Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly named the source of statistics used by the author in the book. The review has also been updated to remove a mischaracterization inadvertently introduced in the editing process.
Radical Inclusion: Engaging Interfaith Families for a Thriving Jewish Future
Edmund Case, author
I wrote Radical Inclusion: Engaging Interfaith Families for a Thriving Jewish Future because after living an interfaith family life personally and working with interfaith families professionally, I firmly believe that engaging in liberal Jewish life can be a source of deep value and meaning not only for Jews, but equally for their partners from other faith traditions, and most importantly for the children of interfaith couples. It’s a tradition that helps Jews and their partners and children live better lives and make the world a better place – one that can flourish in an age of widespread intermarriage. But while most Jews are choosing love with partners who are not Jewish – almost three-quarters of non-Orthodox Jews are marrying someone from a different faith background – many are not choosing to engage with Jewish tradition. At a time when the liberal Jewish community is swimming in an ocean of interfaith marriage, instead of maximizing efforts to encourage interfaith families to engage, many Jews and Jewish leaders and institutions still question whether Jews can choose both to love someone from a different faith background and to engage with Jewish tradition. I say, yes, they can. Moreover, if liberal Judaism is to be vibrant and thrive into the future, yes they must, in increasing numbers. Drawing on historical context, statistics, personal narratives and practical guidance, this unique book is for everyone interested in seeing more interfaith families becoming more engaged in Jewish life and community, and particularly for Jewish lay and professional leaders. It describes three invitations that can be extended to interfaith couples to help them live lives of meaning, raise grounded children, and fulfill their needs for spiritual expression and community, and three high-level road maps for what Jews, Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations can do to facilitate their Jewish engagement. My central proposition is that the liberal Jewish world needs to adopt radically inclusive attitudes towards interfaith couples and partners from different faith traditions, treating them as equal to inmarried couples and Jews; adopt radically inclusive policies that embrace full participation by interfaith families including partners from different faith traditions; and implement a massive, concerted programmatic response designed to engage interfaith families. Instead of viewing interfaith marriage as a threat to the distinctiveness of Jewish identity and Jewish traditions – as leading to fewer Jews and less Judaism – we need to change the Jewish narrative about intermarriage from the fundamentally negative to the confidently positive, and eliminate the borders and boundaries that frown on or exclude partners from different faith backgrounds. Interfaith families won’t engage unless Jewish communities warmly embrace them, and that won’t happen unless Jews view and treat interfaith relationships as positive. Instead of focusing on who is a Jew and who isn’t, thereby including those who are and excluding those who aren’t, we need to let everyone who wants to, do Jewish. Instead of focusing on identifying as a member of the Jewish people – distinguishing and even disparaging others – we need a broad, inclusive concept of a Jewish community made up of Jews and their partners who are engaging in Jewish traditions. Paradoxically, to maintain distinctive Jewish traditions, we need to be radically inclusive of partners from different faiths and the children of interfaith families. I hope this book will lead to an opening of hearts and minds for Jews, Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations, towards embracing a radically inclusive approach – and to a Judaism revitalized by the engagement of interfaith families embracing a beautiful tradition.
Case, founder of the nonprofit InterfaithFamily, makes a case in his forceful debut that, given the numbers of Jews marrying partners from a different faith, preserving Jewish traditions depends upon the Jewish community being more open to and welcoming of interfaith marriages. As people are increasingly marrying across religious and cultural traditions, almost three-quarters of “non-Orthodox Jews are now intermarrying,” Case writes, citing the Pew Research Center's 2013 study A Portrait of Jewish Americans. That trend leads him to argue that Jewish institutions of all kinds should be accepting of mixed-faith families in the hope that such an attitude will create meaningful and strong connections across traditional cultural boundaries—even where the non-Jewish spouse elects not to convert to Judaism. Case makes the simple but persuasive point that rejection of the legitimacy of such marriages will only lead to alienation from the Jewish community. Jewish readers curious about how interfaith marriage is affecting Judaism will find much of interest here. (BookLife)