Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Is Chelsea Good for the Jews?

Chelsea Clinton's wedding was held on Saturday, July 31, 2010 - before sunset (aka on Shabbat), co-officiated by a rabbi, under a chuppah, with a ketubah, where the Sheva Brachot were recited, with her groom wearing a kipah and talit. Chelsea Clinton was raised Methodist and her groom, Marc Mezvinsky, is Jewish. Since Chelsea did not convert, they have begun an interfaith marriage. Why does this matter and what are the implications for the larger Jewish community? Amongst Jewish educators, rabbis, everyday Jewish citizens, this debate is swirling the blogosphere and the Twitter feeds.

When one of the most visible young people in the world enters into a very public interfaith union, in what is a seemingly very Jewish ceremony, is this good for the Jews? The arguments I have seen offered up in the last few days have included:

· Having a Jew being the son-in-law of the Secretary of State is good for Israel, so it’s good for the Jews.

· A rabbi creating an interfaith marriage is atrocious. We should be fighting this damaging trend, not publically supporting it.

· The ceremony gave Judaism some amazing free media. Non-Jews all over the world now know what a chuppah, ketubah and talit are.

· The fact that the majority of Jews aren’t even flinching is a bad sign for the future of the Jewish people.

· It was done so tastefully; they are great role models for other couples trying to meld two faiths in one ceremony.

· Intermarriage is the downfall of the future of Judaism. Recent statistics estimate that one in three U.S. couples are in religiously mixed marriages and half of all Jews marry outside their faith. This will only get worse, and then we will have nothing.

For the past decade, Jewish leaders have taken incredibly diverse stands on interfaith marriage. Reform rabbis are given the personal choice to decide if they will officiate (or co-officiate) at ceremonies involving two religions, while Conservative rabbis are not only NOT allowed to officiate, but cannot even attend one as a guest. The consequence for doing so is being removed from the Rabbinic Assembly. In the Reform movement, interfaith couples in most congregations enjoy equal status (or mostly equal) to Jewish couples in terms of membership, ritual ability, and sometimes even in taking on leadership roles. In Conservative congregations, the non-Jewish partner is not considered a member and most often does not even appear in the synagogue directory. The non-Jewish spouse isn’t allowed to participate in rituals and in many cases is excluded from leadership and volunteer positions. In the Orthodox communities, there is little to no tolerance for interfaith unions. Those religious groups opposed to interfaith marriage based on Halacha, primarily based it on this text from Deuteronomy 7:3, “You shall not intermarry with them" and this text from Talmud Yevamot 23b, "Jews are not allowed to intermarry with anyone who denies that there is the Jewish God (in this we take the Christian trinity as not believing in Adonai - the Jewish God)."

If marrying a non-Jew is directly against Jewish law – should our rabbis perform interfaith marriages? In what ways should be be addressing this current event with our Jewish students? How should we address it with interfaith couples/parents we work with? Why does this matter and what are the implications for the larger Jewish community?

NOTE: I would attribute the photo, but the photographer was not listed on the site I found the pic on. Apologies in advance to him/her.


  1. An Op-Ed I found on the topic: http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/08/02/clinton-mezvinsky-interfaith-wedding-blends-traditions-that-do/

  2. Very interesting post Robyn. Yeshar Koach!

  3. I suspect even those hard core against intermarriage secretly feel some pride, on some level, that a family of royalty so openly accepts someone jewish, especially someone publicly Jewish in this way.

    Perhaps this is one of those instances--especially because the prominence of the Jewish symbols at the wedding suggest Chelsea's openness to Jewish life-- where the traditionalists can find room to tolerate without formally sanctioning....

    1. You are wrong -- I am against intermarriage, and I feel no pride whatsoever that Chelsea married a Jew.

  4. One way to address this with students would be to highlight a perspective that is rarely addressed by anyone: the perspective of the single Jewish woman who wants to marry in. See Prof. Monda and Sonia Halpern's 2008 article "JAP -- Jewish And Passed-over: The Invisibility of Single Jewish Women in Issues of Intermarriage and Conversion."

  5. @Sid Singer: News flash. We have no royalty in this country. This is a central theme of what the US is about--all people are created equal. We had a revolution back in 1776 to get rid of monarchy. To his credit, George Washington, when offered the crown, turned it down, saying, "In America, the law is king." Do we need to have another revolution???

  6. I think it is time to stop saying whether this is good or bad for the Jews, this is a fact. It shows how different America is, and it requires us to rethink how we define who is a Jew and who can become a Jew