The Answer is Edwin.
Why do I officiate interfaith weddings? The answer is Edwin. My mentor,
Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman was a master teacher and psychotherapist.
He wrote the major textbook for Pastoral Counseling. He wrote the key article on the interfaith phenomenon, The Myth of the Shiksa. Briefly, Ed taught me how to reframe questions in a way that promotes transformational vision.
Just what is “interfaith”? Is Judaism a “faith group”? What beliefs lead to some Jews rejecting intermarriage? Just what is intermarriage? Does the Torah prohibit a Jew from marrying a Catholic? A Protestant? A Hindu? A Buddhist?
Is it permissible for an observant Jew to marry a secular Jew? An atheist?
In my rabbinic opinion the Torah prohibited, past tense, marriage between an Israelite and a Pagan. Wait a second. I need to be more precise since the dictionary defines a pagan as someone who is not a Jew, Christian or Muslim. The Torah prohibited marriage with certain native inhabitants in ancient times, including the Moabites. The dreaded Moabites offered their firstborn (and perhaps second and third on occasion) to their fire god . The ancient prohibition seems more than reasonable. This is a generic principle of Torah. Do not sacrifice your children to an idol.
But what about to an ideal? This is the point of The Book of Ruth, where we see Naomi allow her children to intermarry. The hero of this groundbreaking book, Boaz, violates the broad prohibition by marrying Ruth, who, according to the Midrash, was the daughter of the King of Moab. Forbidden. The ideal is ignored because Ruth had no intention to honor her fathers “officiating” at child sacrifice. By the way, even without this lovely story of intermarriage the ancient prohibition is now null and void in our time. We have no genetic markers for Moabites or any other “pagan” ancient fire god worshipers.
Another objection to “intermarriage” is strictly rabbinic. We want Israelites to marry Israelites so we have a way to transmit our core values and unique Covenant from generation to generation. This makes sense. So, we ask, who is an Israelite? Who is in, and who is out? The modern update of not intermarrying with the Moabites includes not sacrificing our children to an ideal. So the question remains. What is intermarriage?
I believe, in our times, Rabbinic Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and all the sects and denominations therein are legitimate heirs to the promises of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. I love to invite all of them to the weddings I officiate. Of course, technically Jacob was the only Israelite in the group, and a few of our matriarchs were certainly “outsiders.” Notice the dissonance when we apply modern standards to our ancestors. We entwine ourselves in a double bind when we look back to our ancestors for every precedent on how to act today.
Jacob earns the name Israel after struggling with issues divine and human; and limps away with a new name. We all know the feeling. “Israel” means the one who struggles and then triumphs. As a Rabbi I have wrestled with the question of the intermarriage of a Hindu, or Sikh, or Muslim, or an atheist with a Jew. Are they pagans? A Hindu is, but only by the dictionary definition. Again ancient categories are not always instructive or operative. My major concern is that ideals do not become idols. Hindus are not pagan and are, on the whole, the most open minded towards other religions. If I ever come across a “child sacrificer” I will be sure to decline their request to sanctify their marriage.
Did you know that at a point in our history The Twelve Tribes of Israel were forbidden to intermarry? Tribal Reubenites could only marry tribal Reubenites and tribal Judahites other members of the tribe of Judah.
Tribal thinking is also present in our time. The Catholic Church used to demand written documents that a Jewish Catholic couple would raise the children Catholic. On the whole, in the spirit of Vatican II, most Bishops have given up on this power play. The Reform movement in Judaism in our time requires a missive that the child will be raised Reform Jewish. Conversion is encouraged or demanded. This also seems to be the policy of the Conservative movement. Traditional Judaism does not encourage
this strong arm approach seeking conversion from conviction rather than convenience. The denominations are hopelessly divided on the issue. The good news is that eventually the tribes united and permitted intertribal nuptials. What about today?
I was thinking this all through twenty years ago when I was mapping the future course of my rabbinic career. My guide and mentor was Ed. He taught by example, officiating at hundreds of intertribal wedding ceremonies in the Washington D.C. area. I came to understand that it was time for me to declare my independence from Conservative Judaism.
Conservative Judaism in our time lives up to its name, conserving both essence and anachronism. The main anachronism that I jettisoned was the denominations rather cold war against Christianity. Once again reframing questions I wondered why a wedding between a Rabbinic Israelite and Christian Israelite is considered intermarriage and a scandal. Perhaps it is simply intertribal.
What if a Jewish Christian couple is able to pass on the wonderful and precious legacy of our Torah to the next generation? The Reform movement took a stand when it announced the triumph of Reform over the Church. This is not quite Yavne II. Do we win the power struggle when we insist on conversion? Not really. I do not think conversion is the answer and wonder how a convert to Reform feels when they might need to convert to Conservative to be accepted by that denomination. “Orthodoxy” demands a third conversion in most, if not all, cases. My bottom line is the need of the couple to transform their home into a Sanctuary. I have written the scripts for this pageant, knowing it will take several generations for the denominations to create synagogue or church services with the intermarried in mind. By the way the process for couples taking charge of their spiritual identity begins with how we create their wedding ceremony. The script for the ceremony is chosen by the bride and groom with the guidance of this rabbi. This approach is a radical transformation, considering the old way is for the clergy to determine every word of the ceremony, or to read, word for word, wedding after wedding, the predetermined script from the Manuel provided by all the denominations of religion.
Ed did not encourage conversion. This one stop solution simply announces the triumph of one tradition over another. The Myth of the Shiksa exposes the tendency of any family to avoid responsibility by blaming outsiders for all woes. Religion becomes a smokescreen. Why are so many modern young Jews marginal to tradition? Who is to blame? The blond shiksa goddess? Why not. The myth is that the Shiksa pulls the Jew out of the fold in a type of religious seduction. The facts, as Ed explained, and I have experienced over and over, is that the non Jewish partner is keenly interested in all things Jewish and would love to incorporate all that deserves conserving in Judaism in her relationship with her beloved Jewish partner. In my practice this happens, since I do not demand she give up her selfhood and identity. Then I help construct the foundation and ground floor of the Home Sanctuary every couple must build to raise their family.
All of the above is not always true when a Jew marries a Jew, creating the curious paradox that the future of Jewish practice might best be assured by advocating intermarriage.
So this is what Ed taught me:
1.) Be brave
2.) Dare to be different.
3.) Be vulnerable to criticism.
4.) Stay calm and focused and persevere.
5.) Write your “I have a dream speech”
6.) Go “tell it on your mountain.”
I heard and I obeyed. I found the mountain, and founded Temple Shabbat Shalom. Our mission is transformation not conversion. We ask everyone to take responsibility for their own personal quest for God and meaning. We also accept atheist and agnostics into our congregation. We are all works in progress. We welcome Shiksa’s as members with full rights and privileges. They are called for an Aliyah (honor) with or without conversion.
Temple Shabbat Shalom is in our home as a reminder that the Home is your primary spiritual place, and can easily be transformed into a Temple.
Dedicate your dining room table and your meals become a religious experience. Intelligent conversation is an obligation. Simply follow the order of the Seders. Sanctifying your meals with table services in the home transforms your Tables into Altars.
By the way, even though my mentor Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman has been gone for years he still a- muses and delights. I hear him clearly reminding the Jewish community to return to personal religion and responsibility as he continues to bless my rabbinate. He endorses the Seders. They are also for “Jewish-Jewish” and “Christian- Christian” couples. They are, in fact, for everyone. They are our future.
Rabbi Laurence Aryeh Alpern
Pastoral counseling conjures a Pastor, a keeper of sheep, and a congregation, the sheep. Clergy people are the Shepard and the Congregation followers. Time for an update.
My mentor and rabbi, Dr. Edwin H. Friedman is cut from a different cloth. He expects everyone to be a leader. This is part of their therapy. He warns of the herd instinct of the flock, and the force for togetherness that smothers individuality. Followers get the “bla’s” when they do not take responsibility for finding their own paths in life. The herding instinct militates against genuine self-definition, which is necessary for well defined leadership. In other words the metaphor breaks down. Sheep are sheep and people are people. Sheep need a Shepard so they do not stray from the flock. People need to stay together while maintaining their individual identity. The flock is challenged to Shepard their own lives.
In Marital Pastoral practice the flock is often of three, a perfect triangle;
pastor, bride, and groom. This triangle intersects with many others, and the geometry is complicated by the fact that almost all couples come from different religions and cultures. When I co-officiate the triangle becomes a square. Either way, in the end, every couple must learn to pastor their own lives. As my mentor explains, contrary to popular thinking, it does not require two people working on a marriage to change the bonds and binds between spouses. Even one partner with vision and courage can Shepard a relationship along paths of still waters and harmony. In other words, if you want your partner to change, stay connected, dare to be different, and change yourself rather than trying to fix them.
Couples often focus on their wedding and the perfect ceremony and are reminded that a wedding is a portal to the future. Once you are married the task is to stay together, and bonded, but not so fused that one partner is the pastor and the other “sheepish”. God willing couples hear my counsel that playfulness and a sense of humor are an essential counterbalance to seriousness in marriage.
At Temple Shabbat Shalom we practice what we preach. Our home is a sanctuary and our kitchen and dining room tables are altars. We do table services around the cycle of the year, including, for example, on Rosh Hashanah and New Years, on Sukkoth and Thanksgiving. Both Karen and I lead, and our conversations on the sanctity of spiritual practice keep us focused. We are also study partners, a chavura of two. This focus has opened our eyes, mind and hearts to an alternative to the herding that is the hallmark of many congregations. We both have Kiddush cups since each of us understand our personal responsibility to have imagination, and to be on our own individual quest for self. This is how a cup becomes a holy grail. All we offer in the ALPERN SEDERS we do ourselves.
I have been blessed with the best teachers of our generation, and most of all with Rabbi Friedman. More than any of my other “Shepherds” Ed teaches us how to chart our course in an ever changing world. His last Book, A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Seabury Books, N.Y.N.Y. is must reading. I suggest a study group to discuss how we move from failure to courage. Every time I finish the book I say, in Hebrew, Chazak Chazak V neat Chazake. Be strong. Be strong. And let us strengthen one another.
The glass is broken and the real relationship begins. Idealization is shattered just as the honeymoon begins. During the wedding ceremony
renewal is mentioned, for love is a process, and ever changing. Just as every couple writes their own ceremony, every couple is called to organize their conversation at table to the supreme themes of art and song. Yeats is right that innocence and beauty are born in custom and ceremony. The poet also teaches that young love becomes true love, like wine, in aging.
Young we love each other, and are ignorant.
Do you expect perfection in your marriage? Will, or did you save the broken shards of the glass broken at your wedding?
My mentor assures us that on a scale of one to a hundred no couple has ever scored more than a seventy in marriage. This means a “C” is an “A”
Good news for those expecting a perfect marriage.
With an abundance of pre-marital counseling, why is the divorce rate still so high? Couples turn to Priests, Pastors and Rabbis to get married.
How do you stay married? Do you have a specific plan? Exactly how will you raise your children?
The good news is that Temple Shabbat Shalom has a plan in place. Remember, your wedding day approaches at lightening speed and any Pastoral advice most likely finds sage counsel out to pasture.
Write out your plan for raising your family before the wedding.
A Family Systems Approach to Your Wedding
A wedding weekend is a hinge in time; doors are opened or closed that impact the family system for generations. The Rehearsal is often as important as the actual ceremony, affording bride and groom a chance to demonstrate that they will stay connected to their family of origin even as they become a couple.
I counsel couples to show up with a clear plan that illustrates a meeting of minds. Where parents stand or sit, and the placement of brides and grooms; and their maids and men, has already been decided. Couples are also permitted to try something original. If a wedding co-coordinator is present they are informed of all decisions by bride and groom before the rehearsal. Let the ceremony begin.
Resources, from Pastoral Counseling to Family Systems Theory
What one book on staying married? I am tempted to send you to
Ed again, or to Dr. Michael Kerr, the main consultant, via his book on family evaluation, to my year of post graduate family therapy training with Dr. Peter Titelman in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Instead, I suggest Roberta M. Gilbert, M.D. and her Extraordinary Relationships, A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions, Chronimed Publishing 1992.
All that follows is from her study:
(From Chapter 19: Ten Misconceptions and Ten Rules for an extraordinary relationship.
1.) My partner will make me happy.
2.) I will change you.
3.) Logic and emotion are at odds.
4.) I have a right to react to your outbursts.
5.) This relationship will never get better.
6.) I have done all I can do, and still…..
7.) If we just talk about our feelings things will be better.
8.) My family did me in!
9.) Love me like my mother or you don’t love me.
10.) If I can only get away from my family, all will be well.
10 Rules for Extraordinary Relationships:
1.) I am calm and can be different and objective.
2.) I practice introspection and will change myself without expectations of reciprocity.
3.) I will bond without binding, and stay in touch, even in marital crisis.
4.) I will be the initiator.
5.) I will be less reactive.
6.) I do not feel your feelings, I feel my own.
7).) I rely on inner guidance more than the need to be liked.
8.) I love myself so that I may love you.
9.) I will make calm and thoughtful decisions that will stand the test of time.
10.) I can say both “We” and “Me”.
The Ten Reduced to One:
“The goal… is to rise up out of the emotional togetherness of the herd.”
The founder of Family Therapy, Murray Bowen M.D.