By Rabbi Daniel Betzel
If we were to meet in my office to discuss your upcoming inter-faith marriage, here are some of the ideas I would want to share with you:
First, I would want you to know that you have done NOTHING wrong by falling in love with someone from another faith tradition. You are not rejecting anything; you are actually choosing something in addition to what you already have and who you already are. As you prepare for your upcoming wedding, I would encourage you to be certain to respect yourself, your family, your family’s tradition and then to be sure to extend that some level of respect to your future spouse and his/her family and tradition.
Here are seven ideas or concepts that I would encourage you and your future spouse to consider:
- CONSIDER PRE-MARITAL COUNSELING: We know that all relationships take work—and sometimes very hard work! Furthermore, many interfaith marriages take place at perhaps the most secular-oriented time in a person’s life. It is very easy to underestimate the role that your family’s faith and tradition will play once you have children and you and your spouse age. Pre-Marital Counseling provides you and your beloved the time and space to explore issues, talk freely with each other, and get to know each other on an even deeper emotional/spiritual level. The more you understand yourself and your spouse, the more likely you are to create a meaningful and mutually joyous path forward.
- DON’T IGNORE THE DIFFERENCES/DISCOVER AND CELEBRATE YOUR DIFFERENCES: Sometimes it is easy of us to pretend that there are no real differences and that love will conquer all. In my experience, once the glow of the wedding days begin to fade and usually by the time the first child is born, tensions between your faith traditions can arise. Please consider getting very clear about those issues that you do not want to compromise on and get those out on the table before the wedding. Getting very clear about what is important to each of you is the first step toward understanding each other on a deeper level. Once you clearly understand each other, you will be in a much better position to accept and even celebrate the differences.
- TRY AND SEE WHERE YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING FROM: Sometimes parents are not initially happy and supportive when they learn that their child is marrying out of their faith. Try and remember that almost all parents love their children and want the best for them. Also, please remember that your parents may be afraid that your marriage to someone outside of their faith may take you away from them. They also may worry that any eventual grandchildren may be raised in another faith. Be mindful of how and when you speak to your parents about your wedding plans. Be certain to re-assure them of your love and that you are not rejecting them or their faith. Usually, most parents will come around and soon learn to love your future spouse as much as you do.
- DISCUSS NOW HOW YOU WILL RAISE YOUR CHILDREN: Naomi Schaefer Riley in “Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing”, reports that less than 50% of those she interviewed reported they discussed in which religion they would raise their children BEFORE they were married. It is almost always easier to discuss these issues before the fact. I would encourage you and your beloved to take the time now to envision how your future family will look and function. Will your child attend Hebrew School? Will you celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah? Will you child be baptized? Have a bris and/or baby naming? These topics can be the catalyst for greater understanding and mutual respect.
- DISCUSS YOUR UPCOMING CEREMONY: As an inter-faith couple, you will have many choices to make regarding your wedding ceremony and reception. Will you purchase a Ketubbah (Jewish Marriage Contract) and will it be read during the ceremony. Will you work with your clergy to incorporate elements of both faiths into your ceremony so that both families can feel connected and comfortable. Are there specific rituals, music, and readings that can make both families feel included?
- DISCUSS HOW YOU WILL CELEBRATE HOLIDAYS? Holiday celebrations can be very tricky. How do you remain true to yourself and still compromise with your spouse so that all feel included and valued. How do you welcome family members of other faith traditions into your home and make them feel comfortable while still remaining true to yourself? It can be a very difficult balancing act; however, if you remain committed to yourself and each other, you will be able to find a mutually satisfying path forward.
- COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE!: Did I previously say that it is imperative that you stay in communication with yourself, your spouse, your families, and your friends? You are embarking on one of the most wonderful journeys of your entire life. It is probably not too surprising that many interfaith couples find it difficult to discuss their religions in depth once they have agreed to get married. Many have expressed the concern that if they start down this path, the discussion may turn into a very heated argument that could even threaten the couple’s future. Try and resist the urge to not be aware and conscious about your differences and your needs and the needs of your future spouse.
Mazel Tov and Be’chatz’l’cha! Congratulations and the Best of Luck!
If you would like to discuss this or any other issues regarding your connection to Judaism in greater detail, please reach out to one of the UJUS Rabbis found on the UJUC website at www.ujuc.org.