This week, there is cause for celebration in the interfaith family world. Hebrew College, a non-denominational rabbinical school outside Boston, has decided to admit rabbinical and cantorial students who have partners of other religions. Thus, they join the rabbinical schools of several progressive Jewish movements–Humanistic Judaism, Jewish Renewal, and Reconstructing Judaism–in admitting and ordaining people in interfaith relationships. Ed Case, the most prominent advocate for interfaith family inclusion in Jewish institutions, has written an important response to this new policy change, calling on the Reform movement to finally follow suit.
I am grateful for the work of rabbis and interfaith families working for change from within. The new policy at Hebrew College is a hard-won victory, and creates a shift that benefits all interfaith families in the progressive Jewish world.
And yet, a lot of work remains to be done.
From my position as a disruptor, or even heretic, I have the luxury of being very frank: we must not desist from this work. For years, I have been pointing out the changes that still need to happen. Here, I distill that work into a to-do list:
How Progressive Judaism Must Change to Thrive
- Progressive movements and rabbinical and cantorial programs must admit and ordain students without litmus tests related to the religious identities of partners, or children.
- All progressive religious institutions must uncouple gender from religious identity, by ending all reference to matrilineality and patrilineality. The gender of someone’s parents should be irrelevant to their claim on, or desire to engage with, Judaism. As I have written before, the gender binary is toxic to the future of progressive Judaism.
- All progressive religious institutions must accept that parents have a right to educate their children about any and all religions in their extended family. You cannot control the identity of children by withholding education from them. This means we must end Jewish communal policies that exclude children who are being educated in more than one religion.
- Progressive clergy must welcome the benefits of co-officiation at life-cycle ceremonies for interfaith families. Disrespecting another religion represented in the family by excluding it from a family celebration will not make Judaism more compelling to anyone. It will only lead to sorrow, and resentment.
- Progressive clergy must stop trying to demand or extract promises from interfaith couples about how interfaith children will be raised. These promises are coercive and alienating. They are meaningless, given that we never know how the beliefs and practices of the parents will change over time. And they are futile, given that children have agency, and inevitably develop their own ideas and identities.
Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).