Chelsea Clinton’s big Jewish wedding?

Back in my Denver days, I covered a remarkable meeting about intermarriage between Jews and Christians, in this case Catholics. In the summary remarks, one of the rabbis made a comment that has always stuck with me.

This liberal rabbi was not in favor of intermarriage, but he was not opposed either. He knew the realities of life in the age of assimilation. He knew the numbers in his own congregation. However, there was one thing he strongly opposed — people trying to raise their children in both faiths at the same time.

The bottom line: The rabbi said that, statistically, there was a better chance that children raised in Jewish-Christian families would eventually choose to live their lives as Jews if they were raised as Christians than if their parents attempted to raise them half and half. All that approach taught the children was that faith was a buffet and that their choices didn’t really matter much. The key was whether the children were taught that faith actually mattered in their lives. They would eventually make their own choices about the faith that they would practice.

I thought about that when I received a URL from a regular GetReligion reader that pointed toward this conversation-starter of a headline: “Will Chelsea Clinton have a Jewish wedding?” Another version of the same story added this spicy second deck: “Few details are known about ceremony, but speculation is running rampant.”

Interested? Here’s the top of the story:

NEW YORK – Her mother is a churchgoing Methodist. Her father is a Southern Baptist. Yet could Chelsea Clinton be planning one of the biggest Jewish weddings of the year?

The 30-year-old graduate student and her Jewish fiance, Marc Mezvinsky, 32, announced their engagement in November and told friends they were looking to a possible summer ceremony. The families have revealed no specifics about the wedding. … That hasn’t stopped the speculation. The bride and groom have a range of choices, including conversion or a melding their two traditions into one ceremony.

The talk has been strongest in the Jewish community. There has been more rejoicing than lamenting about this interfaith union that brings a former first daughter a step closer to the fold. Still, they wonder: Has Chelsea been searching for a rabbi along with her gown?

The Associated Press story includes quite a bit of information about intermarriage and the possible impact of this issue on the actual wedding ceremony itself. That’s all well and good.

What we don’t have here is anything that moves beyond the level of speculation about the faith issues. In other words, this is a celebrity wedding story, not a story about a decision about faith and tradition involving two believers. Over at her Faith & Reason weblog, USA Today religion writer Cathy Grossman actually asks the relevant question head on: “Convert for love, Round 2: Will Chelsea Clinton follow Ivanka Trump?”

That sure puts things in perspective. Is this young lady like a Trump?

I guess this celebrity approach is to be expected, after all Chelsea has been through. This is a young woman who has spent plenty of time in probing spotlights, because of her parents. She does not owe the world an announcement about her faith. Nevertheless, it sure does make the journalism awkward.

Meanwhile, this is about as deep as the AP report gets:

Chelsea Clinton grew up attending Methodist church with her mother. Bill Clinton has been close to his pastor in Arkansas, but the Southern Baptist Convention rebuked him years ago over his support for gay relationships and abortion rights.

Last year, Chelsea, a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Public Health, was seen attending Yom Kippur services with Marc at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, the flagship for Conservative Judaism, according to news reports. Mezvinsky is a son of former Pennsylvania Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and former Iowa Rep. Ed Mezvinsky, longtime friends of the Clintons. His parents, who are divorced, had attended a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Pennsylvania.

Hillary Clinton has strong ties of her own to the Jewish community from serving as a senator from New York.

“She has probably been in more temples by far than either you or I,” said Rabbi Jerome Davidson, rabbi emeritus at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, which Hillary Clinton has visited.

To pull this matter full circle, there is this statement near the end of the report:

The high rate of intermarriage has been an obsession in the Jewish community, which has struggled with how welcoming it should be to mixed-faith couples.

Why is this? Jewish leaders know the statistics. The ultimate issue is whether people — and children — who live in interfaith homes will ever make a solid, committed decision about whether to embrace, practice and hand down a living faith.

This is emotional territory, as young master Brad Greenberg’s earlier post noted. It’s a cliche to say that marriages and the children that follow are the future, but the statement is also true.

What is hanging in the balance? Many Jews will state this matter bluntly: The future of the Jewish faith.

Photo: Care of Celebrity Weddings 411.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Because my mother was Methodist and my father Catholic, I have always had an interest in mixed religious marriages (although today such a Christian marriage wouldn’t be considered very “mixed” compared to the uniqueness it was back in 1942 when they married).
    There is a lot of room for good media research and articles on this topic. One survey I saw years ago showed that kids parents try to bring up in both faiths wind up being atheists or agnostics. Another survey claimed that children of mixed marriages mostly wind up adopting the religion of their fathers when old enough to choose on their own

  • http://jeffthebaptist.blogspot.com Jeff the Baptist

    “Another survey claimed that children of mixed marriages mostly wind up adopting the religion of their fathers when old enough to choose on their own.”

    It’s also just as likely that the children follow the parent they take after the most. A friend of mine is the product of a Jewish/Christian marriage. Her mom is an unobservant Jew. Her dad attends services regularly. She is essentially agnostic, but her little brother was an observant catholic when last I saw him.

    I would wager that in most mixed marriages, at least one of the parents is religiously unobservant if not both. After all if they were both really serious about their religions, they probably wouldn’t have intermarried in the first place.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    After all if they were both really serious about their religions, they probably wouldn’t have intermarried in the first place.

    Or they were members of religions that didn’t put an emphasis on evangelization?

  • http://allegedlyretired.blogspot.com/ Joseph M. Smith

    After all if they were both really serious about their religions, they probably wouldn’t have intermarried in the first place.

    Or they were members of religions that didn’t put an emphasis on evangelization?

    I have shared in several Jewish-Christian weddings as a favor to a rabbi friend. I always go through counseling with the couple. In more instances than not, the Christian party has been quite evangelical, going so far as to say, “My fiance knows that my heart’s desire will be for him/her to accept Christ as savior.” And the Jewish party would generally respond by saying that s/he knew that but did not expect it to be a source of conflict.

  • Jon in the Nati

    Or they were members of religions that didn’t put an emphasis on evangelization?

    To be fair, I don’t know that that has anything to do with it. I am a member of a faith (which shall remain nameless) that does not put a ton of emphasis on evangelization, but I have always known that, if I was going to remain a committed member of that faith throughout my life, and raise my children as such, marriage outside the faith was simply not an option. I have known that ever since I was able to think seriously about such things. Sure, that shrinks the candidate pool quite a bit, but it’s part of the deal.

    Generally, Jews do not proselytize/evangelize. But in most Jewish communities (that is, moderate-to-conservative ones) intermarriage is frowned upon. I don’t know that emphasis on evangelisation has much at all to do with intermarriage.

  • http://jochopra.blogspot.com Jo Chopra

    When I (Catholic) married my husband (Hindu), he suggested we bring the children up Catholic, saying: “The details are more important to you than to me.”

    That’s what we did. Our oldest – a boy – is at the age of 26, an agnostic.

    Our second, a daughter, 23, is a practicing Catholic, about to start graduate school at Yale Divinity – in Biblical Studies.

    Our youngest, a 20 year old daughter, has a severe mental handicap. She is a baptized Catholic but is as above “the details” as her father.

    I’m glad, though, that we made the decision we did. I think it made for a much more stable household (and for some hilarious moments too: when preparing my son for his First Communion, I explained what it was all about. He looked at me, horrified, and said “MOM! Eat his body? I’M A VEGETARIAN.” So I assured him he didn’t have to decide right away, he could wait till the following year. He thought awhile and then asked: “Will there be any left?”)

  • http://onbeingboth.com Susan Katz Miller


    The rabbi said that, statistically, there was a better chance that children raised in Jewish-Christian families would eventually choose to live their lives as Jews if they were raised as Christians than if their parents attempted to raise them half and half.”

    Wow, I would really like to see the study that yielded these “statistics.” I have been researching this topic all my life, and I have not encountered that study. If it does exist, I suspect it is very outdated. Up until the 1990s, folks who said they were raising children “half and half” were more often raising them with very little religious training or spiritual outlet.

    Now, interfaith family communities are springing up across the country, and we are raising our childen with rigorous education in both faiths, and access to spiritual experiences using both sets of rituals. To find out how this works, read my blog at onbeingboth.com

  • http://sherrymims.com/blog Sherry

    @Susan Katz Miller, I also was wondering where those statistics came from. I’m married to a Jewish man, so I would be interested to read them. Thanks for your link.

  • astorian

    It would help to know what raising children “half and half” means?

    Does it mean the kids go to Mass AND to Hebrew school? That they go to Sunday school AND study for a bar mitzvah?

    Or, more likely, does it mean the family puts up a Christmas tree AND a menorah in December, then thinks little of religion the rest of the year?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    In my case, avoidance gave me the firm message that religion was something shameful that “nice” people do not talk about.

  • http://www.livejewishmusic.com Jewish Wedding Music

    Even if you wanted to say the statistic was correct, it’s certainly referring to a more secular Jew. One who would not have to worry about any restrictions such as keeping kosher or the sabbath.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X