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.