HomeSeptember 2010On the Lighter Side

On the Lighter Side

The wedding of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky was a lot of things: Expensive, private, heavily guarded. But one thing it was not was controversial.

Usually when a Jew marries a non-Jew, old ladies wail and men rend their garments. At the very least, interfaith weddings inspire the tsk-tsking of some traditional Jews who lament the unions as proof of our declining numbers and disappearing Peoplehood.

Sure, there were some who declared the wedding “not a Jewish event,” and others scowled at a ceremony co-officiated by a Methodist minister. But for the most part, the criticism was fairly tepid. So, where was the outcry outside of Rhinebeck?

Aside from a few bloggers who chided Mezvinksy for wearing a tallit and kippah for a Shabbat afternoon wedding to a Methodist (“What’s the point?” one said), most of the normal nay-sayers were either muffled or completely silent.

“Well,” a friend of mine noted about the lack of dismay. “I guess it’s OK to marry a non-Jew, if it’s the right non-Jew.”

Or, as Jon Stewart put it: “We did it! The first Jewish President… ’s son-in-law!”

Now, it’s easy to chalk up the relatively lax response to a double-standard. Having the Secretary of State as an in-law could make for some amazing Israel policy debates around the Passover table. And there is certainly a star-struck element to weddings between Jews and prominent non-Jews. A few generations ago, some of these families wouldn’t have let us into their country clubs. Now they’re taking our last names.

As a rabbi I spoke with about the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding noted, “On the one hand, there is something wonderful when these prominent, Wasp-y families accept us into their families. The Kennedys and the Clintons both married Jews. There is something breathtaking about it.”

But I think it is too simplistic to say that marrying “the right non-Jew” gives you a pass. Instead, I think something else is at work. Maybe we and the non-Jews who love us have broken the glass chuppah.

More and more, there are parenting classes and programs for interfaith couples – and these are not conversion classes, mind you. The preference is still that a couple chooses one religion (hopefully Jewish) for the benefit of the children. But increasingly, religious leaders realize that many families watch their Chanukah candles cast flickering shadows across their Christmas trees.

So, like the high school health teacher who realizes that abstinence-only education doesn’t cut it, some rabbis are starting to say, “We’d rather they didn’t, but they are. So what can we do to better protect, care for, and accept them?”

“Maybe this is a moment for us to do some difficult thinking,” said Rabbi Arthur Green, a noted scholar, who spoke recently to a group of journalists in Los Angeles.

He said that shunning interfaith couples is not good for the long-term health of the Jewish people. While he, too, would rather that couples live in Jewish homes and raise Jewish kids, he thinks it is time we give the Clinton-Mezvinksys of the world a meaningful wedding gift: inclusion.

“Can we give (these couples) a package of Jewish values to take with them? Can we say, ‘I will do your wedding if you study with me for eight weeks beforehand?’” he said.

Not only did Mezvinsky wear a kippah and tallit, but he broke the glass under a chuppah, and signed a ketubah with a prominent rabbi co-officiating and family reciting the Shevah Brachot. Slowly, couples like Chelsea and Marc who outwardly show their inward convictions as a couple are being nurtured, not turned away.

Slowly, we are being reminded that the chuppah represents a tent open on all sides. Open, to let everyone in.

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