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ch a pter thr ee One Roof, One Religion The Campaign for a Jewish (Interfaith) ­Family In its 2003–4 season, HBO’s hit series Sex in the City, which featured the lives and loves of four single ­ women in New York, presented conversion to Judaism as a solution to the dilemma posed by interfaith love. For the first five seasons of the show, WASPy Episcopalian Charlotte York had been the series ’ most traditional leading ­woman. A Smith gradu­ate of the sweater-­set variety and former sorority girl, Charlotte believed in the ideals of romantic love and Emily Post etiquette. Her faith that true love and marriage would carry the day caused Carrie Bradshaw, the show’s narrator, to call her the “Park Ave­ nue Pollyanna” in voice-­ overs. Charlotte’s dedication to an idealized version of upper-­class WASP standards of be­hav­ior and aesthetics makes it particularly surprising when, in season six, she meets and falls in love with her divorce ­lawyer, the sensitive but homely Harry Greenblatt. A relationship with Harry promises fulfillment that her previous marriage had lacked, so when he explains that he cannot marry a non-­ Jew, Charlotte pursues conversion . As Samuel Freedman commented in a review for USA ­Today, “no tele­ vi­ sion show had ever presented a conversion with such visual and theological detail. Even more impor­tant is what the approving portrayal represents: a reversal of the entertainment industry’s tradition of viewing Jewish identity as something to be shed in the quest to become American.”1 Following traditional Jewish conversionary practices, the rabbi rebuffs Charlotte the first two times she approaches him. She undergoes a study pro­cess with the rabbi and his wife, learning Jewish religious laws and customs, and she ultimately converts at a mikveh, or ritual bath. When she realizes that becoming Jewish means giving up Christmas, Charlotte holds Christmas in July, setting up her tree and her ornaments and celebrating one last time, clearly mourning a loss. Charlotte exerts a ­ great deal of effort in her conversion to Judaism. Her pride in her accomplishment is evident when she first cooks a Shabbat dinner for Harry. Not only does she prepare traditional Eastern Eu­ ro­ pean dishes, but her beatific expression as she lights the Shabbat candles and recites the blessing in Hebrew suggests piety. The scene implies that while the conver- One Roof, One Religion 79 sion had been undertaken for Harry, Charlotte ultimately finds meaning in Judaism’s rituals. As part of her conversion pro­cess, Charlotte’s rabbi requires that she give up (and mourn the loss of) Christmas. She does so, before exchanging her Christian practices for ­ those of Judaism. By her religious conversion, Charlotte creates a single-­ faith marriage and home for herself and Harry. While the overt message of the storyline suggested the efficacy of conversion , the narrative also suggests fundamental tensions in what it means to create single-­ religion homes out of interfaith marriages, as well as an inherent gender imbalance regarding expectations of conversion. Harry has dif­fer­ ent plans for the Friday night on which Charlotte cooks her first Shabbat dinner. He arrives home and immediately turns on the Mets game, muting it and watching it ­ behind Charlotte’s back as she recites the blessing over the candles . Charlotte is hurt and outraged when she discovers that he is watching a ballgame on Shabbat—­less ­ because of the sacredness of the day and more­ because it undermines her efforts. “I gave up Christ for you,” she exclaims. “­Can’t you give up the Mets for me?” Harry responds that it was ­going to be a long life together if she continues to hold her conversion over his head. “Take out the garbage, I gave up Christ for you,” he yells. This plotline in the popu­ lar tele­ vi­ sion show demonstrates how a number of early twenty-­ first-­ century assumptions around interfaith marriage grew out of a series of conversations in much earlier de­ cades, largely within Reform Judaism. Having realized they ­ were unlikely to stem the tide of interfaith marriage, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Reform leadership set out to convince interfaith ­couples to create Jewish homes. In the early 1980s, leaders in the Reform movement defined Judaism as a religion, based in belief, education , and formal participation in communal life. Such a definition made it more pos­ si­ ble both to count ­ children of non-­ Jewish ­ mothers as Jews and to argue...


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