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Question: Can Jews Encourage Interfaith Marriage and Welcome Interfaith Families?

[Please note: The below article was posted in 2010 prior to the switch from InterfaithFamilies to 18Doors]

A proposal I made for a workshop at the annual convention of the Jewish Federations of North America has been accepted. In November, I will be speaking before an audience of important Jewish leaders on this question: Can We Encourage In-Marriage and Welcome Interfaith Families? The session will involve presentations by me and my ideological nemesis, Steven M. Cohen, and then responses by some of the top federation executives in the country – Barry Shrage from Boston, Jay Sanderson from Los Angeles and Steve Rakitt from Atlanta. The panel will be moderated by Alisa Doctoroff, Chair of the UJA Federation of New York.

I’ve decided to seek help in shaping my presentation from InterfaithFamily.com’s community of readers. I have fifteen minutes to convey our position on a complicated question. I don’t want to spend a lot of time citing statistics, I want to tell stories – your stories – about how expression of preference for in-marriage affects interfaith couples. So please post your comments below.

I’d like to give three reference points for background. In an article I wrote for Interfaith Families then years ago, How to Talk to Your Kids about Interfaith Dating, I basically took the position that it was OK for Jews to say the following to young adults: We would like to see you live a Jewish life; if you want to, the statistics show that your chances are far greater if you marry someone who is Jewish; it is possible, but it isn’t so easy, to have a Jewish family and to raise Jewish children in an intermarriage. I’ve also said many times that it is not OK for Jews to say that intermarriage is wrong, or bad, or a violation of Jewish norms, because that message won’t deter the half of young adults who will intermarry anyway, but it will deter them from engaging Jewishly because people won’t go where they feel disapproval. So I’ve said in the past that it is possible to encourage in-marriage, but only in a very careful and limited way.

Recently Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, Jewish leaders should fully shed the preference for in-marriage. He said that “preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families. You simply cannot say, ‘We welcome everybody equally, but we prefer one kind over another.’” Paul did add, however, that “This is not to say that we can’t discuss the challenges of raising Jewish children when one parent is not Jewish; what I’m talking about is the open preference for one type of couple over another, even when both may choose to raise Jewish children.”

Finally, I blogged recently about a report that Steven M. Cohen had said that Jews and Jewish organizations are already plenty welcoming of interfaith couples. In response, I received a very powerful message from an individual. Here is part of what she said:
“For all practical purposes, I am the ideal interfaith partner. I gave into everything, gave up all the religious traditions of my family and my childhood, and accepted that I was always going to be fundamentally different and separate from my children. And yet, the message that I get is that it is never enough, that I am simply wrong for not being Jewish, and I am a threat and a second class citizen. When I hear rabbis stress the evils of interfaith marriage in synagogue, how does Dr. Cohen think I feel? How do my children feel, knowing that their father was considered wrong, and that he married an unacceptable person? Is it so much to ask that yes, they soft pedal the admonitions and prejudice against intermarriage, given that we are advocating and living Jewish choices?”

What do you think? Should Jews and Jewish leaders fully shed the preference for interfaith marriage because it is not possible to welcome the interfaith married? Or is it possible to state a preference and still be welcoming – and if so, how?


Edmund Case

Edmund Case is the founder of 18Doors and served as CEO from inception until he stepped down in March, 2015. He is the author of Radical Inclusion: Engaging Interfaith Families for a Thriving Jewish Future, co-editor of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook, and founder of the Center for Radically Inclusive Judaism.

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Author: Edmund Case