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As we struggled to resolve our faith-in-the-home dilemma, we took a class on interfaith relationships at the Center for Religious Inquiry, in New York City. Taught by a rabbi and a rector, the class impressed upon us the importance of choosing one religion, and made us consider the decision from a child’s point of view.
“Your child is asked to make a winter holiday art project. She can make only one,” the rector said. “She must choose red and green paper to create a Christmas theme, or blue and white for Hanukkah. It appears that this is a simple choice, but for a child being raised in a home with two religions, with no clear religious identity, this is not a choice between colored papers; it is a choice between Mommy and Daddy. That’s a decision no child wants to make.” Neither one of us wanted to put our future child in that position.
We understood that children do not have the developmental toolkit to make a choice about religion, and that by choosing one religious identity for our nuclear family we would be able to provide a framework for imparting the values that we wanted to instill in our children.
We realized that identifying with one faith would not deprive or shield our child from having full knowledge of his religious background. Rather, it would provide a foundation from which to discuss the “common ground, important differences and intertwined history” of Christianity and Judaism that Miller believes can be found in only a dual-faith environment.
We chose to raise our child as a Jew because being Jewish is about more than faith, and its emphasis on right action rather than a specific concept of God encourages the kind of exploration and questioning that Miller thinks can be nurtured in only a dual-faith community. At our Sabbath table, my husband, son and I discuss and debate regularly our ideas about the existence of a divine presence, and our thoughts on the meaning of the Torah portion, including how it pertains to other religions.
We do not need to be dual faith to discuss the differences between Jews and Christians with our son. As a Jewish interfaith family, we have been having this conversation since he was 4, when he asked what the difference between the two faiths is. What started as a simple explanation has evolved as he has grown. And our single-faith status does not stop us from celebrating non-Jewish holidays with our extended family.
I do not think my interfaith family is less religiously enlightened because we have chosen to be Jewish. On the contrary, I think giving our son a strong basis from which to expand his knowledge of all religions is a bold choice that will enable him to make educated and well-informed decisions later in life.
Jane Larkin writes about parenting for InterfaithFamily.com, a website that supports interfaith families exploring Jewish life.