Was a Rabbi at Mark Zuckerberg’s Interfaith Wedding?

by Rabbi Evan Moffic

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had a big week. He took his $100 billion company public and got married. As a full-time rabbi and part-time Facebook user, I’m more interested in the latter event.

Mark is Jewish. His wife is not. Was Judaism a part of his wedding? Was a rabbi there? I hope so. Many in the Jewish community see interfaith marriage as a grave threat. The media has already picked up articles decrying Zuckerberg’s decision. I see it differently, and that’s not only because my wife works at Interfaithfamily.com.

Interfaith couples deserve full and unremitting support by the Jewish community. This approach is right, effective, and consistent with our values. Here’s what we need:

  1. A reality check: A few years ago, the Pew Research Center released a report concluding that Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths. Interfaith marriage is as normative among liberal Jewish communities as it is in America overall. To pretend this is not true denies reality.
  1. A change in mindset:  As Stanford Professor Carol Dweck points out in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people generally respond to new challenges in one of two ways. Those with a “fixed” mindset see their abilities and skills as unchanging and immutable. Those with a “growth” mindset see their skills as growing and changing through new experiences.Those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid new and difficult challenges because they fear failure. They believe their toolbox won’t be adequate for the new project. Those with a growth mindset embrace them, seeing new challenges as opportunity to enhance and sharpen their skills.The fixed mindset thrives “When things are safely within their grasp. If things get too challenging … they lose interest.” Those with a growth mindset “don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it. The bigger the challenge, the more they stretch.”

    The challenge before us is bringing interfaith families into the organized Jewish community. To meet it we need a growth mindset that stretches our hearts and heads.

    We cannot rely on a mindset that sees identity as fixed and conversion as the only option. We need a growth mindset that sees Jewish identity as continually finding new forms of expression and commitment. We need a growth mindset that urges us, to use the famous motto of Apple Computer, to think different.

  1. Open minds and open hearts: A wedding ceremony is an opportunity to create a Jewish memory at a critical moment in a couple’s life. It is a chance to welcome a couple into the Jewish people with open arms and open hearts. It is the last area where we should seek to impose an obstacle.

Rather, we can see every wedding as an opportunity. We have an opportunity to welcome two people and a future family into our midst without judgement or reservation. The Jewish people will become more diverse, more dynamic, larger and immeasurably enriched.

Rabbi Evan Moffic serves as rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL. He loves synagogues and the way they bring together members of every generation to study and experience Jewish wisdom and tradition.

Originally posted at Simple Wisdom

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8 Responses to “Was a Rabbi at Mark Zuckerberg’s Interfaith Wedding?”

  1. avatar
    Jordan Friedman Reply May 21, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I believe I remember reading somewhere that Zuckerberg is emphatically atheist. I also have an inkling that he does not take a positive attitude towards Judaism, because when I was first building and registering the SCRJ’s Facebook Page, I noticed that the options for “category” included “Church Organization”, but not “Synagogue”, “Jewish Organization”, or even “Religious Organization”. It could have been an oversight, or perhaps Zuckerberg was subtly rebelling against his heritage. Honestly, it seemed to include every religion EXCEPT for Judaism. Maybe he had a bad experience growing up…

  2. avatar

    You bring up an interesting point. Mixed faith marriages are a part of life these days. The couple obviously love each other so faith should not be a barrier to them marriage. I would hope mixed faith marriages would mix their faiths and allow their children to experience both sides.

  3. avatar
    Cantor Penny Kessler Reply May 23, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Just because Z. is a billionaire, an entrepreneur and (possibly) a genius doesn’t mean that any of the above have anything to do with his having any kind of Jewish identity. If he chooses to have no public Jewish identity, why is his wedding described as “interfaith?”

  4. avatar

    Cantor Kessler is either in denial or holding Rabbi Moffic and others to a very high semantic standard, insisting that there has to be religious faith for a marriage to be interfaith. Even the rabbis of the Pittsburgh Platform, insistent as they were on Judaism as primarily a religion, admitted that were connections to a people and a history.

    Meanwhile, I wonder if Zuckerberg is such a micro-manager that he is to scolded for the use of a term like Church Organization in place of something more ecumenical that would have included synagogues and mosques.

  5. avatar

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts. Penny, I would say part of Jewish identity is that he grew up Jewish and hasn’t embraced any other religion. The question is how important it is to him. That I don’t know, and in my experience, the decision to ask a rabbi to officiate indicates that Judaism does have a degree of importance to one or both members of a couple.

  6. avatar
    Cantor Penny Kessler Reply May 23, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks, Evan. Contrary to another comment, I’m very much NOT in denial, nor do I hold anyone to a high semantic standard. I meant my question very seriously: if Zuckerberg weren’t who he is, would any of this fuss be going on over something that has become very much a part of American Jewish life? IMO it is unfair for a celebrity to be held to a standard or put into an awkward limelight simply davka because s/he is a celebrity.

    • avatar

      That’s a fascinating question. Because we are such a small people, relative to other religions, we tend to take a great interest in what our well-known co-religionists do, for better or for worse. One of my rabbinic predecessors at Congregation Solel, Arnold Wolf, once wrote, ” “My grandmother always began reading the newspaper by checking to see if there were any Jewish names accused of evildoings on the front page. Only after she was relieved that none were there, could she continue with her reading.”

  7. avatar

    As a matter of tradition and practice, Conservative rabbis are not permitted to officiate at interfaith weddings. In fact, my rabbinical beliefs and training regarding performing interfaith weddings have been consistent throughout my tenure as a rabbi. A Jewish wedding ceremony unites two Jews who publicly acknowledge that they are each bound to the Jewish tradition. Judaism is the sacred language and context of the covenant the couple makes, and the ceremony is designed to be that exchange between two Jews. Only a Jew can be bound in this way. For this reason, I am unable to and never have performed interfaith marriages although there are some rabbis who will.
    Moreover, as a Rabbi, I am not trained to do secular weddings. I can only perform Jewish wedding ceremonies. I do not know the components of and how to manipulate secular language to create a sacred container for a non-Jewish wedding. To pretend otherwise is to pretend, and for me pretending would be a disservice to the couple and to the Jewish community. I need to be true to who I am and to my Rabbinical training and beliefs. I do not want nor have to put anyone in an awkward or uncomfortable position by subjecting him or her to Jewish religious rituals in which they are unfamiliar and which are not their own.
    I have and continue to strongly support and welcome members of our CBA community who have entered or are already in an interfaith marriage. I understand that it does not take two Jewish people to have a Jewish home or to raise Jewish children. It takes at least one Jewish adult, plus the couple’s mutual commitment to have a Jewish home, to belong to a Jewish community, and to raise the children as Jews. I have witnessed over the last few decades many wonderful interfaith Jewish homes. Interfaith families have been great contributors to the Jewish people and my congregation in particular, and I have always welcomed interfaith couples and families wholeheartedly.
    My role as teacher is about giving my students the tools for their Jewish lives and as well for their lives in general, with the hope that they will to continue to learn and study Judaism as they go forward into their lives making their own choices based on their own knowledge.
    I do not make my worship services secular. I constantly strive to make them understandable and relevant for today’s worshippers. I am committed to exploring how to access the traditional to make it relevant for our members and Jews. In the work I have done as a chaplain, I am not expected to say communion, nor would I officiate at a non-Jewish funeral. I would, however, read a psalm or speak as part of a eulogy but not provide prayers that are not Jewish ritual.

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