Frank: Mark, with over 70% of our Reform Jewish young adults marrying someone of a different faith, the Reform movement has been confronted with a request from some of these interfaith couples to allow their children to alternate weekly attendance at their synagogue’s Religious School with a similar experience at a Christian Sunday School. These are couples who are raising their children with a “Being Both” religious experience.
Currently, many Reform congregations do not give permission for this every other week exposure to both Judaism and Christianity. What are your thoughts on these requests?
Mark: Frank, you are asking a fundamental question that challenges the limits of the inclusive sense that Reform Judaism has always sought to embrace. The ultimate questions go to the very heart of who we consider to be a Jew, or who we consider to be Jewish enough?
We Reform Jews have always stretched our comfort levels for the sake of our sense of inclusion and embrace. We have done so with interfaith couples, same sex couples, Jews by choice, Jews of color, and Jews of various sexual orientation. We have done so with the primary concern of being Judaism’s easiest entryway to a meaningful, loving and accepting Jewish community. We should consider creating a similar path for these Being Both families. Do we really wish to exclude them? Are they really a threat to whom we claim to value and claim to be? Does their potential exclusion weaken or strengthen us?
Frank: According to an ancient tradition, a Rabbi should turn away a potential candidate for conversion to Judaism up to three times to test the candidate’s sincerity. While most Rabbis no longer adhere to this rule, there are often many obstacles in the way for an individual to be considered Jewish.
This rule of not allowing children of a mixed religious family to study Judaism by attending Sunday School every other week is one of those obstacles and will most likely result in that child never accepting Judaism as their religion later in life.
To answer your question, I believe that this exclusion will weaken our religion, not strengthen it.
What are we so worried about? There are only fifteen million Jews in a world of eight billion people making us approximately 0.2% of all people on earth. Surely, we have room in our schools and in our hearts to expose children of interfaith marriages to the beauty and wonder of Judaism.
At this upcoming season of Chanukah and Christmas, we need to revisit policies of exclusion and move to one of inclusion. One way is to consider the following suggested guideline:
A child of an interfaith marriage, whose parents desire their child experience an education in both a Jewish and non-Jewish education, is welcomed to attend Jewish Sunday School on an alternative weekly basis during the school year. However, any such child whose religious participation includes both Jewish and non-Jewish education, and who wishes to participate in Jewish life cycle events such as Bar and Bat Mitzvah, must adhere to established guidelines or policies as set forth by the clergy and officers of that congregation.
Mark, what do you think?
Mark: Frank, there is real wisdom in the idea you have put forward. The reality is that the next generations of Reform Jews will no doubt include many more dual faith households in terms of the active religious participation of both parents. Whether we would prefer it to be this way, or not, ultimately makes no difference in the decisions these couples and families will make. It is what it is, and we may either respond to this reality with our full embrace of these families and their children, or we can choose to close the door on them, most likely losing them for a long time, perhaps forever. Is that really the best choice we wish to make?
I believe in the product we offer, the warmth and the wisdom of our Jewish traditions and beliefs. I would like to give the full demonstration and education of our faith, to every family who wishes for their child to be exposed to it.
At the end of the day, if we are strong in our own Jewish identity as Reform Jews, and if we remain true to our ideals of inclusion and embrace, then what do we have to lose, in comparison to all we stand to gain?
Rabbi Mark Schiftan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Frank Boehm can be reached at email@example.com
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