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Oct 20, 2010

Reaching Out To Interfaith Couples

A Guest Post by Dr. Harold Goldmeier

Now that the dust has settled on the hyped-up press coverage of the Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky wedding, the religious fathfull need to take a look at alternative efforts besides outright rejection to deal with the catastrophe of interfaith marriages. This was the most public and publicized of all interfaith marriages, since Edwin Schlossberg married Caroline Kennedy in a 1986 Camelot ceremony held inside and outside the Church of Our Lady of Victory as all the world watched on television. Both weddings were no victory for the Jews, but an enormous bite out of the Jewish community’s sense of continuity.

There is a shoah, darkness, spreading across the Jewish communities of America and Europe with ever-faster speed. Jews and Gentiles alike watched the wedding procession whom none other than Jackie Kennedy had planned. Now the bad news is coming not in threes, but in multitudes of intermarriages. Clinton-Mezvinsky, Bar Refaeli and Leonardo DiCaprio, Ari Fleischer and Rebecca Davis (Catholic), Rep. Anthony Weiner married a Muslim, Huma Abedin, are among the more recent high profile couples to date or marry persons of other religions. Most distressing, we learned upon the death of Congressman Tom Lantos, a Hungarian born Jew who championed the causes of Israel and the Jewish people that his wife and daughters are converts to the Mormon faith.

Freedom is a challenge to the religious faithful. Rabbi Ben Zion Kaganoff of Chicago once pondered if Jews need to be bound in a straight jacket of persecution and oppression to survive as a people? Our population numbers are frozen. Fewer Jews each identify themselves as religious and are active members in local Jewish institutions and causes. If celebrity out marriage is not a cause, it certainly gives impetus and legitimacy to Jews who are in the marrying mode. It would be easy and wrong to dismiss the Jew who marries out just like it is for those advocates for love conquers all.

Most Jewish religious leaders reject interfaith couples, while some accept them in their congregations and communities. In The Missing ‘Mazel Tov,’ the Forward Forum, August 20, 2010, Edmund Case believes the answer to Jewish continuity lies with our leaders embracing interfaith families and welcoming them into Jewish life. He decries the lack of outreach to them, and the general feelings of disgust when newlyweds Clinton-Mezvinsky were talked about. Case argues we need to reach out and persuade them to accept Judaism into their lives as the enriching and fulfilling lifestyle.

An earlier published piece in The Huffington Post, July 23, 2010, had Case dreaming about the Jewish and Christian rituals at the Chelsea-Marc wedding. He was near on the mark. His glowing account later in The Forward, his appreciation of their choices like a tallis Marc wore, marrying under a chupa, etc., give hope to Case this couple will make similar lifestyle choices in their new home together—perhaps she will light candles Friday night, invite the mishpacha for dinner and serve gefilte fish and chicken soup, have a bris of their future son, and so on.

Case is not a fool, but perhaps a bit of a dreamer. He is precisely what’s missing in our leaders right now. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a dreamer. So were Rabbis Feinstein and Auerbach who brought Torah law and religious spirit to the people in ways they could understand and accept. We simply have to extend our horizons, ignore our feelings of shame and rejection (when those marry out reject us and our traditions). The vibrant and successful baal tshuva movement is an example of what can be accomplished and those tactics of love and hard work need to be extended to interfaith couples.

Feelings about Chelsea and Marc among my religiously observant friends run the gamut from a sense of loss for another Jewish soul to anger and outrage about the hypocrisy of Marc marrying out. Most were infuriated by their high jacking Jewish traditions to put a seal of approval on the wedding and marriage like the chupa, the breaking of the glass, the tallis, and more. Who cares about them was the best thing some could say. We should all care.

True blue Jews can be mean and say mean things to and about interfaith couples. Yes, we can shun them. We can and should do everything we can to persuade a Jew and a gentile from not marrying, including giving great moral and financial support to outreach programs that fight this kind of thing. But we cannot prevent interfaith marriages without the straight jacket of anti-Semitic racial laws. The devastation of Jewish family life from intermarriage in urban areas is much more devastating in less populated cities and towns. No educated arguments, statistics about the divorce rate, explanations about the impact of mixed marriage on the children, can compete with love and lust.

Jews active in kiruv, outreach, know how hard it is to keep an open mind and an open heart when dealing with people not on the same plane of religious belief. I personally know a family where the wife is Jewish and the husband is not; yet, someone reached out to them over the years, and now the wife is an Orthodox practicing Jew whose husband often brings their son and daughter to shul, and waits patiently and respectfully in the hall for the services to finish. Will the children marry Jewish when their time comes? Who knows, but it is more likely now than anyone would have bet years before the mother became religious. Before we take out our anger on these young people and walk away from them like they had a disease, remember, there is virtually no Jewish family or neighbor in the world without an interfaith marriage. We have to influence them to go in the way of our Jewish people, because our G-d is one G-d. Take a lesson from Abraham who went down to Sodom to reach out and bring his brother before the One G-d.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier, Chicago, Ill. 773-764-4357 hgoldmeier@aol.com Dr. Goldmeier was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University earning a Doctorate in Education, and taught as an Assistant Professor at Tufts Medical School. He taught public elementary school, worked in government for three Governors, the U. S. Surgeon General, and in education for nearly two decades including many years on the Board of the Associated Talmud Torahs of Chicago. He recently sold his business after nearly three decades. He has been married more than forty years with children living and learning in America and Israel, and a son in college who served with the Israel Defense Forces. He has published more than two-dozen articles in professional journals and popular magazines and newspapers. Dr. Goldmeier currently a public speaker, writer, consultant to government agencies, and to small businesses on economic growth and marketing. His most recent articles appeared in The Jewish Press on terrorism, and in Haaretz of Israel.


  1. Holy cow, your dad rocks!!!
    What a great essay. For sure, Dr. Goldmeier's view is the unpopular one, but I believe he's correct.

    I know based on first hand viewing and discucssions with non-observant family memebers that many such couples believe that "Orthodox Rabbis" will simply write them off.
    It's feeling like this among those involved in kiruv that sicken me.

    Inter-marriage is a massive problem that touches everything from halacha to family events. I wish I could come up with a list of how we should approach these couples, but having and attitude of "oh, well, we lost another one" isn't cutting it.

    I've personally see several inter-married couples eventually end up in the tent of Orthodoxy (with the spouse converting), but that was only due to a feeling of welcome and understanding...which is very different than acceptance.

    Great post.

  2. Sorry, I should have used the term "interfaith" instead of "inter-married".


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