My Jewish brother is engaged to a Christian woman and will be getting married to her in a non-denominational wedding ceremony. My (nuclear) family is fairly observant and, agreeing with our rabbi, my wife and I decided that our children should not be exposed to this event. We planned that I would go to the wedding but my wife and young children (ages 11, 9 and 6) would not.
My (non-observant) mother knows that the reason the children are not attending is because we don't want to expose them to a celebration of this intermarriage, and she has been giving my a lot of pressure to change my mind. I never told my brother the real reason because I didn't want him to feel like I was punishing him or for him to blame Judaism for the kids not going. I told him the reasons were financial and now I'm getting pressure from him too--he is offering to help pay for the plane tickets.
I truly feel uncomfortable about the idea of the kids attending this wedding and celebrating this event which we are teaching them is wrong. On the other hand, I love my brother and I know how much he loves my children and I feel terrible about how disappointed he's going to be if they're not there. What other compromises can I, or should I, possibly make? How do I balance shalom bayit (peace in the home) with maintaining the integrity of the values we're teaching our children?
First, I empathize with you in your difficult quandary. As a fairly observant Jew who seeks to instill the traditional values of Judaism within your children, your decision is clearly a sound one – assuming that your brother’s fiancée has no plans to convert and your brother is not much connected to Judaism, this wedding is not a cause of celebration for those of us who care about Jewish continuity. On the other hand, your instincts about your brother blaming Judaism are sound and must be weighed, as I imagine you hope that he will not be lost to the Jewish people. What to do then?
As I obviously don’t know all the germane details of your situation, I will base my answer on the following assumptions: 1)If your mother knows the real reason for your children’s absence, and your brother is at least fairly insightful, it’s very possible that your brother also knows the real reason but does not want to confront you. 2)You have a fairly close relationship with your brother, based on love and trust. Either way, it’s likely that at some point soon your brother’s choice to intermarry and your choice to maintain a traditional Jewish life will come into conflict, whether through family events or otherwise. Thus, it would seem to me that you should have a heart to heart with your brother, and explain to him the truth, emphasizing that you will always love him, but that you do not want to expose your children to something that goes against the Jewish tradition which you and they cherish. Expect some anger and hurt, but if you have a good relationship with your brother and he knows that your belief system is an integral part of who you are, he will hopefully understand. The fact that you plan to attend says a great deal about your feelings for your brother and family, as you could also decide not to go, as others in your situation would do.
If your brother does not understand and this becomes a major family issue, I would suggest that you bring in a third party to mediate, whether your rabbi or a professional therapist who can help your family grapple with the situation. Honesty really is the best policy, and while this is clearly a difficult issue on many levels, for the sake of both your connection to your family and Judaism, evading the main issue won’t be helpful. Good luck and I hope that you maintain a close relationship with your brother and that the rest of your family grows in their relationship with Judaism.
I begin by responding to your question with another question: Have you spoken to your rabbi about this new wrinkle in your dilemma?If not, perhaps you should, since he probably knows you (and your family situation) better than I or another rabbi who may be answering your question.This is not to dismiss the importance of the opinion of an uninvolved person, which can, perhaps, be more objective.Such an opinion may also be less relevant, because the respondent cannot take into consideration the subtle factors that are at work in the relationships within a family.Perhaps getting your rabbi’s opinion and also considering those of other rabbis who are removed from the scene would give you sufficient information to allow you to make a more informed decision.
That having been said, I am compelled to ask yet another question: Does your brother fully understand your feelings regarding his intermarriage?Surely, you have had plenty of time to share this with him.If you have shared with him how troubled you are about his marriage to a non-Jew, you may be overly concerned about telling him the real reason why you will attend the wedding but the rest of your family will not. It is a logical conclusion to how you have felt all along.If you love one another as much as you say, should he not understand and be grateful that because of your love you will put your personal feelings aside to be with him?
If, however, he does not know that you are deeply troubled about what he is doing – let alone about having your children witness the event – then I would say that your current concern is justified.You may know that in Jewish tradition, telling a “white lie” so as not to hurt someone about whom we care can be justified.A classic discussion regarding the propriety of telling a “white lie” is found the Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 16b – 17a: “Our Rabbis taught: How does one dancebefore the bride? Beit Shammai say: ‘The bride as she is’. And Beit Hillel say: ‘A beautiful and graceful bride’! Beit Shammai said to Beit Hillel: If she was lame or blind, does one say of her: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’? The Torah, however, said, ‘Keep yourself far from a false matter’ (Exodus 23:7). Beit Hillel said to Beth Shammai: According to your words, if one has made a bad purchase in the market, should one praise it in his eyes or deprecate it? Surely, one should praise it in his eyes. Therefore, the Sages said: A person’s disposition should always be pleasant with people.”
The law follows the opinion of Beth Hillel, and the upshot of this ruling is twofold: 1. It is permissible to tell a “white lie” if telling the absolute truth will hurt a person; and 2. telling such a benign falsehood can help a person to develop a pleasant disposition toward others.Beit Shammai, nevertheless, has a good point – the Torah teaches us that we should distance ourselves from telling lies, and this teaching is unqualified.One can imagine many valid reasons for their, and the Torah’s, opinion – among them being: telling lies can become a bad habit as a person slides down the slippery slope from benign lies to serious lies that can cause serious damage; and, one can never know how a lie can spin out of control, even if in its first telling it seemed harmless and justified.
It appears to me that you are caught up in the second problem.You have told your brother that your family’s non-attendance at the wedding is due to the cost of the airfare.Your brother is now telling you that that is not an issue because he will cover your expenses.Will you respond with yet another half-truth to avoid bringing them?Will that lead to another falsehood? Will your brother eventually figure out that you have not been completely honest with him? Will that hurt him less than the truth?
Perhaps the best thing to do is to take him out for coffee and tell him that you love him very much and the last thing you want to do is to hurt him. Tell him that for this reason you have not been totally honest with him, but you now realize that continuing to walk on a path of falsehood can only backfire on both of you. Tell him that because you love him you are coming to his wedding, even though you do not agree with his decision to marry a non-Jew.Tell him this has nothing to do with the character of his bride-to-be, but rather it is a principle that is very important to you and that you want to impart to your children.Tell him this is the reason you do not want them to witness a ceremony that results in an intermarriage.You must tell him that he and his wife will always be welcome in your home, and you hope the love he shares with your children will grow stronger over the years.
This last point may seem inconsistent, because it could be argued that if your children see your brother and his wife often, they will come to accept the normalcy of an intermarriage.There are, however, very cogent reasons why you should maintain and even intensify your relationship with your brother and his wife.You note the importance of sh’lom bayyit, and this is a correct observation.This involves not only your brother but your mother, as well.Also, there is the matter of keruv, of bringing people closer to God and Torah.You should consciously plan to have your brother and his wife in your home for Shabbat and Jewish holidays so they can experience the beauties of our tradition.You never know, your sister-in-law may come to “see the light” and, on her own, decide to become Jewish.And, your brother may come to an appreciation of his heritage that he never had before.There are no guarantees that this will happen, but unless you follow this plan, you will never know.And, in this way, your children will be able to see their uncle and aunt in a Jewish setting, and they can see how others find meaning in the traditions that are important to them (your children).
So, perhaps the best thing to do is to “come clean” and stop having to hide behind a subterfuge.There are risks involved, but are they any greater than the risks involved with hiding the truth?
I spent a lot of time thinking about your dilemma, and in the process, checked in with some trusted colleagues to get their sense. With their permission, here are their responses:
Here's the response from Rabbi Daniel Fellman:
Interesting question. There was a time when I too was unwilling to attend an interfaith wedding. I thought at the time that my presence somehow endorsed the wedding and/or took away from my principled position. And while I believe rabbis (and everyone else) should live with principles and be willing to say no when necessary, I learned over time that refusing to attend a simcha was not the right response for me. Attending a wedding is all about celebrating love and commitment and joy. I can celebrate all of those things without regard to the religion of the bride or groom, or for that matter, whether there is one bride and one groom or two brides or two grooms. By all means explain your position to your children, teach them as you see best. But also teach them that celebrating another faith, or another expression of faith, or even the joining of two people of different faiths, can bring joy into a world sorely in need of more simchas. And I believe that in sharing these new experiences we can grow in our own Jewish identities, strengthening our own bonds even as we experience other people following other paths.
Here's Rabbi Benjamin Sharff:
My philosophy is one should never miss a major life cycle event. The result is hurt feelings that can last years, if not a life time. Better to simply explain to the kids why the choices of their uncle are different from theirs.
And finally, here's the response from Rabbi Elisa Koppel:
Are they going to have their kids shun his brother's family for the rest of their lives? Explain to the kids that some people make different choices. Celebrating a simchah, even one of another religion, is a big deal. It's also a matter of shalom bayit. They can say to the children, all of whom are old enough to understand, that "our values are different from his, but we love him and so we're there to celebrate with him."
All of them articulate the position I wanted to share with you, and articulated that idea with love and thoughtfulness. And I hope you see the commonalities throughout. You and your wife have made choices about the kind of Jewish experience you want your children to engage and (hopefully) embrace. Your brother's choices challenge that--not on purpose or out of spite, but because they are in contrast. You could 'punish' him for his choices by withholding your family, and likewise 'protect' your children from his choices. Instead, your parents (and your own kishkes) are telling you that this is the wrong choice. Go and bring your children, but lay the groundwork. Have a conversation with your brother beforehand that is out of love for him and help him understand your own discomfort with his choices (don't blame, don't accuse, don't criticize: own your own feelings). Talk to your kids before and afterwards about the choices you make as a family and the choices that were made by your brother and his bride. Trust your kids. Even play a game: how is the wedding similar to a Jewish one, how is it different? How can you fulfill the mitzvah of loving and caring for family and celebrating a simcha even when your values are challenged?
May you celebrate in love and acceptance and help bring tikkun to this world.
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