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October 23, 2008 - Image 96

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-10-23

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Interfaith Weddings

Ann Arbor


s a young interfaith couple
in 1990, my fiance (now
wife) and I thought that we
had all of the tough decisions made
about our marriage. Bonnie and I
had determined that we would raise
our future children in her religion of
Judaism. Believe me when I tell you
that this agreement did not come eas-
ily or quickly.
So when it was time
to make all of our wed-
ding plans, such as flower
arrangements, reception
location, band or DJ, des-
sert menu and seating
chart, they all seemed
like a piece of (wedding)
cake — all of them, that
is, except finding some-
one who would officiate
our interfaith wedding.
Getting the right person
to marry us was a diffi-
cult task back then. While
still an uphill climb, it's a
little easier to find a willing officiant
Bonnie and I had considered vari-
ous types of officiant to pronounce
us husband and wife. We felt that a
minister would give the ceremony
an overpowering Protestant atmo-
sphere. At the same time, I didn't
know if I was ready to have a rabbi
marry us. We had heard about some
weddings where the couple was able
to use both a minister and a rabbi,
but we didn't see how that would
flow well with our concept of the
ceremony. After months of debat-
ing this issue, the answer fell into
our laps when a friend of the fam-
ily, who was a justice of the peace,
offered to marry us. It-also hap-
pened that she was a cantor. (Music
for the service — add 100 bonus
points!) We were fortunate that we
were able to resolve the question so
Today, there are more interfaith
couples than ever exploring Jewish
options. Whether the couple desires
to raise the children as Jews, or the
non-Jewish partner is consider-
ing conversion, these couples are
consulting with rabbis during their
engagement. Many rabbis will only
marry the couple if one or both of


October 23 2008

those conditions are met.
If the partner does not choose
to convert or the couple isn't sure
about how to raise the children, and
the rabbi turns the couple away,
then what? Often, that couple ends
up not strongly connected to Jewish
life. Recent studies have suggested
that the rabbi's decision on whether
to officiate or not does indeed affect
couples' Jewish choices. Those who
are married by a rabbi are more
likely to raise Jewish kids
and join a synagogue.
When I was consider-
ing the idea of having a
rabbi marry us back in
1990, I knew that conver-
sion was not an option for
me — despite our choice
to raise our children as
Jews. Bonnie knew that it
would be nearly impos-
sible to find a rabbi who
would accept us and,
therefore, did not push the
option. Even then, she had
an inkling that a rabbi's
refusal to marry us might sour my
willingness to participate in Jewish
Fortunately, a growing number of
Reform rabbis today are open to the
idea of marrying interfaith couples.
Rabbi Lev Baesh of InterfaithFamily.
corns Resource for Jewish Clergy puts
couples in touch with such rabbis.
He says that they get more than 115
requests a month from people wanting
a Jewish wedding.
For a long time, the Jewish com-
munity has been very worried about
the effect intermarriage has on the
shrinking number of Jews. Right now,
we have a large number of interfaith
couples looking for an opening into
Jewish life. The interest is there. Let's
not close the door on them at the very
beginning. E

Jim Keen is author of the book "Inside
Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's

Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family"
(URJ Press, forthcoming) and a con-

tributor to the book "The Guide to

the Jewish Interfaith Family Life: an
InterfaithFamily.com Handbook" (Jewish

Lights publishing). He is a columnist for
InterfaithFamily.com . His e-mail address

is jckeen@umich.edu .

To The Letter
Of The Law

Shabbat Mevarekhim (Parshat
Bereshit): Genesis 1:1-6:8; Isaiah

this year, why not try, to look for your
favorite letter and by doing so, find
your place in the Torah.
nd so, we are back to the
You might choose the large let-
beginning again. And so
ter bet which begins the Torah. You
we return to the story of
might choose a letter which
creation. It is a moment to
significantly alters the
reaffirm our people's con-
meaning of a story or more
nection with Torah, each
clearly defines a mitzvah.
and every letter.
You might choose the first
Just as the letters in the
letter in your name and
name of a beloved, the
find a word beginning with
letters of the Torah carry
the same letter which car-
infinite meaning. They
ries significant personal
stop being merely letters
meaning. You might choose
and become keys to open-
letter of the name of
ing up a world, a world
Rabbi Robert
who taught
which is always fresh, with
Dobr usin
of Torah.
a message of which one
Special to the
never tires. Our rabbis used
Jewish News
the letters of the Torah to
When you think about it,
open up worlds for us. Our
it is remarkable that we can continue
teachers studied the Torah not just to
learn law and morals but they allowed to find meaning in the cycle of the
Torah reading. We know how the story
the letters to speak to them in ways
unbounded by anything but the limits is going to turn out. We have almost
memorized the dialogue. But, like a
of their own creativity.
favorite movie which we watch again
There is a teaching that the word
and again, we continue to find mean-
ing year after year.
rebo oteyot sheyisrael yikablu Torah
That meaning comes through favor-
— with 600,000 letters, Israel will
ite characters, favorite stories, favorite
receive the Torah. And, similarly the
words and even, with some creative
word Yisrael is said to be an acronym
thought, favorite letters. May we each
for yesh sheesheem ribo oteyot laTorah
find our letter, the one that speaks
— there are 600,000 letters in the
loudest to us. Cl
Don't bother counting the letters
Robert Dobrusin is rabbi of Beth Israel
in the Torah; you won't come up
Congregation in Ann Arbor.
with 600,000. There are, I've read,
304,805 letters in the Torah. Maybe
if you count the vowels, you end up
with 600,000 but the accuracy of the
The rabbis taught that the Torah
numbers is not the point. Six hundred
begins with the letter bet, which
thousand was significant because it
is open only on the side facing
was the number of Israelites who left
the rest of the Torah, so that
Egypt. Thus 600,000 letters means
we don't ask what came before
that each of us has a place in the
or what is above or below our
Torah and each letter of the Torah is,
world. Rather, we should only
as it were, a part of us.
start from creation and focus on
We all have a favorite book of the
this world. Do you have an idea
Torah (my favorite is Bemidbar). We
why the letter lamed might be
all have a favorite weekly portion
the last letter in the Torah?
(my favorite is Shelach Lecha). But,

Ann Arbor


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