Interfaith Weddings

Love can't always conquer--couples have difficult decisions to make when they embark on an interfaith marriage.

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Some alternatives exist, however, for couples who wish to incorporate elements of Jewish tradition into their wedding ceremonies. Many Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and unaffiliated rabbis do officiate at Jewish weddings, usually if the couple makes a commitment to create a Jewish home. A few rabbis will co-officiate with a religious leader of the non-Jewish partner's faith. A third option is to have a friend petition to be deputized for the day to perform the wedding ceremony. (It is not legally necessary to have a rabbi officiate at a Jewish marriage, although this is by far the most common practice among Jewish couples.)

Rabbis of all the movements officiate when the non-Jewish spouse converts. However, this is a long and painstaking process that cannot be undertaken only for the sake of the marriage. Rather, most rabbis insist that the non-Jewish partner study over a lengthy period of time and very carefully consider his or her decision.

Interfaith couples also face many choices regarding the content of their ceremonies and the style of their wedding receptions. Some write or purchase documents resembling ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) that reflect their commitment to each other. Others work with clergy to incorporate into the ceremony both religious traditions, or at least religious language that is common to both faiths. Some couples include aspects of each culture in their receptions, choosing music or rituals that help both sides of the family to feel included.

Entering the Jewish Community as an Intermarried Couple

In the past 10 to 15 years, many synagogues have made a significant effort to open their doors to intermarried couples. While the non-Jewish spouse is not typically accorded the same membership status and religious roles as the Jewish partner, a good number of rabbis across the movements believe it is important to welcome interfaith couples into their congregations. Interfaith groups have formed in some synagogues to help couples feel a stronger sense of belonging. Thre are even programs like "The Mother's Circle" which is a support and education group for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children.

Despite the community's approach to "Big Tent Judaism," problems remain. It is very easy for an interfaith couple to feel isolated and discouraged from participating in synagogue activities. Jewish life has continued because of "in-marriage"--marriage between Jews only. Some Jews have always established "in-marriage"--marriage between Jews only--as a priority, and looks askance at those who don't conform to this behavioral norm.

A concern about boundaries underlies the relationships between synagogues and their non-Jewish participants. Rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders worry that allowing non-Jewish spouses to feel too welcome will ultimately lessen the distinctiveness of the Jewish people and discourage prospective converts from engaging in serious study. Such loosening of the reins can be a slippery slope, some feel, which will do Judaism no favors in the long term.

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Valerie S. Thaler

Valerie S. Thaler is a Ph.D. student in the Judaic Studies Program at Yale, where she concentrates on 20th-century American Jewish history. She is beginning dissertation research on American Jewish identity in the 1950s. An alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Valerie received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Jewish Education from Brandeis, and has her B.A. in American Studies from Yale.