Special Planning Issues for Interfaith Families

Interfaith families should ask the rabbi about synagogue policies and honestly examine both parents' attachments to Judaism.

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Interfaith families face unique challenges in raising their children, and many of these revolve around lifecycle events, such as bar/bat mitzvah. Every family responds to these challenges in its own way, and individual synagogues have their own rules on incorporating non-Jewish family members into the service. Most traditionalist communities forbid any participation by non-Jews in the prayer service and would only consider the child of an interfaith couple Jewish if the mother is herself Jewish or if the child underwent a halakhic (legal) conversion. Liberal communities tend to have policies allowing some participation in the services by non-Jewish family members, and the Reform movement considers a child Jewish if either parent, not just the mother, is Jewish, as long as the child was raised as a Jew. Reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily.com.

Becoming a bar/bat mitzvah is a wonderful event. The child stands before family, friends, and community and declares, “Being Jewish is important to me. I stand today–just as my ancestors did at Mt. Sinai–as a responsible Jewish (young) adult.” 

How marvelous! How equally marvelous it is that non-Jewish parents and relatives wish to support this Jewish effort and commitment. So, how do interfaith families join together for this occasion?

synagogueHere are a few suggestions for interfaith families contemplating a bar/bat mitzvah celebration.

Talk with your rabbi early to know what the opportunities might be. Each synagogue is different. There is only one way to know what a congregation and a rabbi will permit family members to do: ask. Most non-Jewish parents are relieved just to know what they and their “side” of the family can do in a religious service. Rabbis and congregations owe it to their interfaith-married families to share openly the policy for non-Jewish participation in bar/bat mitzvah celebrations.

Some practical questions to ask include:

·        Can both parents be on the bimah (pulpit) as the child is called to the Torah?

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Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel, in Columbus, Ohio, has worked with interfaith families and on behalf of outreach for over 18 years.

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