“I understand why we call it the December dilemma,” said Rabbi Moishe Steigmann, founder and director of the Wisconsin-based Own Your Judaism. “Part of it is, it’s catchy to the ear, the alliteration. There’s a little bit of tension embedded within that heading. I tend to reject the idea that this is a December dilemma. I tend to reject that as a premise.”
“I don’t look at it as a dilemma. I look at it as an opportunity.”
Steigmann noted the decline in overall American religious practice and said that when multiple people want to express and honor their faith, that’s not a dilemma. “To me, that’s actually a celebration,” he said.
“To me, this is an opportunity for rich conversations, or meaningful conversations, to have genuinely and authentically live out in this partnership, in this relationship, and in this family,” he said. “So it’s not about rebuking; it’s not about reframing. It’s not about saying, ‘Well, you put yourself in a difficult situation.’ No, you put yourself in a wonderful situation where you want to collaborate on how to bring your faith to your family. To me, this is a wonderful opportunity. It’s not something to be cast aside or to be marked as a dilemma or a challenge or a lament or a downfall of Judaism.”
Couples need to have conversations about their faith, regardless of whether they are of the same faith. In some ways, the issues are really the same, he said. It’s possible to officiate a wedding between two Jews who have a lot to talk about, because they are coming from very different places.
“Whenever I do any premarital conversations or premarital counseling, I always talk with the partners about how they want to live out their faith in their partnership, in this new union, in their family,” he said. “I think these are conversations that are healthy and generative with any two people, or any three people, or any people who are in a relationship, with your clergy, with friends, with other faith leaders, with people you’re comfortable having. So I don’t think this is a conversation that’s unique to multi faith.”
It should be noted, some more traditional or observant Jewish leaders may strongly counsel against interfaith marriage and can consider it prohibited. Steigmann said he understands that there are those in the Jewish world who will disagree with his approach.
“I should say that I am speaking from my professional rabbinic viewpoint,” he said. “This is a core reason why I have adopted the rabbinic path that I have, because this is a voice that I feel is essential. I understand there are a multiplicity of voices within the Jewish world. I am not trying to suggest that every Jew and every rabbi must say exactly what I’m saying. I’m not trying to make a persuasive argument to my colleagues. I am trying to put forward an approach to interfaith relationships, to celebrations of holidays and lifecycle events, that honors and celebrates the path that people have chosen.”
This month, we’re asking local rabbis about advice for interfaith families. For more on this series, see “Introduction: Counseling interfaith families.”