This week, four rabbis discuss the often touchy concept of interfaith marriage.
Rabbi Leslie Schotz, Bay Shore Jewish Center:
Intermarriage does not always affect Judaism adversely. This subject is very talked about everywhere from casual conversations in the supermarket to rabbinical meetings. It seems that people focus on the possible negative effects and don't really see the positive. There is a fear that the Jewish faith will disappear.
As a rabbi serving a conservative congregation, with a doctorate in ministry from a multifaith program and as president of the Bay Shore Interfaith Clergy, I believe I have a unique perspective.
Just because someone is born Jewish does not mean that he or she will choose to live a Jewish life. For too long, I have heard the party line of blaming intermarriage for the decline of Judaism. I have not seen this to be true. Everyone has his or her own sacred story of a personal spiritual journey.
The term we used to use was interfaith. Today, however, we are living in a multifaith world. In our respective houses of worship, we are seeing families who are of different faiths. We are no longer exclusive but rather inclusive.
Rabbi Elliot Skiddell, Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre:
Obviously, intermarriage has an effect on the Jewish community, the Jewish people. I'm not so sure there is an effect on Judaism, other than to say we welcome people from all backgrounds and all family histories to become part of our community.
When there is an interfaith marriage, it enriches the Jewish people and Judaism. We are augmented by having people who look at Jewish life through a very different lens than those who are brought up as Jews.
Some decide to convert to Judaism, which is wonderful and a blessing. Even those who don't still make a contribution to the Jewish community. They often become ambassadors to the non-Jewish world -- painting a picture of the Jewish community, Jewish life and the Jewish family -- to their own family and their non-Jewish friends that is invaluable.
I look at interfaith marriage as an opportunity to teach and to learn, for us to gain deeper insight into our own traditions.
I know there are many people, many leaders who decry interfaith marriage and wring their hands and say it is the death knell of the Jewish faith. Honestly, there have always been intermarriages. Judaism is able to absorb those people and whether formally or informally, make them part of the Jewish family.
Rabbi Randy Sheinberg, Temple Tikvah, New Hyde Park:
It is a hot topic for some people. Some people look on interfaith marriage as either a disease or something like bad weather: It is a shame, and you have to just deal with it. Even if it isn't harmful, it is unpleasant.
We must acknowledge interfaith marriage as a fact of life. Seeing intermarriage as a negative thing is not the way we need or should look at it. We've always lived in a world of diversity. Now, we live in a world where these diverse groups are able to more readily converse with each other, and that's a good thing.
I have a number of intermarried families in my congregation, and the non-Jewish partner has a curiosity about Judaism. Many Jewish households may take some things for granted, do things without really thinking about them. An interfaith person is more accustomed to asking: Why do this? Do we want to do this? They bring fresh eyes to Judaism.
There are those who think that intermarriage means watered-down Judaism. I don't believe that. I think they help keep Judaism vibrant. I value diversity and wouldn't want it to disappear.
Rabbi Louis Diament, chaplain, Nassau County Correctional Center, East Meadow; and Franklin Square Medical Center:
Anyone who tells you interfaith marriage isn't a problem for Judaism, isn't correct. Unfortunately, where there is interfaith marriage, the Jewish faith usually loses people. The Jewish person often isn't practicing or isn't that strongly interested in religion. You not only risk losing the Jewish member of the couple, but also any children they may have, that next generation. It is the responsibility of the parents to observe the faith themselves and teach their children to observe. If the parents are not observant, why should the children be observant?
Jews don't go out proselytizing. We don't have missionaries. So, it is difficult to grow new members, even in a situation of an intermarriage. If the
non-Jewish spouse wants to convert, that is great, but we don't proselytize in an attempt to get them to convert. So, you can understand why so often, interfaith marriage is not a plus, but a minus in terms of growing the faith.
We have an open society, which we are thankful for, but that open society can often weaken the faith as we lose members. It is a very ticklish subject, but you can't shy away from telling it like it is.