Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael

Interfaith Families

Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael takes pride in welcoming all families at various stages of life.  We know that synagogues can be confusing despite our efforts NOT to be so.  Perhaps, you’ll find some answers to your questions below, and then you’ll feel more comfortable coming through our doors.  If you don’t find the answer to your question here, feel free to reach out to Rabbi Nesson directly at ravdjn@aol.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is intermarriage?

Generally, this term  refers to a couple in which one member is Jewish and the other is from another faith community.  

Does my partner have to convert in order for us to participate in synagogue life, to attend services, come to programs or to join?

No.  At MJCBY we welcome all to join our community and participate in synagogue life.   There will be no pressure on non-Jewish partners to convert.

How do intermarried families fit in at MJCBY?

Families find their own way to participate in synagogue life at MJCBY.  There is no “cookie-cutter” model answer to this question.   For some families, the non-Jewish partner is as active as, or even more active than, the Jewish partner.  In some families, the non-Jewish partner stays home and chooses not to participate at all.  Each family will discover what works best  for their family.   Your family is welcome to participate in the way that feels right to you.  

Can we join Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael? 

Yes!  We have several  interfaith families who are members of our congregation.  While there are a few rituals that are reserved for our Jewish members, our non-Jewish members participate fully in all other areas of synagogue life.   Please reach out to the rabbi for more information about specific rituals.   

Why should we join MJCBY?

If you believe that Judaism is something that can enrich your life,  MJCBY is here to help you explore this venue.    It is a place where you can enrich your life through study, spirituality and service to the community.  It is also a place where your children  can also explore their Judaism.  Most importantly, it is a place where you can meet other people who are on a similar journey.

What are some of the best things about MJCBY for intermarried families?

MJCBY is a place where all members of your family can engage with the Jewish tradition in their own manner.  Members at all ages and stages find something at MJCBY to meet their interests.  For intermarried families looking to include Jewish traditions into their families, we have many ways to help make that happen.

What does it mean to convert? How does it work?

If someone in your family is interested in converting, from another faith tradition or from no faith at all, should contact a rabbi directly.  The first step is to engage in a period of study, lasting about a year, giving the individual the opportunity to experience an entire cycle of the Jewish calendar.  Rabbis want to be sure that the individual is making an informed decision.  After that year of study, the individual meets with three rabbis from a rabbinic court.   Although this sounds intimidating, it is usually a cordial, welcoming and exciting experience.  Once the rabbis determine that the individual seriously wants to be Jewish, there is an immersion in a mikvah, ritual bath.  The person then receives a Hebrew name (s/he chooses it after some research) and is welcomed into the Jewish community.  

Can my children attend Shalom Yeladim – Judie Gerstein Early Learning Center?  

We welcome all members of the greater community to be a part of our Shalom Yeladim family.  

Can my children participate in religious school at MJCBY?  

Children from kindergarten through 3rd Grade, are welcome to participate in our school even if they are not fully Jewish according to Jewish law.  From Fourth Grade on, a student must either be the child of a Jewish mother or a Jew-by-choice. Children that are going through the conversion process are asked to do so before the start of 3rd grade.  Fourth grade is when we assign dates for bar and bat mitzvah, and a child must be Jewish to become a bar or bat mitzvah.  

Can we have a baby-naming or bris ceremony at MJCBY?

We would  be thrilled to celebrate the arrival of your child with you.  Even if you don’t have the ceremony here in our building, the rabbi would  be happy to help you choose a Hebrew name for your child or officiate at a baby-naming ceremony.  If you need assistance finding a mohel (professional  who is trained to perform ritual circumcisions), the rabbi can help with that too.

Can our children become bar or bat mitzvah at MJCBY?  

Jewish children from an interfaith family may become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah – assuming that they go through all the education and preparation.  There are two parts to a child being Jewish for Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  The first is the child’s Jewish status.  If a child was born to a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism through immersion in the mikvah ‘(ritual bath)’, then he/she is Jewish.  The 2nd part is that the child must decide that he/she wants to be Jewish.  Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a public declaration of one’s intent to be a part of our covenant with G-d.  It’s never too early to begin the conversation with the rabbi about this important lifecycle event.

What about my non-Jewish partner and Jewish lifecycle events?

At MJCBY, we  wish to include and honor the non-Jewish partners who make these moments possible. So, for baby-namings and Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, we gladly welcome non-Jewish partners up on the bimah in our sanctuary to join in appropriate parts of these sacred moments.

Can Rabbi Nesson and/or Cantor Onigman officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew?

While Rabbi Nesson does not officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies, Cantor Onigman may be available to do so.

Can Rabbi Nesson and/or Cantor Onigman officiate at a funeral for an interfaith family?

This question is complicated because it depends on who has passed away and how they are connected religiously in life.  If the person who passed away was a part of another faith community, then the funeral should take place under the auspices of that other faith community.  Of course, our community will be there to support an interfaith family during their period of mourning. Note that Jewish cemeteries have their own requirements for whether or not they will accept a non-Jewish member of the Jewish Community for burial.  

What if we want to raise our children in both religions?

Although many people try to accomplish this, it is actually very difficult to accomplish.  When children have parents from two different faith traditions, they should certainly be exposed to both.  However, religions have differences and contradictions.  At some point, a family needs to decide on one religion.  We are always respectful of both faiths, but believe that it is simply not possible to be raised in both.  So, in our congregation, we ask that you make the determination by the time a child enters 3rd grade.  

Do you offer religious counseling on issues of intermarriage?

The rabbi would be happy to sit down with you and start discussing the issues.  Religion and marriage are two of the most complicated things anyone will encounter in life.  When you combine them, the degree of difficulty increases.  So, please reach out to our clergy and start the conversation.