The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. You can email your own questions, which will remain anonymous, to: email@example.com
Having the Abortion Talk With My Catholic In-laws
I am Jewish and a longtime pro-choice activist who is married to a half-Jewish, half-Catholic man. He was raised more Jewish than Catholic, because his Catholic dad wasn’t really into the faith. His grandparents, on the other hand, are still very Catholic and therefore very anti-abortion. I have long desired to have a civil and respectful theological conversation with them, to make my case about why I believe one can live according to the bible and support a woman’s right to choose, but my husband doesn’t think I should. The reason I want to is because I really want them to understand where I am coming from, and I also believe that it is possible to change people’s minds about a cause I see as a human right. Now we want to know what you think.Fighting for Choice in Florida
There Are Better Ways to Get Their Rosaries Off Your Ovaries
SARAH SELTZER: Of course, your instincts to engage with these misguided folks are understandable. To you, being pro-choice likely means acknowledging that women are human and have right to control their destiny. On some level, then, knowing your grandparent-in-laws’ doctrinaire views on this issue is probably making you feel less than equal in their eyes. And that hurts. That, on top of any other cultural differences you experience with them, could easily amount to a lot of crazy-making frustration.
So I feel your pain, and I get your desire to try your powers of persuasion.
And yet, just as much as I know that intrusive right-wing laws have no place in the Uteri of America, I also know that the over-70 set is not generally an easily-swayed demographic.
So the question then becomes: what does it accomplish for the abortion-seekers of America to try to persuade your partner’s grandparents to get their rosaries off your ovaries? Will it help the fifteen-year-old desperate for a judicial bypass so she can get a much-needed abortion? The women on Medicaid who are barred from paying for abortions due to the discriminatory Hyde Amendment? The brave doctor who flies into a clinic in New Mexico and walks past protesters and death threats to see her patients?
You have good energy for the most righteous of causes. You stand for your sisters, but also for your own humanity and your ability to live life to the fullest, just as any man might, without your biology being destiny. Of course you’re pissed! But it may be wiser to take that energy and use it to escort at a besieged clinic. Or give a donation to an abortion fund (they are so needed) or local Planned Parenthood and if you want a little perverse satisfaction, do it in your grandparent-in-laws names.
That doesn’t mean you should demur if it’s brought up. If they ask what your favorite causes are, or if they bring up the abortion issue themselves, you can and should gently explain why you feel as you do. But otherwise, I’d focus not on changing minds, but on changing lives.
Sarah Seltzer is the Editor-at-Large at Flavorwire and a longtime contributor to the Forward’s Sisterhood Blog. Find her on Twitter @sarahmseltzer.
Know Before Whom You Stand
SCOTT PERLO: At the front of most sanctuaries, over the ark, is written a reworked line from the Mishnah: Da lifnei mi atah omed: “Know before Whom you stand.” It’s meant to be both inspiration and a caution, and perhaps could be a useful measure for whether to walk down this particularly fraught road.
Do you know before whom you stand? People come to their most profound moral convictions through a combination of conscious arguments and unconscious emotions and social influences. Do you know why your in-laws tell themselves that abortion is wrong? Can you see the argument through their eyes? Do you understand them?
Do you know before Whom you stand? Judaism and Catholicism understand abortion very, very differently, and there’s a desperately important conversation to have between the two conceptions. But the question will be whether you yourself believe in the religious arguments you’re offering. It’s not ethical to argue viewpoints you don’t actually hold.
Lastly, do you know why you’re standing there? I think you should fight for choice, whatever most other people feel about it. Moral obligation trumps personal feeling – except, of course, when you’re expecting to have a lifelong relationship with the people involved.
My concern is that your goal may not be as much to have them understand you as it is to win. You might obliterate them with arguments theological and otherwise – and still alienate some pretty important people in your married life without gaining anything. Unless you know you can walk out of that conversation with their love and respect, don’t bother.
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.
What If He Wanted to Convince Your Grandparents Abortion is Wrong
SUSAN KATZ MILLER: Well, these are his grandparents. He has grown up with an intimate understanding of their journey, and of how they felt, and adapted emotionally, as their son moved away from Catholicism, married someone from another faith, and raised “more Jewish than Catholic” children.
So try to imagine how you would feel if your husband was a practicing Catholic, and wanted to convince your grandparents that abortion is wrong. I suspect you would not want him to do that.
As your husband grew up understanding, respect for differences is key in a successful interfaith family, as is honoring elders from both traditions. It sounds like his family has done an excellent job maintaining loving relationships across religious boundaries. I do not think it would benefit you to upset those relationships, especially since his grandparents are presumably elderly, and not likely to change their political or religious positions at this point in their lives. Again, since these are his grandparents, I think you should respect his instincts in this case.
Susan Katz Miller is both an adult interfaith child, and an interfaith parent. She is a former Newsweek reporter, and the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family” (Beacon Press).