Too often I get asked “Rabbi, why do you care so much about interfaith families, shouldn’t we be spending more on time on Jews” or better yet “Jews who care about Judaism,” that is Jews who married other Jews? The short answer is that I have found that as a people, a community, and a synagogue we can walk and chew gum at the same time. That is to say that as long as we keep our eyes looking forward on our vision, we can meet the needs of the entire Jewish community. Additionally, for the better part of a century we put our time and energy into serving endogamous (Jews marrying Jews) relationships/families; so either we did a poor job, or the ground shifted beneath us, and we were ill prepared. Between us, I think it was a little of both. The Jewish community thought it was doing an excellent job while never taking the time to measure its successes.
The reason interfaith families get a bit of extra time is that we have been so bad on this issue for over three decades and as such we have a lot of work to do. Judaism is not a Darwinian experiment of survival of the fittest. Are we supposed to look at interfaith families and exclaim that since they made this choice, they are no longer part of the fold? For liberal Jews, marrying a Jew is the minority experience. If the Jewish community came out and said: “we realize that Judaism is expensive (whether it be camp, youth group conventions or day school) and while we feel bad for those who cannot afford it, we have decided that it will survive through those who can afford to pay for it.” The communal gasp from the Jewish community would shatter windows from LA to Tel Aviv.
While I find the question of why we spend additional time thinking about interfaith families a bit upsetting, it has not kept me from thinking about it. What I have realized is that Judaism has no time for my personal judgments only my actions. Judaism doesn’t belong to me, or any of us for that matter, and I do not speak for it, at best I am a guardian for a very short period. Judaism calls me to care about the world, not just as I hope it to be, but how it is. Judaism is the lens I see the world, you may disagree with my view, and that’s OK, but at least I am consistent.
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