Post-denominational Marriage

From The Jewish Week:

Take Lynn and Gideon, for example. She says she grew up “tangentially” Jewish. “It was an ethnicity, like being Italian,” Lynn describes. Her family belonged to a Conservative synagogue that they attended on Yom Kippur only and as she puts it, “even that was considered an ordeal.” Gideon, on the other hand, grew up Orthodox, and went to an Orthodox day school.
So what kind of married home do they have now? “Post-denominational,” says Lynn, which means taking their practice from various traditions. “I’ve learned a lot while Gideon takes his education for granted,” Lynn explains, “so what we do or don’t do is really up to me.” Now they have Shabbat dinner together every Friday night and keep their home kosher, but not to the letter. “We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Lynn says.
But these aren’t just issues for Orthodox-Reform marriages. Even when a couple comes from the same Jewish denomination on paper, they can have a chasm between them. Ayala was raised on the observant end of the Conservative movement while her husband was raised at the other extreme. Ayala explained that her husband only “realizes now what a sacrifice and what a commitment” he made when, for example, he agreed to keep a kosher home.
In love and marriage among the Jews, then, even what’s kosher is a recipe for delicate compromise. But it’s heartening to see the spice and variety of Jewish life emerge from all the choices made by so many Jewish couples.

My fiance and I were both raised in the Reform movement, but we tend to have a rather different outlook on certain aspects Judaism and Jewish life. Finding a balance is a challenging process, yet one with great rewards. Just as it face-to-face encounters can help us with difficult geo-political divides, I can only hope that as this trend continues, perhaps we will be able to bridge some of the denominational boundaries of Jewish life, one marriage at a time.
Full story.

11 thoughts on “Post-denominational Marriage

  1. Great post.
    For the first time, I’m single and re-connected to my Jewish identity so this balance will certainly be an interesting one to try and find.
    I’m working on my first post for Jvoices and I’ll be exploring this area (I guess based on future experience). It is exciting and challenging.
    Failed at finding the balance w/ Korean woman where a lot of the same issues came up that the article addresses.

  2. As a Reform Rabbi, I work with couples on these matters all the time. I am happy to help couples negotiate the waters of the variety of rituals and customs involved in a Jewish wedding. Don’t despair– it is possible to find a denominational rabbi who understands the sensitivities of cross-denominational couples…

  3. I feel like this is more of a problem in NY/large Jewish communities, than in places where a smaller, diverse community exists. Here everyone draws their own lines in the sand of “this, but not this” and it seems so important.
    Yeah, it can be difficult to negotiate two different types of Jewish observance, but no more or less difficult than negotiating any other lifestyle choice in marriage (how to save, where to live, vacations, etc).

  4. While I think the sentiment in the article is great, there are some problematic assumptions in the way the information is presented, invoking problematic frames.
    For example:
    Her family belonged to a Conservative synagogue that they attended on Yom Kippur only and as she puts it, “even that was considered an ordeal.” Gideon, on the other hand, grew up Orthodox, and went to an Orthodox day school.
    Nu? Did Gideon’s family also attend their Orthodox synagogue on Yom Kippur only? (There are certainly people who do this. Especially in Israel, but in America too.) Or are we meant to make the leap from the word “Orthodox” and assume that they were more Jewishly committed?
    David was raised Reform, but became more observant as a teenager.
    “But”? This might as well have said “David was raised African-American, but became more articulate as a teenager.”
    On a completely different topic:
    “We have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” Lynn says.
    This doesn’t seem so considerate to their guests.

  5. i think the problem here is assuming that the movements actually have any kind of homogenity as far as their ideology or practice.
    The fact is, the real truth is some X do Y and some X don’t do Y.
    you could fill X with any Jewish movement/denomination
    and Y with any Jewish practice
    and the above statement would ALWAYS be true. Always. Especially when it comes to young people, who are not so set in their ways and are determing what being involved with X movement means to them and to what extent if at all they will do or plan to do Y.
    hell, even words like “observant” and “shomer mitzvot” mean different things the different people. talk to enough people you’ll see what i mean.
    and there’s the person who says they’re “not that religious” but they keep shomer negiah or something like that…don’t believe me? they exist.
    so i mean, doesnt that mean the community itself is already “post-denominational”?

  6. all this gives even more foundation to my theory that denominations are not religious/ideological constructs at all. They’re all about social issues – food, sex, friendship – and when people find the circle of people they’re comfortable with, they’ll call it whatever they want to just to make sure they fit in.
    So when someone from circle A meets someone from circle B all they have to do is to find circle A+B or AB or C to live in.

  7. I feel like this is more of a problem in NY/large Jewish communities, than in places where a smaller, diverse community exists. Here everyone draws their own lines in the sand of “this, but not this” and it seems so important.
    Actually, I find that the resources available in NY and other large cities have made it much easier to navigate a post-denominational marriage.
    Rather than having to choose between conventional Reform and Conservative synagogues, we have had access to synagogues with multiple minyanim, independent minyanim and communal programs that provide traditional and creative options at the same time.

  8. MHPine- that is actually part of my point. In NY, you and your spouse both have the opportunity to attend a service that fits you best. Terrific. But you aren’t going to the same service. And then what happens when you have kids? What belief system will you pass on. In that way I think it is easier when both spouses attend a single service that might not entirely fit all of either of their needs, but allows them to compromise, instead of lead essentially seperate spiritual lives.

  9. Annie,
    First, the more options we have, the easier is it to find a good compromise that lets us attend the same service. Smaller communities are less likely to have an unconventional Reform congregation that has a Hebrew-intensive traditional service or an unconventional Conservative congregation with ruach and a deep commitment to social justice. Nor is a Reconstructionist option likely to exist at all.
    Second, davvening together is not going to be the center of every family’s spiritual life, in fact it would be a serious mistake to place it in front of, say, home rituals like Shabbat dinners.
    We want the freedom to create our Jewish life together without the artificial boundaries imposed by denominational institutions. The more diverse, fluid and innovative the Jewish community that we live in, the easier that task is. The challenge is how those of us who have experienced the more vibrant, colorful Judaism that exists on college campuses and in young urban settings can help transform the conventional suburban envrionment that most of us are destined to end up in some day.

  10. MHPine- You are correct, davening is not the center of every family’s Jewish life, nor should it necessarily be. What I meant to do was use davening as an example of a larger problem. If you take an individualistic spiritual approach to every part of Jewish life, then the same goes for home rituals.
    If you know that you have to compromise on a service, and grow up in a community where ritual and spiritual compromise is the norm, I think that it is easier to negotiate home rituals like Shabbat and Kashrut. As in the article, some people are just unaware of what type of commitment they are making by saying that they will keep a kosher home. In a more diverse community, that is less likely to be the case.
    For the record, I attend a extra-movement, twice a month, non-denominational (although nominally Orthodox) Indie minyan, and love it, but I don’t know whether or not I would be able to raise children in that environment.

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