Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States

Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States

Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States

Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States

Synopsis

The rate of interfaith marriage in the United States has risen so radically since the sixties that it is difficult to recall how taboo the practice once was. How is this development understood and regarded by Americans generally, and what does it tell us about the nation's religious life? Drawing on ethnographic and historical sources, Samira K. Mehta provides a fascinating analysis of wives, husbands, children, and their extended families in interfaith homes; religious leaders; and the social and cultural milieu surrounding mixed marriages among Jews, Catholics, and Protestants.

Mehta's eye-opening look at the portrayal of interfaith families across American culture since the mid-twentieth century ranges from popular TV shows, holiday cards, and humorous guides to "Chrismukkah" to children's books, young adult fiction, and religious and secular advice manuals. Mehta argues that the emergence of multiculturalism helped generate new terms by which interfaith families felt empowered to shape their lived religious practices in ways and degrees previously unknown. They began to intertwine their religious identities without compromising their social standing. This rich portrait of families living diverse religions together at home advances the understanding of how religion functions in American society today.

Excerpt

When Jewish Barbara Zeitler married Catholic Jefrey Kendall in 1988, they agreed that any children of the marriage would be raised as Jews. At the time, she was a member of the Reform movement, frequently described as one of the most liberal branches of Judaism. He was not particularly engaged in Catholic life. In 1991, however, Mr. Kendall joined the Boston Church of Christ, a movement with its roots in the Church of Christ but with more authoritarian tendencies. He came to believe that those who did not accept both Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and the particular teachings of the Boston Church of Christ were “damned to go to Hell,” a place characterized by “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Apparently, this did not cause major disruption to the marriage until 1994, when Mrs. Kendall and the children adopted Orthodox Judaism.

Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Kendall filed for divorce as a result of the irreversible breakdown of the marriage, and in 1995 the court became involved in navigating the religious training of the children. In court, Mr. Kendall declared that he could no longer support raising his children as Jews and would do anything in his power to keep them from damnation to hell by bringing them to Christ. Ultimately, Judge Christina Harms of the Supreme Court of Mas sa chu setts ruled to restrict how Mr. Kendall could present his religion to his children. While the parents were allowed to share their own beliefs with the children as long as those beliefs did not alienate the children from the other parent, the court ruled that “the [defendant] shall not take the children to his church (whether to church services or Sunday School or church educational programs); nor engage them in prayer or bible study if it promotes rejection rather than acceptance, of their mother or their own Jewish self-identity. The [defendant] shall not share his religious beliefs with the children if those beliefs cause the children significant emotional distress or worry about their mother or about themselves.” Practically, this ruling meant that while Mr. Kendall could hang pictures of Jesus Christ on his walls, despite the fact that his children would visit, he was not allowed to “take the children to religious ser vices where they receive the message that adults or children who do not accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior are destined to burn in hell.” He was allowed to share family traditions like Christmas and Easter, but not to use them as opportunities to teach his children about their truth claims.

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