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July 31, 2007
Something deep inside told me that it wouldn't work. Five years and two children later, it was sad but not too surprising to see her in my study, tears streaking her face. The words barely escaped between sobs. Eventually, the story emerged.
Sam and Sandi thought they were deeply in love. That is why Sandi took our Introduction to Judaism course… to learn how to raise a Jewish family. Sam wanted that so badly. And Sandi figured that having the same faith in the home--even though she still believed in Jesus--would strengthen their relationship. However, from the day after their honeymoon--which just happened to be Christmas, and Sam wouldn't go to church with her--things were never right. When Max and Sophie were born, she hoped children would strengthen their marriage. But there were too many fights. Unfortunately, it was always about religion.
When Max was born, Sandi couldn't accept the trauma of circumcision. Sam insisted on it, and by a mohel (one who performs circumcision according to Jewish tradition) no less. She finally agreed to it being done in the hospital, with no ceremony. But then, Sam wouldn't agree that she could baptize their son. Six months ago, Sophie was born and the arguments resumed.
She just couldn't take it and now she was sitting in front of me, asking me for help. She had promised she would raise Jewish children. But, in her heart of hearts, she couldn't. She had left Sam the week before and filed for divorce. She was a woman of honor. But this she could not do. She did not want her children to burn in Hell because they didn't know Jesus.
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The struggle of divorce is painful for any couple. When interfaith couples separate, there are often unique and even more complicated issues involved. The differences in holidays and life-cycles, theological beliefs and family pressures, can be significant contributing factors to the break-up. That said, those interfaith couples whom I have counseled generally fall into one of three categories: a) those who, like Sandi and Sam, divorce because of their differences in faith; b) those who divorce because of "secular" relationship issues, yet for whom faith has become a battle ground, with their children being the wounded soldiers; and c) those who remain consistent in their commitments for raising the children in a particular faith, but because of divorce no longer have the support system to help in the process.
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Regardless of the reasons for divorce, following are some suggestions for those couples with children who separate, as well as advice for extended family:
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A number of years later, I received an invitation to the service at which Sandi's son was being called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. In it was a note, "Rabbi, I thought you would like to see this. As I have learned more about Judaism, I have come closer to my own faith. My children know they are Jewish and come to church just to support me. Thanks for helping me make a good 'Jewish' decision."
And what was that decision? To continue to raise her kids Jewish, even though her Jewish husband decided not to help once they divorced.