QUESTION:The family of a mixed marriage with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father have two male children. They have agreed to raise the children as Catholics and the children are currently enrolled in Catechism classes on a regular basis. The parents would like the children to attend the synagogue Religious School in order to provide the youngsters with some understanding of their Jewish heritage. I have agreed to meet with the family privately but do not feel that they belong in the Religious School. What should our attitude be toward this kind of situation? (Rabbi T. P. Liebschutz, Winston-Salem NC)
ANSWER: There is little in the tradition which has any bearing on this question. We have long ago, as a Conference, decided that enrolling children in our Religious School is tantamount to the beginning process of conversion (Report of the Committee on Mixed Marriage, Central Conference of American Rabbis Yearbook 1947). This involves children whose parents have decided on a Jewish direction for their future even though the non-Jewish parent has not converted to Judaism. We have also decided in a number of responsa that children cannot be raised in two traditions, but the parents must make up their mind about the religious future of their offsprings (W. Jacob Contemporary Reform Responsa#61; etc). Each of these responsa indicate that it is the task of parents to decide on the religious education of their child, and that it must be Jewish or Christian, but cannot be both.
In this case the parents have decided to raise the children as Catholics. Although we may not like this decision, we must accept it. As you indicated we should not place these children into the regular Religious School classes as this may lead to confusion for them rest of the class. Furthermore, we do not want to indicate to our children or our congregation that we consider this kind of family as normative.
Your suggestion of meeting with the family or the children privately is certainly a good one and would provide an introduction to their Jewish heritage and minimally a feeling of closeness to Judaism. In larger communities it may be useful to organize this on a broader basis.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.