I am grateful for the recent article about the new direction of The Lux Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, as well as the review of “Mixed-Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century,” both of which are endeavors I shared with my husband Jon M. Sweeney.
One item in the book review is worthy of more detail: our marriage ceremony. Indeed, Jon and I had a civil ceremony in our living room. The apartment Jon shared with his teen–aged children was damaged by a car—and they requested to move in with me. Jon asked for a legal marriage for the kids’ sake.
Five months later, as originally scheduled on Lag BaOmer, we held havdalah on a Vermont hillside followed by a ceremony featuring more candles, circles, blessings and a bonfire into which a glass was smashed. Among the guests were at least a dozen rabbis, rabbinical students, priests, and ministers, some of whom participated in a ceremony that was rooted in Jewish practice, completely untraditional and inclusive.
I share this because of the possible misinterpretation that religious people of different traditions are unable to celebrate their marriage with a ceremony filled with spirituality and meaning. As interfaith marriage becomes a norm, communities and clergy wrestle with and evolve from the challenges and opportunities they present. When Jon first proposed marriage, my initial response was, “I don’t know. Who would marry us? I wouldn’t marry us!” While I had performed my first interfaith wedding as a rabbinical student a decade earlier, I was still unclear about doing so for a couple with dual faith traditions. Ultimately, the figuring out of the wedding itself was part of a much longer exploration of how to figure out our lives. The couples I work with undertake a similar process of co-creating a ceremony as part of setting the foundation for their marriages.
Thirteen years later, my thinking continues to evolve, as does that of the non-Orthodox Jewish world generally. Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and unaffiliated rabbis have long been free to choose for whom, and when, they will conduct weddings. For many, the question has shifted from whether to which weddings to perform, with co-officiation and other multi-faith options the new growing edge. Conservative rabbis are now permitted to attend interfaith ceremonies and their movement has begun exploring greater inclusivity for interfaith families within their communities. And last week, Hebrew College joined the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and ALEPH (Jewish Renewal) in admitting and/or graduating rabbinical students in interfaith relationships.
While some continue to see interfaith marriage as a sign of decline for Judaism and of the Jewish people, many are seeking ways to include and involve individuals and families of varying backgrounds. Opening the doors to Jewish spaces wider need not diminish the meaning and impact of Jewish life. While not every rabbi (myself included) or community will serve the needs of each family, I encourage every couple desiring Judaism in their lives to seek ones that will.
The views expressed in this piece, and other commentary articles, are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. We welcome a diversity of opinions.
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Rabbi Michal Woll is co-director of The Lux Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology and spiritual leader for Congregation Shir Hadash in Milwaukee.