Interfaith Families / ASK DR. KERUV

COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Dear Readers,

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions sent to me by my readers.

My child is 32 years old and not married or serious with anyone. Should I be concerned?

Today the trend is to get married in the mid thirties or later. There is nothing wrong with your child that I know of.

My daughter has been married for 5 years and there is no talk of having children. What’s wrong?

There doesn’t seem to be a rush to have children nowadays. Women are having children much later in life. It is not unusual for them to give birth in their late thirties or even early forties and because the biological clock is ticking they are having fewer children.

My son is dating a non-Jew. He is serious about marrying her. Is this only happening to me?

Statistics state that almost 50% of Jews (not Orthodox) are marrying out of the religion. This is a serious concern and unfortunately you are not alone.

My daughter is married to a non-Jew. They want to join a conservative temple because that is how she was brought up.   Can her family join a Conservative Temple?

Many Conservative Temples have come up with a household membership where the entire family, Jew and non-Jew can belong. Voting and dues vary from temple to temple. The idea is to make the families feel welcome.

Chanukah and Christmas are just around the corner. We have non-Jews in our extended family and this year we will be invited to their home for a Christmas dinner. Should we go?

You should definitely attend the Christmas dinner. You are not expected to participate in any religious rituals but you can enjoy their company, food and songs.   And don’t forget to invite them to your Chanukah party and other religious festivities.


MORE QUESTIONS…


Dear Dr. Keruv

My daughter-in-law’s family is not Jewish.  They are coming to our Seder for the first time.  They have reciprocated by inviting me to their home on Easter Sunday.  I have never attended any of their celebrations and am totally uncomfortable with Christmas and Easter. This year Easter Sunday falls out during Passover. Since   I observe Passover I know there will be a problem with the dinner menu.   What do I do?

Mommy Matzah from Margate

Dear Mommy Matzah from Margate

Since the in-laws are coming out of respect for your traditions it should now be easier to attend theirs for the sake of family harmony.  You will make your daughter-in-law and her family very happy if you attend.   Explain to your daughter-in-law that you follow certain traditions and mitzvot and special dietary laws for Passover. Tell her not to be insulted but that you will prepare some   Passover dishes and will make enough for others to share.   It is very important that they know how important the holiday of Passover is to you as a practicing Jew.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My son has been brought up in a Conservative Jewish home.  He went to Hebrew School, became a Bar Mitzvah, and attended Hebrew High School.  He went to Israel twice.  He graduated college and became a successful attorney.  Last week he came home to tell me that he is going to marry a girl who is not Jewish.  I haven’t slept all week. I thought I gave him the right Jewish upbringing.  What did I do wrong?  I feel so guilty and feel it must be my fault that he wants to marry a non-Jewish girl.  Please help me cope with this.

A guilty mom from Miramar

Dear Guilty Mom from Miramar

You didn’t do anything wrong and you should not feel guilty.  We no longer live in Jewish ghettos.  Your son is a successful attorney and he inevitably will associate with non Jews.  You cannot prevent love.   Your son just happened to fall in love with a girl who is not Jewish and you need to show him that you love him and believe that he will continue to embrace Judaism by welcoming his non Jewish spouse into your Jewish family. Accept her and make her feel welcome in your home. Let her experience the joys of a Jewish home.  Good luck and hope you will get over the guilt that you feel.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My nephew, who lives in Southwest Florida, married a non Jewish woman, Susan, 25 years ago.  They have a son, Adam, who is now 22.  When my sister was alive she made all the major Jewish holiday dinners and they were together on those days.  My sister passed away when Adam was 9 years old.  From that point on he had no connection to anything Jewish.

Adam is now going to attend graduate school at the University of Miami.  Since he will be living close by I want to get to know him better and expose him to Jewish values and customs without being too obvious or pushy.  I don’t want to scare him off or anger his mother.  What are the dos and don’ts?

Concerned Great Aunt

Dear Concerned Great Aunt:

It is wonderful that you want to take the time to get to know your great nephew and try to expose him to his Jewish roots.  One thing you should not do is invite him to services.  It is too soon for that. He would be overwhelmed and it might turn him off.  I would start out by inviting him for a Friday night dinner with lots of friends and relatives.  Since the Jewish holidays are just around the corner I would ask him to come to dinner.  Little by little you could include him in your holiday plans.  Invite him to a Men’s Club BBQ in the Sukkot. There are people of all ages with good food, singing and dancing. Have a Chanukah party.  Chanukah is a holiday that is festive and more of an historical holiday than religious.  If he is receptive to your invitations later on you could invite him to a Friday night service and suggest Adult Education classes if he wants to learn more about Judaism. Hopefully he will enjoy himself and see how wonderful it is to be Jewish.

Good luck in your endeavor and I hope it works!


Dear Dr. Keruv

I took your advice and invited my great nephew to Rosh Hashanah dinner.  He happily accepted. In addition, I invited his mother to come and stay at my home.  She came and joined us for dinner also.  I did the same for Yom Kippur.  Adam came and so did his mother.  We had a wonderful family dinners and hope for more to come. I feel very encouraged that Adam wants to learn more about his Jewish roots, and his mother, who is a non practicing Catholic, seems to want her son to get to know his Jewish relatives also.  I will keep you posted.


Dear Dr. Keruv

I am a male doctor. I come from an observant Jewish family.  My parents are temple members.  I just met the woman of my dreams. We are deeply in love and want to get engaged.  My parents have never met her because they won’t approve.  She is not Jewish.

In the past I have dated Jewish girls.  Unfortunately I could not call any of them “the woman of my dreams”.  They were too demanding, too bossy,   or just plain too “Jappy” (Jewish American Princess”.

I am concerned about how my parents will take the news.  I don’t want to hurt them, but, this is my life. How do I introduce her to my parents?

Male Doctor

Dear Male Doctor

It appears that you have love and respect for your parents. You must be honest with your parents and explain that you met the woman you want to marry and that she is not Jewish. Your parents will probably ask you questions and you should be prepared to give them answers.   Some of these might be the type of wedding ceremony, religious or secular, religion of children, and conversion.  It would be my hope that the children would be brought up Jewish.  After that you should introduce her to your parents.  Good luck and keep me posted.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My girlfriend is Catholic and we just found out she is pregnant. My family is not very religious but her family goes to church on some Sundays.  My girlfriend wants to have a baptism and I was reading on how other Catholic/ Jewish relationship deal with this type of situation.  Is it possible to have a baptism and baby naming ceremony together?   I know my family will not be very happy if it is only a baptism.    I hope you can help me out if you have been in this situation before.  My mother worked very hard raising me as a single mother to pay for me to go to Hebrew school and have my Bar-Mitzvah 18 years ago.

Adam from Cooper City

Dear Adam from Cooper City

The scenario you laid out is very, very complicated. The ‘normal’ situation in such interfaith relationships is that the parents choose how the child will be raised and then proceed with the appropriate rituals. The first thing I would say is that what you do with the baby at birth is not really terribly relevant. The child doesn’t know what is happening. What is important is how you raise a child. If you are thinking in raising the child in both religions then you need to develop a strategy for that. Perhaps you are looking to educate them in both traditions and then let them choose when they grow up (studies have shown that they tend to choose ‘nothing’ because choosing one over the other seems to them to be taking sides with Mom or Dad).

As to the ceremonies – I can’t think of a ‘legitimate’ Rabbi (meaning one who is actually ordained and part of national movement like Conservative or Reform) who would participate in a combination ceremony because the two rituals are contradictory. The Bris enters the child into the covenant with God and excludes any belief or affirmation of Jesus as the Messiah and son of God and the Baptism affirms Jesus’ divinity. Are there ‘Rabbis’ on the internet that will do this? I’m sure there are – this is America – it’s a free and open society and there is separation of church and state so it can be done and there is always someone interested in doing it.

My suggestion is that you and your girlfriend first define what your goals are for the child and then work backwards from there.   I would suggest that you speak to your rabbi, with or without your girlfriend, so he can offer guidance on the questions that are important for the two of you to focus on. It is important to the health of your relationship (the highest divorce rate in the country is in the group of intermarried who try to raise their children in both religions). Good luck and keep me posted.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My daughter married a man who is Christian and they have two children.  Each year I make a Chanukah party at my house on the Sunday during Chanukah in which my daughter’s family attends.  On Christmas day they go to her husband’s parents to celebrate their holiday.  This year the Sunday of Chanukah and Christmas fall out on the same day.  My daughter wants to avoid any conflict this year by having a “Holiday Party” at her house.   She explained to me that this way she won’t have to go to two homes on the same day and the entire family on both sides will be together to celebrate their respective holiday.

Would it be appropriate to celebrate two very different holidays in one house on the same day?  Should I talk my daughter out of this, and move my traditional Chanukah party to another day?

Dizzy Dradel in Delray

Dear Dizzy Dradel:

You mention that your daughter wants to avoid any family conflict.  You should be very proud of her that she considers family harmony very important. You can treat this “Holiday Party” as a teaching experience to explain the significance and history of Chanukah.    There are wonderful books and games for adults and children that tell the story in simple terms. The Jewish people are a very small percentage of the total population of the world. It is important that non Jews understand our values, culture and heritage.  What better way to teach and explain this than at a festive party.

She should serve traditional Chanukah food i.e. latkes, jelly donuts.  Your son-in-law’s family probably has their own traditional food to serve i.e. egg nog, Christmas cookies, gingerbread, and candy canes. In respect for the Jewish family it would not be appropriate to serve pork products, shell fish etc.

When lighting the menorah make sure everyone is involved.  Since both families will be together, they can exchange Christmas and Chanukah gifts and sing Chanukah and Christmas Carols.

Have a wonderful holiday party and let me know how it turned out.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My daughter is 12 years old and comes from a traditional conservative Jewish family and is a student in a Jewish Day School. Her cousins, however, are not being brought up Jewish because one of their parents is not Jewish. When she went to their house over the weekend they took her to their church. When she went to school on Monday, she mentioned this to her teacher. She told her teacher that “she saw G-d”.   The teacher reprimanded for saying that she saw G-d.in church. My daughter came home from school and told me what happened. We were both extremely upset by the teacher’s reaction.

Is there any training (sensitizing) that Jewish Day School and Hebrew school teachers can take to help them deal with these types of questions and become more sensitive to the issues of interfaith families?

Ann in Miami

Dear Ann in Miami, 

Yes, The Federation of Jewish Men’s Club has already held a number of Educators Workshops called “Sensitizing Teachers Who Work with the Children of Interfaith Families” These workshops have been held in large cities across the country with much success.   There is scheduled to be a Sensitizing Training for Teachers workshop this summer hosted by Beth Torah. This training will be for Jewish Day School and Hebrew School teachers in South Florida who will learn how to be more sensitive to questions concerning interfaith families and how they affect Jewish children.


Dear Dr. Keruv

My daughter-in-law’s family came to our Seder.  I have never attended any of their celebrations and am totally uncomfortable with Christmas and Easter.  I now feel I should attend their next Christmas celebration.  How can I find peace with this issue?

Uncomfortable Jewish Mother

Dear Jewish Mother,

No one can tell you how to feel about Christian celebrations.  Many Jews are uncomfortable attending non-Jewish religious celebrations.  Since they came out of respect for your traditions it should now be easier to attend theirs for the sake of family harmony.  You will make your daughter and her family very happy to have you there.


Dear Dr. Keruv

I have a grandson whose mother is not Jewish and my son is a non practicing Jew. I get to spend every other weekend with my grandson and on some of the holidays. I have become an observant conservative Jew and attend Shabbat services and the daily morning minyan when I can. My grandson is seven years old and is beginning to ask questions about Judaism and Christianity. When I take him to services he is very comfortable and always talks to the rabbi and sometimes sits next to him during services and asks questions. A couple of weeks ago we started to engage in a conversation about Jesus Christ. I told my grandson that in Judaism we pray only to G-d, and that Jesus Christ, although we acknowledge he existed, to us he was a regular person like you and me. He then proceeded to say, “But Jesus shed his skin (he probably meant blood) for our sins”! I ignored the statement by changing the subject but realized he’s evidently been going to church more than I thought he might have been. I felt that this was the wrong thing to do and want to answer this statement properly. What should I have said to him? I am sure the subject will come up again and want to be prepared with an answer.

Bubbe on the Beach

Dear Bubbe on the Beach,

You are doing all the right things to expose your grandson to Judaism. Explain to your grandson that his mother and father have different religions and that his father and you are Jewish and do not believe that Jesus died for our sins. Explain to him when you go to temple that there are no pictures or statues of Jesus because we don’t pray to Jesus. The Jewish people believe that Jesus did not die or lose his skin for other people’s sins. Tell your grandson that he is responsible for his own actions and should always try to be a good boy and do the right thing.   You are very fortunate that you belong to a welcoming and understanding synagogue. It is wonderful that your rabbi accepts your grandchild, and perhaps the rabbi could reinforce your answer and add to the explanation.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

My son married a girl who is not Jewish. They are bringing up their children with no religion. I would like to tell my grandchildren about my Jewish heritage. How do I go about doing this? I don’t want to offend my daughter-in-law.

Jewish Grandma in  Highland Lakes

Dear Jewish Grandma in Highland Lakes,

The first thing you should do is ask permission from your son and daughter-in-law to talk to your grandchildren about your Jewish heritage. You might say, “I would like to tell my grandchildren about my family roots. I will not try to compete with your religious views or what you are teaching them. I want them to know all about me and my family just as your parents probably feel the same way about your heritage. Our family traditions bind us together and define who we are as a family. All of us.” Make it clear that you are not trying to “convert” the grandchildren. When explaining your Jewish heritage to the grandchildren, be natural and bring things up when it makes sense in the context of the situation. An example would be when a Jewish holiday is celebrated you could show them how you observe it. Don’t expect to tell them everything in one day or a week. It is ongoing.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

I am a male law student. I come from an observant Jewish family. My parents are temple members. I just met my soul mate. We are deeply in love and want to get engaged. My parents have never met her because they won’t approve. She is not Jewish.

In the past I have dated Jewish girls. Unfortunately I could not call any of them my “soul mate”. They were either too demanding, high expectations, too bossy,   or just plain too “Jappy” (Jewish American Princess”.

I am concerned about how my parents will take the news. I don’t want to hurt them, but, this is my life. How do I introduce her to my parents?

Male Law Student

Dear Male Law Student,

It appears that you have love and respect for your parents. You must tell them the truth. They are going to ask you questions about your intended interfaith marriage and you need to be prepared to discuss these questions with them. Some of these will be:   Type of wedding ceremony,   religious or secular, religion of children, and conversion. All these issues must be discussed.   It would be my hope that the children would be brought up Jewish.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

My son married a girl who is not Jewish. They are bringing up their children with no religion. The grandchildren are coming to stay with us for a week and I want to teach them about being Jewish. Do you think I have a right as a grandparent to teach the grandchildren about their heritage?

Proud Jewish Grandma in Skylake

Dear Proud Jewish Grandma in Skylake,

Since the grandchildren are staying at your house there is nothing wrong with doing lots of Jewish things within the home. Pictures of Israel, pictures of their father’s Bar Mitzvah, books, Jewish foods, and mementos are good ways to introduce your grandchildren to their Jewish heritage. If you always have Jewish things in your house, the parents cannot expect you to put them away. If you celebrate Shabbat every week the parents know that their children will celebrate it with you when they are visiting at your home. However, if you choose to go outside your home i.e. take them to services at shul then I suggest that you get permission from the parents first. You do not want to alienate your son and daughter-in-law.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

I am happily married. I am Jewish, and my wife is not. We are now expecting our first child, and we found out that it will be a boy. When we got married I decided that if we have a boy there will be a brit milah and not a christening. My wife agreed to this. Our children, however, will be exposed to both religions and when they are of age they would make their own decision. My wife and her parents now think that if we have a brit milah the child will automatically be Jewish.   To further complicate this I called the mohel who has performed all the brit milah’s in our family and he refused to perform it because my wife is not Jewish. The mohel told me that if the wife is not Jewish the child will not end up Jewish because the woman of the family runs the house. My parents are observant Conservative Jews and were very upset about the mohel’s attitude. What do I do? I want my child to have a brit milah.

Upset expectant father in Sunny Isles

Dear Upset expectant father in Sunny Isles,

I am happy to hear that you and your wife have agreed to have a brit milah for your child. The brit milah is one of the steps in the conversion process. Jewish law says that the mother’s religion determines if the child is born Jewish. Your child will not be Jewish automatically. There are other steps to the conversion. That should ease the tension between you and your in-laws. If you have friends that are secular or belong to a Reform Temple they should be able to recommend a Reformed mohel.   Your child will receive a Hebrew name. I have recently attended a brit malah performed by a Reform mohel. It was beautiful. If you still have a problem finding a mohel, please email Dr. Keruv and a list of mohels will be sent to you via email.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

My son is getting married to a Catholic girl. The wedding is going to take place in a Catholic Church on a Saturday afternoon.   My future daughter-in-law wants me to participate in the wedding ceremony. She sent me the reading that you see below. Is it appropriate for me to read this at the wedding?

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians

Brothers and sisters:

Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. The word of the Lord.

Upset mother of the groom

Dear Upset mother of the groom,

It is inappropriate for you to participate in a Catholic wedding ceremony. Explain to your future daughter-in-law that you still love your son and respect his decision to marry her but she should respect your religion and your decision not to participate in the wedding ceremony. You may want to toast the bride and groom and wish them a happy life.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

Even though I converted a long time ago I have heard words around our shul that offend me like “goyim”. I do not want to make a big deal of it but I would like to say something to the person that says it. Do you think I should say something? My husband says not to make a scene.

Offended

Dear “offended”,

Throughout our history as Jews, we’ve ignored words hurled at us. Ignorance is ignorance, and this falls under that category. I see this as an opportunity to educate that person, and you can do so without being offensive. By saying something like, “you may not be aware, but coming from a non-Jewish family, I find that term “offensive” and then leave it at that. Whether Jew, Black, Gay, or Christian it is important to respond to ignorant remarks, intended or otherwise.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

My daughter’s sister-in-law had a Christmas party. Since we are part of the extended family we were invited.   They had a beautiful Christmas tree, sang Christmas carols, and exchanged gifts. We had no problem with songs like Jingle Bells but felt uncomfortable singing songs that were more religious like Silent Night. My six year old grandchild asked why we don’t celebrate Christmas by having a tree, big party and gifts.

The December Dilemma

Dear December Dilemma,

Explain to your grandchild that we are Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas. That means we don’t have a tree and Christmas parties. Explain that we have our own holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and a special holiday called Chanukah which is celebrated around the same time as Christmas. Explain that during Chanukah we celebrate with special foods, light the menorah, and also exchange gifts. This is a good time to invite your extended families to your home to celebrate Chanukah.

With the increase in interfaith marriages these dilemmas are occurring more and more.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

I married a man who is not Jewish. We have a child and want to raise her Jewish. I was raised as a Conservative Jew and want my family to be accepted at a Conservative Temple. I want my husband to feel welcome when we attend services and other functions. I have friends who are in the same situation but they have joined Reformed Temples. I attended services with them and did not feel comfortable. Are there any Conservative Temples in my area that are welcoming to interfaith married families?

Melissa in Miami

Dear Melissa in Miami,

Several years ago the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) recognized this problem. In over sixty synagogues throughout North America, under the auspices of the FJMC Keruv Initiative, programs have been instituted to welcome interfaith families. Over the last ten years, FJMC has conducted rabbinic think tanks and lay consultant training sessions across the United States from Providence, Rhode Island, to Berkeley, California. More than 100 lay people and 200 rabbis have participated. FJMC publications have helped congregations implement their own successful Keruv programs.

In your area call Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus at 305 932-2829. It is a vibrant, multigenerational, egalitarian Conservative Temple. You can ask for one of two rabbis, or the Keruv Consultant. They have an excellent Keruv program and are very welcoming to interfaith families. We have a household membership for interfaith families.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

I have a very serious dilemma. My children and I observe all the major Jewish holidays and on Yom Kippur we fast and attend services. My husband is not Jewish. I have just been informed by my mother-in-law that they will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary by having a big party and renewing their vows. Their anniversary falls on Yom Kippur this year. She is having people come to this event from all over the country. I informed her that we cannot attend the renewal ceremony which will take place in their church followed by a reception at a hotel Saturday afternoon because of our observance of Yom Kippur. My husband who has always been supportive of our Judaism is under a lot of pressure from his mother to talk us into attending the celebration.

What should we do?

Waiting to hear the shofar in Sunrise Florida

Dear Waiting to Hear the Shofar in Sunrise Florida,

Your mother-in-law should respect your religion. You should calmly explain to your in-laws the importance of Yom Kippur. Perhaps they can delay the start of the celebration to Sundown. In this way you could attend and break the fast at the party. If not explain that you and your children will attend the party but after sundown.

In an interfaith marriage both spouses must respect the religious beliefs of each other. It appears that you are bringing up your children Jewish and the non-Jewish grandparents should understand and respect you and your husband’s decision to raise the children Jewish. It would set a bad example and confuse the children by attending the party during the observance of Yom Kippur.


Thank you Dr. Keruv,

When looking for a conservative temple you recommended Beth Torah because of their Keruv program of welcoming the non Jewish supportive spouse. We took your advice and contacted the rabbis and found them to be most welcoming. As a result of your advice and after speaking to the rabbis we decided to join Beth Torah. My family and I look forward to attending the High Holiday services and meet the other congregants.


Dear Dr. Keruv,

We recently had our family Chanukah party. This year we invited our daughter’s brother in law’s family to our party. His wife is not Jewish and the children are being brought up with no particular religion at this time. Our tradition is to give each child their own menorah to light the Chanukah candles. We gave their children menorahs to light the candles and recite the prayers like all the other children. When the party was over and all the guests had left my husband criticized me for giving the non Jewish children   menorahs. Did I do something wrong or is my husband wrong.

Debbie Dreidel from Davie

Dear Debbie Dreidel from Davie,

Debbie, you did the right thing. Tell your husband you are not going to make him anymore potato latkes if that is his attitude. The story of Chanukah teaches us about religious freedom. Invite others to share in the joy of lighting the menorah. If you expose the children from an interfaith marriage to the wonderful custom of Chanukah perhaps the memories will be happy and long lasting, and hopefully will help influence the non Jewish spouse and children to partake in Jewish traditions in the future. You need to make the interfaith couple and children feel welcome in your home when celebrating Chanukah and other Jewish holidays. Chanukah is a happy holiday with lots of ethnic foods, games, and songs; what better way to show the joys of Judaism to a young family.

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Ask Dr. Keruv is printed in the Beth Torah Times each edition.
If you have a question, please email drkeruv@btbrc.org or Mail to
Dr. Keruv
Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus
20350 NE 26th Avenue
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