Monday, August 26, 2013

Finding our Spiritual Home

Recently I wrote this about conservative Judaism:
I maintain that a sect that won't let its clergy officiate your interfaith wedding, but once you're married will allow you into the fold isn't really that welcoming, but that's an argument for another day.
Well, today is that day.

While wedding planning, I looked high and low for a rabbi in Houston, and came up empty. If you've been reading awhile, you know the story pretty well. And while I have nothing against the rabbi who did perform our ceremony, I do wish it had been a local rabbi at a synagogue that we could attend together as a new family. I wish that planning our wedding ceremony would also have been putting down roots as a family, in a congregation.

What saddens me most is that it would have been like that, if we were going to raise our children Catholic. Through the months of premarital counseling we became friendly with the Deacon, familiar with the church, and could have done that even more if we were trying to put down roots there.

It upsets me on both a personal level and an community level. Personally, I wish we were not denied this opportunity and then told later "ok, you can come in now," which strikes me as awfully "love the sinner, hate the sin" of them. As a member of the Jewish community, I hate that Conservative Judaism might be turning interfaith families away because they are less welcoming than the "other" faith. One of Dan's coworkers is Jewish and married to a Catholic woman. They have it even worse than we do, due to the standard of matrilineal descent (considering a person to be born Jewish only if their mother was Jewish at the time of their birth). I wonder how many families like ours and theirs leave Judaism due to the lack of welcome, especially when most Christian denominations would welcome the whole family with open arms, unburdened as they are with religion by birth.

Now, Dan and I have to confront this problem head-on. For the past 5 years I have attended Chabad, a welcoming but ultra-Orthodox community. While they wouldn't officiate my wedding, they have invited us both to holidays and dinners and events. Because of the personal commitment required for an orthodox conversion, and the emphasis on having a Jewish soul, they would never attempt to convert my husband just because he married me. And because I am Jewish, they will consider our children fully Jewish.

But. I've written before about my desire not to raise my children Orthodox because I value gender equality and non-strict gender roles. Even before I was dating Dan, I would have the same intention to one day join a "regular" temple in which to raise my children. It's more difficult for Dan at Chabad, too, where he would have to sit separately from me on the men's side, where I can't help him follow along, explain things to him, translate Hebrew for him.

A reform rabbi would have performed our ceremony. A few I spoke to would have done it- no strings attached- were they available on our date. A few more would have done it if we were congregants but did not perform weddings at all for non-members. In addition to these particular synagogues being very far from where we live and therefore not feasible for us to actually attend regularly (in effect we would have joined for the sake of being members and getting an officiant, a rather expensive proposition), Reform Judaism is not quite observant enough for my personal taste. What I want is conservative Judaism. What I've always wanted is conservative Judaism.

But how do I get past the feeling that they don't want us?

How do I accept that they wouldn't help me create my interfaith family, but now that I have one they're willing to take me back? How do I accept that their stated goal is conversion of the non-Jewish spouse?

How do I allay the fear that they will talk down about interfaith marriage to my children in Hebrew school, behind our backs?

How do I accept that by a stroke of biological luck they will consider my children fully Jewish, but won't do the same for families like our friends described above, where only the father is Jewish?

How do I trust them to be our spiritual home and to take care of our family? In short, I don't know that I can.


  1. Yessss to all of this. I live in Canada where Reform is a little more like American Conservative in my understanding...and had the same problem. Not a single Reform Rabbi in the whole city would marry us - and we weren't even looking for a co-officiant as my husband isn't religious - we just wanted a Jewish wedding. It definitely hurt that we couldn't get married at the synagogue I grew up in and have been a member of for most of my life...but now we can be members! Do you have an email I can reach you at - would love to discuss more.

    1. Hi, Jess! I had no idea that there were such big differences between Reform movements in the US and Canada.

      You can email me at Look forward to hearing from you!