You Can't Be Both (Jewish and Not)

Parents Should Choose Just One Faith for Children

A Tough Choice: If you can’t raise children with two religions, how do you pick one?
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A Tough Choice: If you can’t raise children with two religions, how do you pick one?

By Jane Larkin

Published November 10, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
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Susan Katz Miller, the author of a new book, “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family,” recently argued in a New York Times op-ed that children being raised as Jewish and something else are not totally lost to Judaism. She said that kids who learn about the faith when they are young may embrace the Jewish part of their identity when they are older, or develop an affinity for Judaism even if they choose another faith or none at all.

As an intermarried Jew, I agree that children being raised in two faiths or none at all should not be discounted by the Jewish community for the very reason Miller states: These children may, as adults, decided to fully engage in Judaism. But I certainly disagree with her suggestion that children from interfaith families being raised in one faith are somehow being coerced into a religious identity.

Faced with the same challenge as Miller and her husband — what the religious identity of our interfaith family should be — my husband and I chose Judaism. I’d like to explain why.

When we were dating, we discussed how we should approach the issue of our two faiths should we get married. I wanted a Jewish home; my husband wanted to celebrate both traditions. His interest in a dual-faith home was driven not by a theological commitment to Christianity, but rather by a desire to be part of both of our family’s celebrations.

We read books that presented various interfaith arrangements, from conversion to raising children in two religions to joining the Unitarian church. I tried to “let go,” as Miller suggests, and get comfortable with the dual-faith idea, but the issue of the divinity of Jesus was a sticking point.

How could our family be “really Jewish” if we recognized Jesus as the Messiah? How could we be “really Christian” if we didn’t? It seemed that by choosing a hybrid path, our family would simply be on the threshold of both faiths but not be truly part of either.

What bothered me about this solution was that being Jewish is about more than faith; it is about culture, shared history and community. It is as much about peoplehood as it is about God.

I explained to my husband that a bond unites every individual Jew with the larger Jewish community. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh — All Jews are responsible for one another. I wanted my children to feel a part of this bigger group.


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