Religion & Beliefs

Letter to Chelsea Clinton: Ignore the Buttinskys

Dear Chelsea, I hope you are able to tune out all the obnoxious media speculation on whether or not you will convert to Judaism. Understand that the commentary on your private life is driven by fear of the other, and … Read More

By / December 7, 2009

Dear Chelsea, I hope you are able to tune out all the obnoxious media speculation on whether or not you will convert to Judaism. Understand that the commentary on your private life is driven by fear of the other, and fear of assimilation. It is not your job to respond to the terrible pressure to convert, or raise Jewish children. Your job is to figure out how to have the strongest possible marriage and the happiest children. As an adult interfaith child who has spent a lifetime dealing with these issues, here are some of the tiresome unsolicited comments I know you are facing, and my responses:

1. You picked a Jewish man because Jewish men are all such mensches. Uh, no. Some of them are Bernie Madoff, or the Son of Sam. The passive-aggressive undercurrent here is "you stole one of our boys away from some poor Jewish girl who won’t have a husband now."  Ignore.

2.  You’d better discuss how you are going to raise children before you get married. Duh. You and Mark, like my own parents, dated for many years before making the decision to marry. Extended courtship is typical of many thoughtful, mature interfaith marriages, precisely because it takes time to work these issues out. Yours is not a Hollywood fling-I am sure you have already had many conversations on this subject. To suggest otherwise is incredibly patronizing and not going to gain either "side" any points in the matter. Ignore.

3. You should convert before you get married. This presumes that one of you has to convert, and that it’s going to be you. My mother never converted, has been happily intermarried for 50 years now, does not regret the fact that she did not convert, and even has some Jewish grandchildren, for those who are counting. Conversion is a personal decision based on your beliefs and never something that you should undergo for the sake of others-and Jewish law is very clear on this point, so no rabbi has any business suggesting otherwise. Ignore.

4. Your children won’t be Jewish unless you convert. There are plenty of Jewish communities (Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, independent) that would be thrilled to have you as members if you choose to label your children as Jews and join a Jewish community. By the time you have children ready for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the Conservative movement may have joined the patrilineal bandwagon as well. Many older Jews have a gut-level, tribal attachment to matrilineality, even if they’re Reform. But this is changing as a result of the demographic reality among younger Jews, and your children will have plenty of patrilineal playmates. In short, your children will be Jewish if you raise them as Jews-at least until adulthood, when all adults (interfaith or monofaith) get to make their own decisions about religious affiliation and identity.

5. Your children will be confused unless you pick a religion for them. There is zero objective research leading to this conclusion, and in fact there is zero objective research on this topic at all. Part of the problem is that most of the research has been conducted with a strong Jewish bias-often paid for by Jewish foundations. Many of us who are adult interfaith children see the benefits and drawbacks of choosing one religion, and the benefits and drawbacks of not choosing one religion. You should know that there is a growing movement of communities educating interfaith children about both Judaism and Christianity-you can find us in DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Denver, Boston and elsewhere. We invite you to explore this option.

6. Now you have to deal with a bossy Jewish mother-in-law. Can we please let go of this corrosive stereotype, please? Anyway, you were raised by one of the most powerful women in America. Obviously you are capable of loving and relating to strong women. Ignore.

Chelsea, mazel tov! If you need a rabbi and a minister who do great teamwork in DC, I can hook you up. If you want a supportive community, remember that there are communities ready to support you, no matter what choices you make for yourself and your children.

Fondly,

Sue Katz Miller

Happy Interfaith Poster Child