What the Passover Seder reveals about interfaith couples.

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
April 17 2008 7:14 AM

The Passover Test

What the Passover Seder reveals about interfaith couples.

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But there's an even wider margin between these two groups—the one symbolizing the most contentious corner of the optimist/pessimist debate. "One issue consistently brought up by both Christian and Jewish partners was the decision to have a Christmas tree," the Dashefsky study stated. Almost 100 percent of inmarried couples do not have trees; nearly 80 percent of intermarried families sometimes—or always—have them.

To Cohen, this is yet another component of "the overwhelming evidence of very weak levels of Jewish engagement," as he told a gathering of Reform Jewish rabbis earlier this month. According to this school of thought, celebrating both the Seder and Christmas cannot be proof of Jewish attachment. But the "optimists" look at the trees and see a different forest: Family connection and cultural habits of the non-Jewish spouse are those responsible for the tendency of even "Jewish interfaith couples" to erect the Christmas tree in the winter, they say. Two ways of looking at the same data. One—the cup half full. One—as Woody Allen said in the movie Scoop—also the cup half full. With poison.

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A couple of days ago, in the Wall Street Journal, there was a story about the Mothers Circle, a program for non-Jewish women raising Jewish kids. Its headline was funny but right to the point: "But Will the Chicken Soup Taste as Good?" Hundreds of thousands of such mothers (and fathers) will be sitting at the Seder table next week and asking themselves such questions. Their chicken soup might taste as good, but it will inevitably also taste somewhat different.

And there will be something different about their Seder itself, too. Passover, more than any other Jewish holy day, is the one in which Jews celebrate not their religion but this strange concept of becoming a people. This idea, of Jewish people-hood—the historic fact that Jews, for generations, didn't see themselves as just sharing their faith, but also their national fate—will be the one most challenged by the influx of people from other religions into the Jewish community.

Correction, April 17, 2008: Due to an editing error, this piece referred to "non-Passover seders" instead of Passover seders. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Shmuel Rosner is a Tel Aviv-based columnist. He blogs daily at Rosner's Domain.