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Donna Schaper’s web article “Beyond Interfaith Marriages to Multi-faith Marriages” (viewable at tikkun.org/multifaith-marriages) is a worthy statement of options for married couples whose members identify with different faith or ethnic communities. I appreciate her terminology (i.e., multi-faith vs. interfaith) as it offers couples with equal strengths of faith identity a framework in which they can live in a growing, loving, and intimate marriage. But what of couples who do not believe in God but identify with their family and/or ethnic backgrounds? They are neither interfaith nor mixed-faith. I refer to such couples as simply “mixed.”
As a congregational rabbi of thirty-three years, I recently changed my policy of not officiating at mixed marriages and told of my struggle and decision in my Rosh Hashanah sermon this past year (tinyurl.com/clergystudy). I will now officiate at many mixed marriages. Yet, as much as I respect, appreciate, and love many of my Christian and multi-ethnic congregants, I retain a strong interest in assuring both the continuity of the Jewish people and resisting religious syncretism.
I no longer require conversion to Judaism in order to officiate at a mixed marriage. In my opinion, however, it would be disrespectful of the other religious faith for me to officiate at a wedding in which one party is a religious Christian or religious Muslim. Though our faith traditions share much in common, they are also very different, and to suggest otherwise is dishonest and lacking in religious integrity. My other requirement before agreeing to officiate is that the couple will become part of the synagogue community and agree to raise their children as Jews.
Pastor Schaper effectively addresses ways in which mixed-faith couples can respect each other’s differences while affirming their own identities. She does not address the challenges in helping to fashion a religious identity of such a couple’s children.
A person cannot be Christian and Jewish. One is Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Each of these great monotheistic faith traditions have developed different ways of understanding God and practicing their faiths over centuries, as well as different relationships to sacred literature, rules, laws, customs, traditions, ethics, rite, and ritual. To tell a child that he or she is both Christian and Jewish or any other combination is oxymoronic, disingenuous, ignorant of our respective religious traditions, and therefore lacking integrity.
Having said this, the mystics of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all point to the same ultimate reality. But, as light refracts through a prism and separates into the colors of the rainbow, so too does God’s “word” refract through our different faith streams and then become manifest in practice, culture, and identity.
We can find inspiration in other streams, but we need to be able to choose which stream is our own. Informed choice results only after serious study of each tradition and its sacred literature, sustained religious practice and contemplation, and understanding of the historical development of our respective traditions. The great challenge of modernity is for individuals and communities to find clarity about who we are and who we are not while remaining open to new ideas.
— Rabbi John Rosove,
Los Angeles, CA
A Spiritual Way of Seeing
I very much appreciated Peter Gabel’s essay “A Spiritual Way of Seeing” in the Spring 2013 print issue of Tikkun. He expressed so clearly that we are animated either by the ethic of fulfillment through connection with others and all of life and the entire universe, or else by fear motivating contraction into the false and inevitably temporary sense of security through alienation. He encouraged...