(nb: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss)
You finally meet “the one,” that person you love more than anyone else you’ve ever met. You finish each other’s sentences, love the same food, love to dance with one another, and can’t imagine ever being apart. It’s only logical that you get married, so you can share this harmony forever.
The problem is, you come from a strong Catholic background, and your beloved is Jewish. What kind of wedding do you have? More importantly, how will you raise your children?
That’s the issue in Susan Katz Miller’s book, “Being Both.”
Obviously, one answer is that one of you allows their faith to take a back seat—you consent to a Catholic wedding, for example, and agree to raise your kids Catholic. Maybe you explain to them about the Jewish High Holy Days and other celebrations, but the kids are still in St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church every Sunday.
I have two friends who did this the opposite way. Sarah was an observant Jew; Rick was a CEO Catholic (CEO=Christmas and Easter Only). He had no problem having a Jewish wedding, and allowing their kids to be raised Jewish.
What “Being Both” proposes—and illustrates clearly—is that there is a third option, called “Interfaith.” In this case, I capitalize “Interfaith” advisedly, because there are a number of interfaith groups that have sprung up around the U.S. as interfaith marriages have increased. Most of the groups—and most of the anecdotal groups and families in “Being Both”—are Jewish and Christian.
What the Interfaith groups do is study and celebrate both faiths in a low-pressure environment. Some of the children feel strongly about celebrating a bar mitzvah or Catholic confirmation. Others do neither. There is a liturgy, but no real dogma. The groups learn about both faiths, and they in essence celebrate God as they individually understand him.
To me, the best one-line description of Interfaith comes in a quote from a Catholic woman married to a Muslim: “[U]ltimately, we’re all trying to get up the same mountain, on whichever path works best for that person.” This woman is not giving up her Catholicism, but she’s learned to embrace the similarities between her faith and her husband’s, and to explore the differences with an open mind, while their children are raised with elements of both religions.
Ms. Katz Miller also explores what happens when the kids leave home. Some of them embrace one or the other faith—more Jewish than Christian, it seems. Some become Atheist or Buddhist, or remain Interfaith as best they can.
This book is an excellent resource for couples who find themselves in this situation. If there were a shortcoming in this book, it would be that it addresses the resolution within an Interfaith community. It doesn’t deal much with how to handle the issue if you’re in a small town with no Interfaith community. There is an appendix full of online resources, and I’m certain the suggestions in the rest of the book can be helpful. The best solution posited, though, is to involve interfaith families in an Interfaith community, such as the large groups in Chicago or Washington, DC.
This issue affects more and more American families today, as we marry outside our own religions. My best friend’s father was a Lutheran pastor; my friend married a staunch Irish-Catholic girl. He did not convert. Their problems have been minor—they got married in a Catholic church, but a priest couldn’t perform the ceremony (a Catholic Deacon did), and he can’t take Communion when he goes to church with his family. These were two Christians whose denominational differences required adaptation.
Intermarrying between Judaism and Christianity causes its own set of problems. Ms. Katz Miller’s book provides a good starting point to help sort out those problems.
Recommended (especially for interfaith couples)