Will Chelsea Clinton Have a Jewish Wedding… Part 3


The media is abuzz again about Chelsea Clinton’s upcoming wedding to Marc Mezvinsky. It’s now been reported that the nuptials will take place on July 31 at Astor Courts in Rhinebeck, New York. But apparently no one in the press knows who will be officiating at the wedding.

The overall fascination with celebrities in our culture is another subject, but there certainly is incredible fascination with this wedding in the Jewish community. Back in November we had an early blog post as soon as the engagement was announced, followed by a longer post on the subject of rabbinic officiation, under the title “Chelsea Clinton may not need help finding a rabbi for her wedding, but…” The traffic to our website was the highest we’ve had in our recent history, with more than twice as many visits as our usual highest days.

Then in March, we were featured in a widely-republished Associated Press story by Rachel Zoll,  Is a Jewish Wedding Ahead for Chelsea Clinton, that was also picked up by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. We decided to start a discussion board: Should Chelsea Clinton have a Jewish wedding? What kind? Who should officiate?

All of this is prelude to the latest – a long post on Sunday July 11 on Politics Daily by religion reporter David Gibson:  Will Chelsea Clinton Convert? Jews Wonder — and Ponder the Implications.
The post is interesting, not because it highlights the “lively discussion” on our site, but  because Gibson, himself a Catholic, takes the occasion to provide a short review of the Jewish community’s overall response to intermarriage. He starts by saying that the usual level of interest in the issue is magnified: “Yet this being the Clintons, and the religion in question being Judaism, the interfaith angst is taking on a significance far beyond that of the usual family tsuris over such matters.” After reviewing a number of different issues, Gibson concludes that “’official Judaism’ is taking steps to adapt” and refers to “a growing body of research that indicates welcoming a non-Jewish spouse can benefit Judaism in the long run.” He quotes Rabbi Lester Frazin’s comment on our discussion board about why he changed his position and started officiating at weddings of interfaith couples: “I have found in my career that you attract more people through compassionate acceptance than obstinate refusal.” Gibson’s take on the issues is well worth reading.

There’s an interesting discussion of Gibson’s post from Rabbi Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi I recently “met” when we were featured on a web chat hosted by the Detroit Free Press. Rabbi Miller lists a range of issues that the wedding brings up, including whether observant Conservative and Orthodox Jews won’t be able to attend a wedding on July 31, a Saturday (although we don’t know the time of the wedding, as far as I know). He also quotes Rabbi Irwin Kula for a trenchant as usual observation that “This is great article for studying just about every pathology in American Jewish life… an entire article on intermarriage and Jewish weddings all about its threat and not one sentence on the possible meaning of the ritual that might actually create meaning and value. It’s chuppah/Jewish wedding as tribal marker and intermarriage as either threat to the tribe or grudging opportunity to increase numbers. Why should Chelsea convert? To make sure we don’t lose her kids to our tribe so worried about our size!”

The title of Gibson’s post doesn’t exactly fit because there’s not much in the post about whether Chelsea Clinton will convert – a subject that we never raised. There’s more emphasis on “the idea of Jewish pride at one of the tribe finding a catch such as Chelsea Clinton” that he attributes to our friend Julie Wiener.  He quotes Samuel Heilman as saying “most American Jews will be looking for some nod to Judaism not being second class at the wedding – a chuppah, the crushing of a glass under the groom’s heel, maybe a yarmulke here or there.” But we’re still wondering – and hoping – that the couple will have decided that they want to have a Jewish wedding, with a rabbi officiating.

About Ed Case

Ed Case is Founder of InterfaithFamily and works at IFF Headquarters in Newton, MA.

6 thoughts on “Will Chelsea Clinton Have a Jewish Wedding… Part 3”

  • Interesting comments, but they still lean to Judaism.  Chelsea Clinton has a rich religious background, not any less rich than a Jewish background.  To throw that background away for some Hollywood romantic notion of “undying” love and “I can’t ever be happy with anyone else” smacks of over-the-top romanticism.  There is no such thing as “undying” love.  Those who have lost the person they love  always find another.  

    Chelsea, coming from a Southern Baptist and Methodist relgious background must surely have been taught salvation history — that Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, purchased her salvation.  To simply disregard that. have a Jewish ceremony and convert is to say that Jesus and the Church he founded means nothing.  This offends me and many other Christians, who believe that Jesus is the  Messiah.  If she does not believe that, then “good riddance to bad rubbish.”  

    If the groom decided to have a Christian wedding and convert, then wouldn’t the Jews feel the same way — that he is throwing away thousands of years of a rich tradition, only they would not say “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” but instead say the prayer for the dead.

    “Nuff said.

  • Replying to Mr. Hartman — we do actually refer to Humanistic rabbis. We’re not opposed to people other than rabbis officiating, it’s just that we have limited resources and have decided to start with providing referrals to rabbis and cantors. We have a great relationship with Jewish Milestones, for example, which makes referrals to lay people as well as professionals. We also don’t push conversion and if you would look at our Guide to Wedding Ceremonies for Interfaith Families you’ll see that we make suggestions for incorporating the traditions of both couples. I don’t understand why your posting is so hostile. Suggesting that InterfaithFamily.com is not attuned to 21st century realities is a pretty indefensible statement.

  • Chelsea could have a Jewish/interCULTURAL wedding, such as those I and other Secular Humanistic Jewish vegvayzer/madrikhot(im)/Leaders and Humanistic rabbis perform, incorporating elements of both ethnic heritages. No conversions needed nor wanted: why should one part of the couple be required or even asked to renounce his/her background in order to be accepted by the other? Not an ideal way to start a marriage.

    Unfortunately, InterfaithFamily.com has declared that among its purposes is to provide gigs for rabbis and cantors, so it will not list those, like myself, who are far more attuned to the realities of the 21st century.

    Oh — and about the next generation? The Sholem Community of L.A. and its Sunday School proudly celebrate the participation of intercultural families, including those I helped to get started…


    The phone rings.  I answer it.  

    A man comes on and says, “Rabbi Schweitzer?”  

    I think I recognize his voice, but I’m not sure.  I say, “Yes.”

    He says, “I found your name on the Internet.  My daughter is getting married next summer…”

    I’m immediately thinking.  Oh, another father-of-the-bride.  Doing the research.  Why isn’t his daughter calling for herself?”  And then I’m thinking.  This guy sounds a lot like Bill Clinton.  Is this for real?!

    He goes on. “She’s marrying a great guy.  We’re really fond of him.”

    So what’s the catch? Wait for it.

    “But you know, we’re Christian and he’s Jewish – now that’s fine with us – but well, neither of them are believers any more, not that I blame them, and they’re ready to get married in a civil ceremony by a judge.  Now I’ve nominated a few who owe me some favors, but then Hillary and I found your secular humanistic approach and we thought, that’s exactly what the kids believe.”

    And I thought.  Maybe there is a god!  And then I thought again.  What would I say to this couple?

    * *

    We’re standing under the chupah, the marriage canopy.  The bride and groom look stunning.  Their parents are brimming over with tears. I take a deep breath and address the couple.  

    “Chelsea and Marc, it’s been a pleasure to get to know you and it’s a privilege officiating at this ceremony.  This is your moment.  Today is about the two of you.

    “Now the two of you come from different cultural backgrounds, but what you share are common values and commitments.  Among those ideals is a respect for each other’s uniqueness and an appreciation that you are not diminished but enriched by coming together.  Some people believe that we should stick to our own, but I believe that when we tear down barriers and welcome each other into our different communities we are all strengthened.

    “Now what you also have come to appreciate is that despite the separate paths you have traveled to this point, you are united in similar life experiences.  You know what it is like to grow up in the shadow of greatness.  You also know what it is like to experience disappointment and embarrassment which are especially magnified in the glare of the media and the public eye.  

    “Now some might retreat and become bitter, but you are both survivors. What amazing inner strength and resilience you must each have to hold your head high and to maintain your optimism.”

    Bill bites his lower lip and starts to whimper.

    “But in the end, you have learned that what matters is how we support each other in times of difficulty or sorrow and how we face the indignities and unpredictable surprises of life, with grace and humor, with dignity and strength.

    “For you and your families, there is life after defeat.  Now some call it resurrection, but in common everyday language we call it getting back up on our feet again.  Making amends when necessary and moving forward, but not getting complacent or self-pitying.”  

    “But hey,” I say, with a knowing wink in Bill’s direction, who is dabbing his eyes, “Let’s not mince words. What was was.  What is is.  What will be will be.  Now is not the time to open up all those horrible old wounds.  Let’s hope for a besern morgn, a better tomorrow!  Right now, let’s get on with the celebration of your marriage.”  

    I put two glasses wrapped in linen napkins on the floor, one for Marc and one for Chelsea.  They both need to smash away at the past injustices that were done to them.

    We all shout “Mazel Tov!”  The bride and groom kiss.  Bill is sobbing.  He gives me a big hug and tells me what a beautiful wedding it was.  I couldn’t agree more.

    Rabbi Peter Schweitzer
    The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, NYC

  • I honestly don’t know.  Life is so hard and if you are able to find a person that really loves you for who you are, and wants to be your partner in life, then why let religion stop it.  You can search the world over to find a person of your faith and the marriage may end in divorce anyway.  And people need to ask themselves, will this person stay  with me if I become sick and clean up my vomit from chemo?  Just because two people are of the same religion, it guarantee that the relationship will be healthy. I say let people and marry and leave them alone.  In the cases where I’ve seen problems in interfaith marriages, it is because the family causes the problems first.  And I am talking about Christians and Jews.  The ones where the marriage is successful, the families sort of let things be.  Sometimes a spouse will covert-sometimes not.    Many people disagree with me on this–and for good reasons–but personally I don’t care how Chelsea gets married.  I say leave Marc and Chelsea alone.

    Take Care-Anne

  • Will Chelsea Clinton have a Christian Wedding?

    Why not?  Is there some law that a gentile who marries a Jew must convert and/or must be married ina Jewish ceremony?  I have yet to hear of a Jew converting or even having a Christian wedding.  Every gentile I know who married a Jew converted.  Why?  Anybody out there have any comments?

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