Will the Center Hold?

As followers of this blog know, I got married recently to a Catholic Gentile. In the wake of that event, I received quite unpleasant comments from a few observantly Jewish friends. Marrying outside the Jewish community is the ultimate stepping over the threshold. Under the logic employed by my rabbi friend, I am beholden to Jewish law by the fact of my birth, just as American citizens are beholden to the law of the US. Marrying a Gentile, then, is lawlessness that will bring more lawlessness in its train (my husband probably won’t help me take up kosher cooking, etc.) – which, I imagine, is why these friends hurried to express their stern disapproval of what mere mortals might consider a joyous occasion.

The accusation here, then, is of abandoning and disrespecting the community by blithely rejecting its laws. There is, however, an “equal and opposite” accusation that may be thrust upon the secular Jew who converts.

Some time after a Jewish friend of mine became a Catholic, a sibling became an Orthodox Jew. Their secular Jewish mother,  who was initially terrified at the Catholicism, quickly realized that the Orthodox Judaism was a far greater challenge for the family – one that quickly spread into such vital areas of life as eating together, attendance at weddings and funerals, and treatment of non-Jewish relatives.

When I became a Christian, my secular parents were terrified that something similar would happen in our family: that I would stop sharing table fellowship with them, would lecture them about changing their lifestyle, would avoid socializing with non-Christians (including them), and I don’t know what else. Their concept of how religious people behaved was based on what they had seen of Orthodox Judaism, and more specifically of families in which some members were Orthodox Jewish while others weren’t – and which consequently found themselves unable to share a meal or maintain mutual respect.

Thus the second accusation is the opposite of the first one. Instead of lawlessness, the convert Jew is suspected of excessive commitment to law. While the believing Jews see him as rejecting the tiny remnant of God’s people in favor of a lawless and pagan majority, his own family is terrified that he will trade in his kin to become the servant of an angry God. For the former, he has become open-minded to the point of indecency; for the latter, his mind is about to close shut.

I have found myself, and I am sure others have as well, in a position of trying to answer both objections simultaneously. In fact, the process of doing so has increasingly defined my understanding of my own identity and journey of faith. For the sake of my secular family, I must remember that Christianity is about love and inclusion, not fanaticism and self-segregation. For the sake of my people, represented by the observant among them, I must become educated in the ways in which Christianity is founded neither on rejection nor on ignorance of Jewish law, but on the spiritual fruit of the marriage between God and the Jewish people.

These two goals, it must be noted, are, if not mutually exclusive, certainly not mutually inclusive; progress in one area does little to advance the other. At the same time, it strikes me that their non-overlapping challenges the Jewish convert to pursue the very heart of the Christian faith, steering him away from the temptations of fanatical conservatism on the one hand and all-inclusive liberal theology on the other.

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About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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12 Responses to Will the Center Hold?

  1. Sara says:

    Lea, thanks for this one. Bless you and your husband.

  2. Romanós says:

    Perhaps I am just too simple-minded, but except for the rejection you may face by religious Orthodox Jews, whether relatives or friends, it seems to me that you can, as a Christ-believing Jew (and an Orthodox Christian) navigate your way through Church and Synagogue safely by mainly showing mercy to those around you. ‘Blessed are the meciful, for mercy shall be shown them.’

    Believing Jews and believing Christians are always challenged to love their neighbor and both faiths command this. You and your husband (and eventually your children) will always stand in a unique relationship among three faith communities, West (RC), East (EO), and Center (J), and can be living proof that there is (as I have often said) only One Israel of God.

    I am not describing the state or results of ‘all-inclusive liberal theology’ but rather of ‘all-inclusive divine mercy.’ Bishop Nikolaj has written of this in his essay ‘The Agony of the Church’, quoted here: http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2011/08/inclusive.html, and in full here: http://walkinwisdom2.wordpress.com/the-agony-of-the-church/

    Shalom, Sister, shalom.

  3. Evagrius says:

    You are walking a wonderful, graceful path of life. It is and will be, I’m sure, a blessing to many as you help us discover new/ancient ways this truth and life can move between many ditches. Shine on. Thank you.

  4. dr p says:

    the question is not law vs lawlessness, as antinomianism and legalism really are two sides of the same coin – ie autonomous man doing as he wills. the divide is between obedience to God as and how He has revealed Himself and following one’ s sinful nature. this makes the rule-bound haredi no different to the libertine. A wide and generous circle of hesed is a good response to an unbelieving family and world.

  5. It’s funny reading this, as my parents initally flipped out much more over me becoming an observant Jew in my teens than they did over me and Christianity (it’s been a different struggle there, with some big problems several years ago, which have mostly settled). Their concerns were very much what you mentioned here – that I wouldn’t eat in thier house, that I wouldn’t let them see their future grandchildren, etc. It was understandable, as we’d seen the same thing happen with friends of the family who had children who “frummed out.”

    • The Groom's Family says:

      BJ – Yeah, I think it’s a pretty common experience, I know a lot of families that had a crisis over a child becoming an observant Jew. My mother always said that, as little as she likes my becoming a Christian, she would like it even less if I became an observant Jew.

  6. Philip Jude says:

    I don’t mean to sound totally ignorant, but are Orthodox Christianity and Orthodox Judaism at all similar?

    • The Groom's Family says:

      PJ – How do you mean? In principle, they are very similar, insofar as Christianity and Judaism are in general very similar. In practice, they are about as similar as Catholicism and Judaism. Does that help?

  7. Eleazar says:

    As per legalism,both within Halacha (Rabbinic law),and the Rudder (Patristic Tradition of the Church’s canons) are to be found at least, parallels in the application of Orthodox Judaism and Orthodox Christianity respectively.

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