Interfaith Couples: Reform Judaism Welcomes You

I am Jewish; my partner is not. Are we welcome to participate in a Reform Jewish congregation?

Yes! Today most Reform congregations have a large number of interfaith families that participate in all aspects of temple life. You can learn about Judaism, participate in worship services, enroll your children in religious school and be a part of the community. Contact a local Reform synagogue to find out about times for Sabbath worship on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, as well as for holiday services. 

I am Jewish; my partner is not. Are we welcome as a couple to attend worship services in the Jewish community?

Yes! The prophet Isaiah said: "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7) From the very earliest days, some individuals who lived with the Jewish community were not themselves Jewish.

I am not Jewish. Are there parts of the service reserved only for Jews?

You are welcome at all regular services in the synagogue and, of course, at any lifecycle events to which you are invited (for example, a wedding). Although each congregation has its own specifications about who performs certain roles, you are welcome to participate in everything that is done or read by the whole congregation at a service. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to ask the clergy or lay leaders.

I don't read Hebrew. How can I possibly follow the service?

Most Reform congregations in North America use both English and Hebrew in the services and provide English translations for many of the Hebrew prayers and readings. If you wish to participate in reading the Hebrew aloud, transliterations (a phonetically written version) for common prayers in the service are often available. (A transliteration is a phonetically written version of a prayer.) Transliterations usually appear either on the same page or in the back of Reform prayer books and you can also ask if other transliterations of prayers are available. It is perfectly acceptable to read only the parts of the service with which you feel comfortable or to just sit and listen. If you need help finding the place in the prayer book, simply ask someone nearby. Temple members want visitors to feel welcome and at ease during services.

What is the best way to learn more about Judaism? I don't want to take a "conversion" class.

Introduction to Judaism, A Taste of Judaism® and other basic Judaism courses are offered by Reform congregations in many communities. In addition, we offer Introduction to Judaism Online for individuals who do not have access to a course offered by a local Reform congregation. The classes cover such topics as Jewish ideas about God, Torah and other Jewish texts, how to celebrate the holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. A practice Passover seder or a Shabbat event is often featured. Such classes provide you with an opportunity to pose your own questions about Jewish life, belief and practice.

Although some of those who take these classes may be considering conversion, many take them for other reasons. The classes can be particularly helpful to those who are not Jewish themselves but are considering raising a Jewish child and to those who wish to be more comfortable at Jewish family events, such as a Passover seder. Many congregations also offer Outreach programming to help members and newcomers (both Jews and non-Jews) learn more about Judaism.

Do I have to be Jewish to belong to a congregation?

Every congregation has its own rules about membership, participation and governance. There is no central authority that dictates these matters. Most congregations include interfaith couples as members and will welcome your participation on committees and in other facets of congregational life. Find a congregation near you. You may ask the clergy or lay leaders any questions you have about membership and participation or call the temple office and request to be directed to the proper person.

Will I be pressured to convert if we join a synagogue?

The Jewish community takes delight in welcoming those who choose to embrace Judaism as their own religion. Our Sages however, have made it very clear that a conversion is not valid if it results from any pressure or coercion. You are welcome in Reform synagogues as a friend of the Jewish people. You do not have to convert.

As an interfaith couple, we wonder what choices we have in planning our wedding.

The issues involved are complex. We encourage you to find a rabbi or cantor with whom you feel comfortable and can discuss your options at length. Some clergy will officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew under certain circumstances; others will not. Most Reform clergy, whether or not they officiate, are eager to meet with you to discuss your individual situation.

Whatever choice you make about your wedding, past or future, you are welcome in Reform synagogues. Reform Judaism is committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere in congregations, as well as specific programming that embraces and supports interfaith couples as they make and live out their Jewish choices.

If a Jew marries a non-Jew, what are the children?

Traditional Jewish law says that membership in the Jewish people is matrilineal, that is, passed through the mother. Therefore, if the mother is a Jew, the children are automatically Jewish, too; but if the father is the Jewish parent, the children are not Jewish regardless of the practice in the family home. However, in 1983, after much study and discussion, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic body of the Reform Movement, ruled that children with one Jewish parent (mother or father) will be recognized as Jews if they are raised and educated exclusively as Jews. For Reform Judaism, Jewish identity for children is a matter of parental decision. For more information about patrilineal descent and how it affects your family, we encourage you to contact a Reform rabbi.

So if religious identity involves making a choice, how do we choose?

Children depend on their parents to instill in them a religious identity. Interfaith couples must make this decision for themselves and their children. It is our experience that children who are given roots in one tradition are more likely to feel a secure sense of belonging. Children who are raised in both traditions too often feel that they do not truly belong in either community. Such decisions are highly personal and parents should approach them with respect for both traditions. Often couples find it helpful to discuss these issues with a rabbi or within a group comprising of other interfaith couples.

Many interfaith couples choose to raise their children as Jews, and the Reform Movement welcomes them and their children. In those families, non-Jewish parents often play a key role in providing for their children's Jewish education and in creating a Jewish home environment. Some Reform congregations have programs to pair new interfaith families with those who have been members for a while. You may want to ask the rabbi for a mentor or to connect you with another interfaith couple.

We are considering enrolling our child in a religious school. Are parents who are not Jews welcome to participate in religious school classrooms and events?

Jewish tradition puts a high value on family life. We encourage both parents to be involved in their child's religious school experience and we welcome your participation. Many congregations offer family education programming that will help you participate fully and comfortably in your child's religious education.

What about the non-Jewish grandparents? Can they be part of my Jewish child's life?

Yes! A child who knows his or her grandparents is a fortunate child. All grandparents are welcome to attend services and events at the synagogue and your child's religious school. Shabbat dinner on Friday nights constitutes a special family time, including grandparents, who can share family stories, customs and jokes. A child's relationship with a grandparent should be treasured and nurtured.