- Created: November 3, 2004
- Written by USCCB Office of Media Relations
The semi-annual meeting of the U.S. Catholic-Jewish Consultation Committee was held at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 3, 2004. The major topic of discussion was the challenge of mixed marriage in American life and how our communities are responding to its problems and possibilities both for the couples involved and for the raising of their children. With the mixed-marriage rate rising to around fifty percent in the Jewish community and close to that in the Catholic community, the challenges have become more acute for both faiths. The four presenters discussed both the understanding of marriage in their respective communities and the pastoral and programmatic responses of each. They were Dru Greenwood of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Alan Silverstein of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Rev. John Crossin, O.S.F.S., of the Washington Theological Consortium, and Lori Pryzbysz of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The Reform Movement in Judaism took note some twenty-five years ago of the words of Rabbi Alex Schindler that "mixed marriage is the sting that accompanies the honey of freedom in an open society." In an attempt to save or even increase the Jewish element in such marriages, they launched an ambitious program of outreach, inviting the non-Jewish partner to learn about and perhaps accept Judaism, as well as acknowledging as Jews children whose father is Jewish, whereas Judaism traditionally has accepted as Jews only those born of Jewish mothers. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform) discourages Reform rabbis from participating in interreligious marriages but allows its members to follow their own interpretations of Jewish law (halachah). If the children of the marriage are being raised as Jews, and only as Jews, the non-Jewish spouse may be involved in certain activities within synagogue life. The Conservative Jewish approach actively promotes endogamy, the marriage of Jews with Jews, through youth and young-adult programs, outreach to the non-Jewish partner, and concerted efforts to integrate the newly converted into the mainstream of synagogue life. The Rabbinical Assembly prohibits its members from any participation in an interreligious wedding ceremony. Conservative Judaism sees only the marriage of two Jews as kiddushin (a sacred event).
Crossin discussed the sacramental meaning of marriage in which God is a spiritual partner. As marriage is for Judaism a symbol and image of God's covenantal love for God's People Israel, so is the marriage of two baptized persons for Christianity a sign and symbol of the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and the church. Pryzbysz described the need to counsel couples both before and after the wedding ceremony in strengthening and growing in their religious commitment without sacrificing religious principles. All four presenters concurred that a marriage is a holy union sanctified by a religious ceremony, a "sacrament," a spiritually transforming event that demands of the couple an attitude and life of sanctity. They also agreed that it is vastly preferable for the offspring of mixed marriages to be raised exclusively in one tradition or the other, while maintaining an attitude of respect for the religious traditions of the "other" side of the family. Attempting to raise a child simultaneously as both Jewish and Catholic, all agreed, can only violate the integrity of both religious traditions, at best, and, at worst, lead to syncretism.
In one sense the Catholic Church may be more accepting of the phenomenon of intermarriage than Jews, since it sees marriage as a right and a duty conferred on all humanity in the very act of Creation (Genesis 1) and, hence, prior to any religious distinctions within the one human family. On a practical level, there are over 1,000,000,000 Catholics in the world, whereas there are today only some 13,000,000 Jews, fewer than the number of Jews in the world before the Holocaust. Thus, out-marriage (exogamy) poses a very real demographic threat to the survival of Judaism, which in most places in the world is at best a tiny minority of the population. The challenge of raising children in such marriages is real, as are the challenges posed for the duration of the marriage itself. All agree that the dialogue of the religious community must begin as early as possible and not end with the ceremony itself. The individualism and autonomy inherent in American social norms was seen as one factor enabling more and more people to "marry out." More recent trends toward a search for meaning in spirituality, it was offered, might provide religious communities with the opportunity to stress the importance of heteronomy as integral to the full spiritual maturity of the individual.
In the session on sharing concerns the group heard a report by Judith Hertz of the Union for Reform Judaism and Cardinal William H. Keeler (Baltimore) about the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee meeting held in July, 2004, in Buenos Aires. That meeting's joint statement on "Justice and Love" was embodied for participants by its visits to a Catholic-Jewish anti-poverty center and to the Jewish Community Center of Argentina, which had been destroyed in a terrorist attack ten years earlier. The statement also condemned recent manifestations of anti-Zionism around the world, many of which, in the words of the Vatican's 1988 statement, "The Church and Racism," serve today, as then, "as a screen for anti-Semitism" and which "may lead to it." Msgr. Robert Stern of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association reported that progress has been made in Israel in addressing concerns of the Christian community there, such as the issuance of visas for church workers, which have been raised in earlier meetings of the U.S. Consultation Committee.
The Consultation also discussed the state of Jewish-Catholic relations in the wake of the film, The Passion of the Christ, which caused such deep and understandable concern within the Jewish community worldwide. The film, it was noted, was in reality a modem version of the notorious medieval Passion Plays that so often over the centuries have triggered riots against the Jews of Europe. Happily, however, the film precipitated no such anti-Jewish violence. Rather, in many places it sparked discussions in which Catholics learned why Jews feared such dramatic depictions of the death of Jesus, and Jews learned that many Catholics today have taken to heart the teaching of Vatican II that the Jews collectively cannot be held responsible "then or now" for Jesus' death. It was noted as well that continuing work is needed among those who have not yet absorbed these official teachings of the Church.