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In Theory: Chelsea Clinton's interfaith engagement

July 30, 2010

On Saturday, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is to marry Marc Mezvinsky, an investment banker, at a ceremony in Rhinebeck, N.Y., according to press reports. The couple's wedding will represent an interfaith union between Chelsea Clinton, who was raised a Methodist, and Mezvinsky, who was raised a Jew. As a religious and/or spiritual leader or commentator in the community, what advice would you give to young people on how to make marriage work with spouses or prospective spouses who practice other religions, or even those who are non-believers?

Intermarriage constitutes the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity. Yes, anecdotal evidence attests to successful transmission of Judaism where one spouse is not Jewish, but it generally requires two Jewish parents, living a commonly cherished way of life, to accomplish this task. The resolute expression of a single belief system, world view, and sacred practice bequeaths a vibrant Jewish identity. The possibility that Jewish children and grandchildren will arise is severely compromised when one of the partners is not ultimately committed to Judaism. Intermarriage does not preclude Jewish commitment, but when one partner wears the uniform, while the other remains a spectator, a unified message cannot be expressed.

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As a recent study concludes: "Group identity cannot but weaken when Jews increasingly find themselves on both sides of ethnic boundaries."

Two-hundred generations of Jews marrying Jews has preserved our heritage. Deviation from this four-millennia norm of endogamous Jewish marriage imperils the future.

Rabbi Mark S. Miller

Temple Bat Yahm

Newport Beach

The best advice I can give is do not, under any circumstances, compromise your faith. Compromise, by definition, is a decision that is mutually unacceptable to both persons. Compromising on the basic tenets of their faith will lead to a bland mess that neither inspires nor comforts. If each of them lives out their faith with strength and confidence, they will enrich and inspire each other. There will be places each cannot take the other. There will traditions and theologies that cannot be shared. Couples simply do not have to share everything or believe everything the same in order to be together. Their marriage will be learning to dance with both traditions alive and strong.

Pastor Mark Wiley

Mesa Verde United Methodist Church

Costa Mesa

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