Let Them Be Catholic

Your question hits a particularly tender place for us Jews, and I can certainly understand your turmoil. But as you ask whether there’s anything you can do to get them to be more interfaith, I want to ask whether you should be trying to change their minds.

I see quite a bit of the kind of interfaith that you’re describing, and what I’ve noticed is that it’s generally used as a way of ameliorating between family members. The “baptism and a bris” is put out there by couples most often trying not to disappoint grandparents. The need to have children, especially babies, brought into whatever tradition a family espouses can run very, very deep. I know of plenty of cases where the grandparents love the Jewish partner of their child, and still worry that without baptism their grandbaby will go to hell. I even know of one woman whose greatest regret is that her husband and children will not join her in heaven.

It’s just as complicated for Jews. Stick around my work for a while – not too long – and you’ll hear the Jewish partner of an interfaith relationship profess, quite unconsciously, right in front of the spouse, how disappointed he or she would be if their child married someone who wasn’t Jewish.

These are all good people; I know them, and they have good hearts. All they’re trying to do is negotiate between the culture of their communal past and the choices that will dictate a future that looks significantly different than the place from whence they came.

But I wonder if the eddies of a swiftly evolving spiritual present are distracting us, for I think the question here should be asked not about the children, but for their sake. What do these hypothetical children need? Does having this interfaith identity, where they are both committed Catholics and reflexively Jewish, help them out? I would argue that the probability of some very confused kids is high.

Of all the mitzvot, the one we’ve reflexively held onto ve’shinantam le’vanekha, “and you shall teach them to your children.” This, I think, is what possesses you, and is the cause for your turmoil. But if I could add a gloss to it, it would be “for the sake of their wellbeing and strength.” Not necessarily our own. Let yourself be guided by what will make them strong and stable, heartfelt and good. This is the way you will teach them Torah.

I need to add one last note, which is that you truly do not know what your grandchildren will become. My guess is that, should you be blessed with multiple grandchildren, at least one will choose to be Jewish. I say this without any hint of schadenfreude, it is just the truth of our moment that parents are not in control of their children’s spiritual identities.

Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.

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Let Them Be Catholic

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