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The Dartmouth
February 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

For interfaith couples, challenges

"I was raised with a sense of responsibility to preserve the traditions of our faith."

Ruth, a Jewish mother whose son is dating a non-Jewish woman, expressed the above dilemma in the film "Keeping the Faith." A clip from this film opened a panel on Interfaith Marriage and Judaism held yesterday. Speakers addressed the difficulties of interfaith marriages, providing guidance and offering inspiring "success stories."

Rabbi Alan Fuchs, now retired, explained why marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew can be so complicated.

In Judaism, "there is a history of suffering and loss and a concern for survival -- and there is worry that that survival is diminished due to intermarriage." How will children of an intermarried couple be raised, and how will holidays be celebrated? Fuchs also mentioned that family reactions can complicate matters.

Conversion of one of the individuals involved may appear to be a way to avoid these complications. Rabbi Fuchs said that when a couple of two faiths approaches him for advice, he recommends family unity with regards to religion.

Rabbi Edward Boraz, executive director of Dartmouth Hillel, does not recommend conversion before marriage because he feels an individual may be under extra pressure to make everything work out and may not be acting with his/her own spirituality at heart.

Father Brendan Buckley, Chaplain at Aquinas House, offered his perspective on conversion.

"The only reason a person should convert is if he thinks that God wants him to, not for the sake of matrimony."

Psychology professor Jan Scheiner, a Jew who grew up on Long Island is married to Peter Mills, a non-Jew who was raised Episcopalian. She offered another point of view, speaking passionately about the fact that she didn't proselytize her spouse. Her respect for him is primary, her religion is secondary. "I would never sacrifice who Peter is so that I would be more comfortable."

Part of the reason Scheiner and Mills have not encountered major problems may be that neither is extremely religious.

"Theological conflicts present hard, critical decisions," Fuchs said.

Buckley recalled a recent conversation with a Roman Catholic alumnus considering interfaith marriage.

"If my children would not know Jesus Christ, I would rather not have children," the alumnus said.

While Boraz said he respects the bonds of love between interfaith couples, he doesn't perform interfaith marriages because the "understanding of God differs to some extent between a Jewish and a Christian person." He wonders if there can there be a meeting of minds.

For his part, Buckley said that "there is a lot we share in common in faith, and that can be an anchor."

Scheiner and Mills made a decision to raise their children Jewish, and Mills said, "Raising the kids Jewish has been great. That's really been a nice experience for me." Though Scheiner and Mills seem to have had an easy job of it, deciding how to raise the children is often the biggest challenge an interfaith couple faces.

Some worry that commitment to a particular religion will be less in children if their parents are not both of that religion. Mills suggested that there is a myth that children will be confused if two religions are presented to them.

But his 4th grade son, also present at the panel, disproved that myth. "I feel fine, I'm doing well in school, and I'm not confused," he said.

Lexi Lanzet '06, herself a product of an interfaith marriage explains where it left her. "I'm allowed to create my surroundings and who I am ... I see my faith as continually developing."