Rabbi Chertkoff: Wellbeing of the children is key | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Rabbi Chertkoff: Wellbeing of the children is key 


“It is important for families to think about the homes that they want to create for their families before they are married and before raising children,” said Rabbi Noah Chertkoff, Congregation Shalom, Fox Point.  

“If they have decided on having a Jewish home in which one parent is not Jewish then they might consider being with their non-Jewish family as their non-Jewish family celebrates Christmas. There is a distinction between being with family who are celebrating Christmas and celebrating Christmas themselves.” 

Chertkoff said it would be gracious of their non-Jewish family to allow for the lighting of the Chanukiah so that they can honor their family members who are Jewish. This could of course be reversed to some degree, but Christmas is one day as opposed to the eight-day period of Chanukah so it would be more likely that this would be the scenario, he said.  

“If a choice has been made to be a dual faith family raising their children in two faiths, that in itself can be challenging,” he said. “Being raised in two faiths can be difficult for a child and a faith that is Jewish and Christian is in the end Christian.” 

He finds that parents often believe that their children will choose a faith at a certain point.  

“Because I care deeply for the health and wellbeing of the family unit and if this is the thought process of a family, I would suggest a dynamic that does not lead to children ultimately choosing between one parent or another in regard to faith traditions,” he said. “If it’s the Jewish partner’s responsibility to bear responsibility for and instruct in Judaism and the Christian partner’s responsibility to bear responsibility for and instruct in Christianity, a challenging dynamic may present itself. “  

In that case, he said, both parents should be involved and supportive of both religious practices so that their children are not pushed into a situation where ultimately one day the children will be forced to have the feeling of choosing between one parent or the other. If parents have chosen to raise their children in two distinct faith traditions, “I would emphasize the importance of not blending the tradition but to teach their children about the distinctiveness of two separate but beautiful traditions,” he said.  

“What I have learned from my experiences working with families navigating these moments is that the ultimate goal must be the wellbeing of the children. Religiosity should remain a beautiful expression of one’s connection with the Divine.  One can practice one tradition and appreciate the beauty of the other. One could practice two traditions until they will ultimately need to make a decision about which faith speaks more to their heart. Though difficult to navigate this can be done.  But at all costs what should be avoided is for families to engage in holy wars within their own homes.” 

This month, we’re asking local rabbis about advice for interfaith families. For more on this series, see “Introduction: Counseling interfaith families.”