By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
You have addressed the now famous, or infamous, Pew report in your columns maintaining that the most important solution to the shrinking numbers of Jews is Jewish education, which would strengthen the resolve of present Jews in their Judaism, keeping them in the fold. Why have you not considered another option? What I’m referring to is a recent piece in The New York Times by Susan Katz Miller entitled “Being Partly Jewish.” Her response to the Pew report is that interfaith families are not lost to Judaism, and that her family, (a 3/4 Christian and 1/4 Jewish interfaith family) celebrates all the Jewish and Christian holidays equally and joyfully. It would be hard to say children in such a family are lost to Judaism, although they may equally embrace another co-faith. Since, as the Pew report reveals, the number of interfaith families is so high, perhaps our efforts need to be to encourage the richness of the interfaith unit by providing more interfaith education, rather than just Jewish education. This would allow both spouses and the children to be more committed to their Judaism (as well as their other religion), since they are not forced to choose one faith or the other; and, we retain more Jews. Who said one can’t be a “dual citizen,” like a resident of America and Israel can legally be?
— Marci C.
Thanks for pointing me to the article you refer to, as well as the many comments attached, (interestingly, at the time I read it there were 613 comments!)
Firstly, I want to say that I agree with you that we need to embrace interfaith couples who show any desire or willingness to learn about and embrace Judaism. The rejection expressed to them in previous generations, with the hopes that would discourage their union or others, simply is not an option in this generation. We need to face the reported fact of the more than 70 percent of intermarriage straight in the eyes and realize that this is the state of a large portion of the Jewish people. This does not mean to encourage those unions, but to deal with the situation in the most positive way possible given the dual considerations of halachah, the approach of Jewish law, and the facts on the ground. (For this reason we have had, and continue to have, many intermarried couples at our classes and programs at DATA. They are encouraged to study and immerse themselves in Jewish teachings).
What you are suggesting, however, as suggested by Ms. Katz Miller, in the world view of Judaism and even that of Christianity, is an oxymoron. One cannot embrace two ideas or faiths, which are not only mutually exclusive of each other, but are diametrically opposed! Judaism absolutely and utterly rejects Jesus as any form of deity whatsoever — the very foundation of Christianity. Most forms of Christianity utterly reject Judaism, which has no acceptance of their Lord, as a viable option. That’s in a nutshell; the differences run deep and are many.
I found the same sentiments expressed by a devout Christian in the comments attached to the above article: “You speak of faith and religion as if it’s nothing more than a cultural identity, with songs and prayers to make us feel good. I believe the Christian faith is real…Judaism denies that Christ is the savior. For a Christian to be “interfaith” would be to reject Jesus Christ. A Jewish person blending their religion with Christianity would similarly not make sense. What Miss Miller is proposing here is heresy.”
The only way such an idea can be suggested is to reduce both Judaism and Christianity to some kind of cultural celebration of nice holidays with no real belief systems or convictions. Sadly, Miller and all those who espouse her ideology are coming from a place that lacks understanding of either religion. To attempt to truly teach both simultaneously is to create a schizophrenic hybrid which, besides making no sense, would only bring about complete confusion to the children, or adults, it attempts to placate.
The role of the Jewish people is not to educate about all religions. Our people receive plenty of that from their surroundings. (Just ask the average Jew if they can tell you the name of Jesus’ mother; then ask them to name Moses’ mother. See how many can sing “Ma’oz Tzur” for Chanukah like they can sing “Deck the Halls” or “Jingle Bells”). Our role is to disseminate our own teachings, in a positive, refreshing, non-threatening and non-judgmental way to any and all Jews open and willing to partake of them. Then stand back and let those teachings do their own magic!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.