non-Jewish clergy or the location of the wedding if it was at a non-Jewish religious location. Said Andrew Sillow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News, "We don't have to be in the business of making it a Jewish norm to be married by a reverend."
At the Detroit Jewish News, they will include mentions of officiants from another religion, but not of a non-Jewish house of worship. "For a while we printed the churches, but that caused more of an outrage than the interfaith announcements themselves," said Editor Robert Sklar. "I don't get any complaints anymore."
When deciding whether or not to run interfaith wedding announcements, editors are also faced with a practical consideration: it's nearly impossible to tell who's Jewish and who's not by people's last names. "If Goldberg is marrying Fitzgerald, it would seem that they are an interfaith couple," said Margi Herwald Zitelli, city editor of the Cleveland Jewish News, "but for all we know Fitzgerald converted or had a Jewish mother. Whatever the couple's circumstances, if they want their announcement in the Cleveland Jewish News and took the trouble of submitting it, they obviously have some Jewish feeling of connection."
Editors cite a desire to be inclusive, practicality and journalistic ethics as reasons for publishing the announcements. "We report on all matters concerning Jews, and Jews who marry non-Jews certainly fall within that criteria," said Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. At the same time, editors always have to be sensitive to the sensibilities of a readership base that covers the gamut from liberal and secular to socially conservative and Orthodox. Lyn Payne, associate editor of the (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News, said she would omit mention of a church or priest in an interfaith wedding announcement "in the interest of tact."
In addition to the publications already mentioned, Jewish newspapers in Washington, D.C., Miami, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dayton, Ohio, Omaha, Neb., Louisville, Ky., and Syracuse, N.Y., all publish interfaith wedding announcements.
As for the Connecticut Jewish Ledger? They've been publishing interfaith wedding announcements since Tobin left the paper seven years ago.