Rabbi Marc’s Top 5 Tips for Engaged Interfaith Couples

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Rabbi Marc officiating a wedding

I have performed over 3,000 weddings throughout my 40-year career and I am passionate about working with Jewish interfaith couples. I recently wrote a novel, called Weddings by the Glass, an exploration of how an interfaith couple, from the engagement through the wedding ceremony, navigate some of the challenges that are unique in an interfaith relationship. Here are five of my top tips for engaged couples.

1. Acknowledge and Truly Accept Your Different Faiths

You have a unique relationship that represents both who you are together, as well as who you are as individuals. Out of two different and distinct religious traditions, you have come together to learn the best of what the other has to offer, appreciating your differences, while confirming that being together is far better than being apart. A question and answer session can help resolve nagging issues regarding the role faith will play in your marriage. Few couples really take the time to learn about the other’s faith and truly support their partner’s religion, while at the same time strengthening and validating their own religion.

Celebrate both individual’s religious holidays together, and visit your fiancé’s place of worship. By doing this, you can set the stage for both mutual understanding and further acceptance of the other person. This acknowledgement and acceptance will open up lines of communication about the role of faith in your relationship. You’ll find that each faith can inform and strengthen the other.

2. Work Toward Mutual Understanding with Extended Family

You may face the hurdle of receiving the approval and understanding of each other’s families. Many families expect—and sometimes even demand—that their child marry within their faith. Receiving the validation of the relationship, and overcoming the objection of “This is not the marriage I expected for my child,” is difficult when families feel betrayed. Emotions can range from disappointment to outright denial or even anger. Therefore, great care should be taken to reassure each close family member that the marriage will respect their family traditions and religious views, and that out of this mutual understanding the marriage will grow strong and thrive, rather than wither under the burden of family bitterness.

It should go without saying that no one should ever be disliked on the basis of race, religion or creed. However, respect is earned. Each parent should make a good faith attempt to get to know their future son or daughter-in-law, but it’s just as important to get to know your in-laws to-be. Every person needs to feel validated in this new family, so make sure to interact and get to know your partner’s family. Get to know, and hopefully appreciate, how each family member feels regarding the marriage, and how religion or faith colors each person’s viewpoint. This is not easy work, to say the least, and can be painful if rejection happens or misunderstandings block communication, but the payoff down the road can be enormous. This effort can set the stage for your relationship with your new family to grow. And when hard times strike, as they almost invariably will, this mutual understanding may help solve difficult family conflicts that otherwise would be unsolvable.

3. Seek Out/Accept the Respectful Guidance of Clergy

You will need to be able to successfully integrate each other’s respective clergy into the wedding and marriage if you are being married by a clergy person/people. One or both partners may have a special and deep relationship to clergy that have had a major impact in your lives. Or perhaps not. Regardless, it is an issue that should be discussed together (and with your respective families). As the wedding ceremony planning develops, make an effort to interact and talk with your partner’s clergy if they have a relationship with one. Why? This will open up lines of communication that will help to make the wedding ceremony more transparent to you both. Open communication about what is expected becomes crucial in maintaining a positive and uplifting ceremony.

The guidance of clergy can also boost your efforts to build a spiritual and meaningful wedding ceremony. Many clergy members have helped to guide couples to integrate different faiths in the wedding ceremony, and their informed wisdom can help ease any anxiety you may have. Wedding officiants will often be willing to assist in resolving fears or concerns regarding family, friends or any issues than can complicate or interfere with a wonderful and deeply spiritual event. To find clergy in your area, use InterfaithFamily’s free referral service.

4. Embrace Each Other’s Vision

Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Each individual is a unique combination of all the experiences of their lives, and that includes religious upbringing (or lack thereof). The hard part is transforming how you see the world individually to how you see the world together.

Being able to see the world through a similar (but not necessarily the same) lens requires work and a willingness to focus two pairs of eyes on the same goal: a successful, healthy, happy marriage. Make sure you don’t forget to point that lens upward, living toward the light. Humor and laughter should be a reflected part of a couple’s life together to carry you through any sadness and tragedy that may occur. Many interfaith couples face unique challenges that will strain patience, hope and courage. But commonality of vision is a powerful tool in overcoming all obstacles. Let your sights be set on the same goals that will benefit you both.

5. Read Weddings by the Glass, a Novel I Wrote for Engaged Interfaith Couples (You)

I’m so passionate about interfaith weddings that I wrote a book just for you! Weddings by the Glass (available on Amazon now and to be released February 6 in major bookstores), is my attempt to give you a realistic portrayal of some of the difficulties you may face in dealing with family, friends and pre-wedding events. I wrote the novel as a guidebook that includes many useful resources, information and tips. I took the experiences I have seen interfaith couples go through and created a story that shows you, rather than tells you, what that experience is like. One of the central ideas is that since each couple is unique, the wedding ceremony can also be as unique (and special) as you.

The novel reveals that what you must explore is how much and in what capacity each other’s religious traditions will play, not only in such things as in the decision of who will be the wedding officiant and in what venue the wedding will be held, but also in the actual wedding ceremony, the vows and even the food that will be served. Little overlooked or mismanaged things can often have far-reaching impact.

About Rabbi Marc Rubenstein

Rabbi Marc Rubenstein has officiated over 3,000 Jewish weddings and is the author of a novel about a Jewish interfaith couple called Weddings by the Glass. He lives in Temecula, CA.