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Monday, December 2, 2013

Raising Children In Two Faiths

One of the state Christmas trees and the National Menorah near the White House are pictured in in 2009. (Kevin H./Flickr)

One of the state Christmas trees and the National Menorah near the White House are pictured in in 2009. (Kevin H./Flickr)

Nearly half of the marriages in the U.S. over the last decade have been between people of different faiths, and many of those families are raising children fully in both parents’ religious traditions.

Susan Katz Miller is author of "Being Both." (Stephanie Miller)

Susan Katz Miller is author of “Being Both.” (Stephanie Miller)

Susan Katz Miller talked to Here & Now’s Robin Young about the rise of interfaith families. She herself is the great-granddaughter of a rabbi, and married to the great-grandson of an Episcopal bishop. They are raising their children fully in both faiths, Jewish and Episcopal Christian.

Miller says what they are doing is not religion light, and they are not papering over the real differences in beliefs between the Christian and Jewish faiths. Miller says that engaging with the faiths of both parents in a joint faith household is itself a deeply spiritual act, as more and more families are finding.

In writing her book “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions In One Interfaith Family,” Miller talked to hundreds of people and looked at communities springing up to raise interfaith kids.

Were you raised in two faiths, or are you raising your kids that way? Tell us on Facebook or in the comments.

Book Excerpt: ‘Being Both’

By Susan Katz Miller

"Being Both" by Susan Katz Miller

Introduction: The Kaleidoscope

EACH YEAR, MY EXTENDED clan gathers for a huge Passover Seder in Florida. My eighty-eight-year-old father presides over the ritual meal, leading us through the prayers and songs of religious freedom. The family at the table includes believers, seekers, and secularists, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, and those who claim interfaith identity. A Jewish nephew who is about to become a bar mitzvah and a Catholic nephew who just received First Communion compete with my interfaith son to find the traditional hidden matzoh. We are a joyous, motley crew, intent on celebrating together.

In twenty-first-century America, we live in a kaleidoscope of religious identities: complex, swirling patterns of faith, spirituality, heritage, and practice. Many of us attend more than one place of worship. We change our religions more than once in a lifetime. We may believe in God or not but still seek spiritual experience inside and outside of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. And we are marrying across traditional lines of race, ethnicity, gender, and religion.

In the midst of this religious flux and flow, interfaith couples are making a new and controversial choice: raising children with both family religions. As an interfaith child and an interfaith parent, I feel exhilarated by this new fluidity, empowered by the transition away from restrictive either/or identity labels and into the inevitable and more expansive both/and future.

Americans are leaving behind traditional single-faith identities. Almost a quarter of us attend religious services of more than one faith or denomination, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “The religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories,” that study concludes. At the same time, according to Pew researchers, more than one in four American adults change faith affiliation at least once, and that rises to almost half of us if it includes denomination changes (for instance, from Lutheran to Methodist). Meanwhile, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has grown rapidly—to almost 20 percent of the population.

And yet, the majority of those 46 million unaffiliated adults believe in God or a universal spirit. This seeming paradox—belief in God without religious affiliation—will not come as a surprise to those in interfaith families, many of whom have rich spiritual lives but do not belong to a church or synagogue. My family would be classified as religiously unaffiliated, even though we light Shabbat candles on Fridays, sing Christian hymns in church with extended family, and wrestle with theology as we educate our children in both religions.

I am not advocating for a “spiritual but not religious” rejection of community. The hunger for community, for belonging, is universal. As human beings who evolved in clans and tribes, we crave social networks. Religious community provides intergenerational bonding, the support of wise clergy, preservation of our shared history and texts, and the comfort of ritual—not to mention the arrival of casseroles in times of trouble. I argue here that it is not necessary to share a single faith in order to share such benefits. In fact, I contend that it is indeed possible to raise children with two religions, and that both couples and children experience the distinct benefits of this choice. This book describes a grassroots movement of interfaith families claiming the right to create their own communities beyond a single creed or dogma, bound instead by respect for both Judaism and Christianity and a desire to explore the similarities, differences, and points of historical and theological connection. In these pages, I seek to answer three questions about this movement: Why are intermarried couples choosing two religions for their children despite pressure to choose only one? What are the benefits and drawbacks of raising children with both family religions? And how do these children feel, as they enter adulthood, about their interfaith education and complex religious identities?

Growing up Jewish, I learned that no choice made by parents can eliminate completely either the challenges or the gifts of being born an interfaith child. Each pathway—choosing one religion, choosing two religions, choosing a third religion, choosing no religion—has advantages and disadvantages. Books, outreach programs, and couples groups sponsored by religious institutions push, with varying degrees of subtlety, for couples to choose a particular pathway. Here, I acknowledge my own bias as I argue for the legitimacy of the pathway that works for me, my husband, and my children: doing both.

Clergy often state that children raised with two faiths will be confused. The scant evidence they cite dates from an era when there were no interfaith communities. Some of those who claimed they were raising children with both religions were actually raising them with very little religion at all, in part because society disapproves of choosing both. Extended family mourned for the intermarried couple; clergy rejected them. In short, many early attempts to raise children in two religions were doomed by lack of support.

A child raised in a community of supportive interfaith families, with clergy from both traditions, has a very different experience from a child raised by parents who are isolated by their interfaith choice. My own two teenagers have been loved, challenged, and guided by a rabbi and a minister working as a team. And they have been welcomed at church and synagogue by family on both sides. This book presents preliminary evidence that children raised in interfaith family communities can become sensitive and articulate interfaith spokespeople, drawing strength from two religions.


Whether Jews or Christians or Hindus or Buddhists, no two individuals have identical beliefs and practices; thus, every marriage could be considered an interfaith marriage. Many interchurch couples share some of the same challenges and benefits of intermarriage, whether the marriage is Baptist/Quaker, Lutheran/Unitarian, or whether it’s an “intershul” Jewish marriage such as Modern Orthodox/Jewish Renewal. Even if both partners are Roman Catholic, they may not share identical beliefs on the power of prayer or the role of women in the Church. Even if both partners are Reform Jews, one may be an atheist and one a Kabbalistic mystic.

Most of the couples in this book are Jewish and Christian, but I believe their stories will inspire interfaith Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Pagan families. I focus on Judaism and Christianity not only because of my own experience as the middle generation in a happy three-generation Jewish and Christian family but also because Jewish and Christian families constitute the first great wave of religious intermarriage in America, on the forefront of creating programs to educate children in both family religions.

Interfaith marriage is the norm in many communities now, rather than the exception. The Pew Forum’s 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey found that 37 percent of all Americans married or living with a partner are in interfaith (or mixed denomination) relationships. Some religious institutions feel threatened by the rise of intermarriage, queasy about the religious kaleidoscope. Many Jewish institutions and some Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, the Greek Orthodox Church, and Mormonism, have policies discouraging intermarriage.

And yet the intermarriage rate continues to increase. A 2005 report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found Catholics marrying out at a rate as high as 50 percent. The intermarriage rate for Jews married since 1996 was calculated to be 47 percent by the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS). There are over a million of these Jewish/non-Jewish families in America, a number that is growing by at least forty thousand each year.

The statistics on Jewish intermarriage have been both mourned and challenged; the NJPS study became so controversial that no new ten-year survey was done in 2010. Part of the issue has been the heated ongoing disagreement in Judaism over “Who is a Jew?” Are demographers to use the Orthodox definition (Judaism is matrilineal)? Or the Reform definition (either parent can be Jewish)? Or allow Jews to self-identify, even if they claim a second religion?

What we can say is that the majority of American children with Jewish heritage now have Christian heritage as well. In other words, children are now more likely to be born into interfaith families than into families with two Jewish parents. And Jewish institutions are just beginning to grapple with this fact. Some Jewish leaders still call intermarriage the “silent Holocaust.” Others view it as an opportunity to increase the number of Jewish conversions or at least the number of Jewish children.

When two Jews marry out, rather than marrying each other, the number of children with Jewish heritage doubles. “The ‘extended’ population of Jewish ancestry in the U.S. is continually expanding as a result of mixed unions,” observed demographer Barry Kosmin in a 2009 paper based on the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Many now call for greater acceptance of Jewish intermarriage in the face of this demographic reality. Rabbi Arthur Blecher goes even further in his book The New Judaism, arguing that such marriages are not only genetically healthy for Jews but have been common throughout Jewish history. He contends that the low rate of Jewish intermarriage in the first half of the twentieth century was actually an exception, and that the panic over Jewish intermarriage today is caused in part by the abrupt transition from a period when American Jews were isolated as an immigrant culture, back to a higher rate of intermarriage in recent decades.

Some of us are audacious enough to believe that raising children with both religions is actually good for the Jews (and good for the Christians or for any other faith or denomination represented in the marriage). The children in these pages have grown up to be Christians who are uncommonly knowledgeable about and comfortable with Jews, or Jews who are adept at working with and understanding Christians. Or they continue to claim both religions and serve as bridges between the two. I see all of these possible outcomes as positive.


For years, religious institutions have attempted to portray choosing both religions as completely outside the norm. And yet, 90 percent of intermarried Jewish families reported having Christmas trees, while over half of them also lit Hanukkah candles, according to an ARIS report as far back as 1990. But only in recent years have researchers begun to acknowledge the existence of dual-faith families as a significant category.

Faced with the failure to conduct any national survey of the Jewish population in 2010, individual Jewish communities around the country conducted their own local studies. Most of these studies measured the percentage of children being raised as “Jewish and something else” or “partially Jewish.” In other words, they acknowledged a separate category for children being raised with two religions. And they discovered that in some areas, more interfaith children are being raised with two religions than as exclusively Jewish, according to a compilation of these studies by the North American Jewish Data Bank. Such places included Minneapolis (33 percent “partially Jewish,” versus 30 percent “Jewish only”), San Diego, and Philadelphia. And at least a quarter of all children of intermarriage were being raised with two religions in places including Chicago, Saint Paul, and Tucson. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults in “Jewish” households self-identifying as “Jewish and something else” or as “partially Jewish” in the New York area shot up from 2 percent in 2002 to 12 percent in 2011.

In all of these communities, adding together the categories for “raised solely Jewish” and “raised partially Jewish,” yields a majority of interfaith children being raised with some connection to Judaism. Rabbi Blecher, based on his own experience with over one thousand intermarried families in the Washington, D.C., area, concluded, “It is rare for a child of intermarriage, even someone living a Christian life, not to identify as a Jew to some extent.”

Sociologist Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College labels the children of Jewish intermarriage who claim more than one religion as part of what he calls the “borderland Jews,” a term with a kind of Wild West flair that appeals to my rebellious side. However, this term has the same limitation as “half-Jew” or “partial Jew”—all these labels define us by Jewish fraction while ignoring the rest of our (Christian or other) identities. The panic over Jewish continuity dominates both the research and the discourse on interfaith families. Despite the significant number of parents choosing both religions for their children, until now, this choice has received little attention in the press or academia. Often, as I mentioned, these families have been accused of hastening the destruction of Judaism.

And yet, many of these parents feel they are helping to preserve Judaism, or other minority religions, by educating their children in two faiths, rather than no faith, or only with the “default” religion of Christianity. My children have only one Jewish grandparent. Would it have been better for them, or Judaism, or the world, if I had raised them without any Jewish education?


The vast majority of books on intermarriage have focused on the challenges of interfaith life. While I am well aware of these challenges, in this book I set out to tell a different side of the story: how celebrating two religions can enrich and strengthen families, and how dual-faith education can benefit children. In addition to interviews, I conducted two original surveys: one survey of 256 interfaith parents with children in interfaith education programs throughout the country, and one of fifty teens and young adults raised in these programs. On the basis of the accumulated wisdom of these parents and children, and the teachers and clergy working with them, I make the case here that we are raising interfaith ambassadors, not lost and confused souls. As testament to the fact that interfaith families are feeling a new confidence in celebrating two religions, most of the people quoted in this book were willing to use their real names. (In a few cases, I used first-name pseudonyms instead.)

I begin with my own story of growing up Jewish in an interfaith family, and then describe why my husband and I joined the grassroots movement to form interfaith family communities. I explore the specific benefits of choosing both religions and then address the most common objections to this choice. I profile couples that have chosen this pathway, and the clergy and teachers who support them. I describe interfaith birth rituals, coming-of-age rituals, and education. At the heart of the book, the first generation of teens and young adults to graduate from interfaith education programs relate their own experiences. And finally, I explore the next wave: Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist interfaith couples.

My intention is to share the joy that I have found in “being both.” I am motivated by the tremendous spiritual strength and comfort I feel when sitting with my Christian husband and my two interfaith teenagers, surrounded by over a hundred other interfaith families, singing and reflecting together in a community that provides each of us with equal rights and responsibilities. In this setting, it does not matter whose mother or father (or grandmother or grandfather) was which religion. It does not matter who had, or did not have, a bris or a baptism. There are no prohibitions on which of us can read a text, or sip the wine, or touch a ritual object.

My own journey has convinced me that interfaith children, no matter what religious education they receive, no matter what religious labels they choose, embody two cultures and two religions. I argue that American religious institutions must acknowledge, rather than ignore, the reality of dual-faith identity and the children who represent the flesh and blood bridges between religions.

Is it unfair to expect interfaith children to play this novel role? Is it a risky experiment to educate children in two religions, a leap into the unknown? I don’t think so. Instead, I think being both may contribute to what the mystical Jewish tradition of Kabbalah calls tikkun olam—healing the world.

Excerpted from the book BEING BOTH by Susan Katz Miller. Copyright © 2013 by Susan Katz Miller. Reprinted with permission of Beacon Press.






And happy Hanukkah. Jews celebrating the rededication of their temple years ago and the miracle of enough oil to light the lights will light the sixth candle on the menorah tonight. And as they celebrate this Jewish holiday, many of those same families will also be preparing to celebrate Christmas or some other religious ritual. They are interfaith families.

According to a recently released Pew Center survey of American Jews, a record 50 percent of Jews in America married outside of the faith. And of the 1.8 million children in homes of at least one Jewish parent, 300,000 of those children are being raised in two faiths. So some Jewish-Americans worry that their community might assimilate itself out of existence, and they're not alone. According to some surveys, over a third of all marriages in the U.S. are between partners of different faiths. And that number rises to nearly half for marrying in the last 10 years.

Susan Katz Miller's new book is being both, embracing two religions in one interfaith family. She is the great granddaughter of a rabbi and is married to the great grandson of an Episcopal bishop. They are raising their kids in both faiths. And her New York Times op-ed got a ton of response, not all favorable. Susan joins us in the studio. Susan Katz Miller, welcome.


YOUNG: And you have spoken about this before, so you knew what the response might be. And, boy, you got it. I'm just - let me just read...


YOUNG: ...some of the comments. Many, by the way, very supportive of your thinking and doing the same thing. We'll get to that. But the criticism is largely, as someone writes, Judaism and Christianity are fundamentally inconsistent faiths. Anyone who celebrates both Passover and Easter is at best failing to understand at least one of them.

How do you square the faith part of this, that Christians believe that Jesus is the messiah, the way to God? Jews believe that the messiah hasn't come. And in the meantime, you do good works. You do mitzvahs.

MILLER: So we're not trying to resolve those differences. We're really not trying to square them. What we're doing is we're giving our children access to understanding of all of the variety of beliefs that are represented in their families and in our culture. So we're explaining to them: Some people believe that Jesus was the messiah. Some people believe he was more of an inspirational metaphor. Others believe he was a historical figure. And you have to ask someone what their personal beliefs are to know. You can't make assumptions based on their religious label. So for instance, if somebody is Jewish, they might be an atheist, or they might be a mystic.

YOUNG: But you're talking about ethnic Judaism, no?

MILLER: Well, I'm - it's very hard in Judaism to untangle the culture, the ethnicity, the beliefs, the religion. It's really interwoven in a way that's hard to pull apart. What I would say is, if somebody believes that Jesus is their personal savior, then they are a Christian. And our children understand that, and they understand that they might make that decision at some point in their life, to have that belief. But we're not teaching them what to believe. We're teaching them all of these possibilities and that every individual grows up and makes their own decisions about their beliefs and their religious practices, even if they're from a single-faith religious background.

YOUNG: Well, it doesn't happen to everybody, as you know. I mean, there are some people who are raising - you're nodding. There are some people who are raised in homes where there is a firm belief in something and to, as you say, evolve and shift would be heresy.

Here's another letter from - it looks like a very young man on the comments pages. He writes: This article leaves me baffled. You speak of faith and religion as if it's nothing more than a cultural identity - what we were just talking about - with songs and prayers to make us feel good. I believe my Christian faith is real. When I pray, I'm talking to God. Judaism denies that Christ is the savior. For a Christian to be interfaith would be then to reject Jesus Christ.

And that to him is heresy. And many families live that way. That you can't - it's just isn't sort of a smorgasbord. It is important from the get-go to have that faith.

MILLER: But what Pew Research national surveys are showing us is that there is a tremendous rate of flexibility and flux in adulthood among even those who were brought up with a single religion. So in childhood, you might have that, but you're still going to go out and make your own decisions.

What I would say is that, the families that are doing both in an interfaith family's community, we find great spiritual depth to what we're doing. So it's not simply secular Hanukkah, secular Christmas. Coming together as families and talking about the fact that we are families in which love transcends these boundaries is an inherently spiritual experience. I agree that it's important for children to have community, and if you interfaith family can choose one religious community, that's wonderful. But not every family can or will do that.

And so what has happened is families that want to do both have come together - it's kind of a grassroots movement - and formed these communities so that we have religious education programs, where they are in classrooms where there is both a Jewish teacher and a Christian teacher in each classroom, so that the children can talk about their own thinking process and how do the two religions interplay in history and how they interplay in their own families.

YOUNG: And tell us more about this because how does this work? So it's not in somebody's living room, there's literally classroom instruction, and then the children are encouraged to go brick and mortar churches and synagogues.

MILLER: Yes. In at least three major cities - Chicago, New York and Washington - there are programs now where there are over 100 interfaith children in each of those areas in interfaith Sunday schools. And it's a complete program from, you know, nursery, pre-K up through teen group. It looks very much like a religious education program in, you know, a Sunday school, in a church or a Hebrew school in a synagogue. And we try to give them as much depth as possible in both. For instance, our group in Washington, they start Hebrew literacy in pre-K.

YOUNG: Would a child in the interfaith families in your community, for instance, that have parents that have one Christian, one Jewish - could be one Hindu, one Jewish - would those children be bar or bat mitzvahed when they become of age?

MILLER: That's a personal choice. Each of the programs has an interfaith group coming-of-age ceremony where they talk about what they've learned in their years in the classroom together. But individual families will also choose to have a bar or bat mitzvah in some cases. And that's a decision that the parents make with the child, and it does have to do with to what degree that child is feeling Jewish in that period of time. But again, this can change.

YOUNG: That's our conversation on interfaith families with Susan Katz Miller. She's in favor. Her book is choosing both. But what she just said, live it up to kids to choose, is raising a lot of hackles. You can leave a comment at hereandnow.org or at facebook.com/hereandnowradio. When we come back, Susan, doesn't having two faiths confuse kids? That's in a bit. HERE AND NOW.



And we're talking about the rise of interfaith families with Susan Katz Miller. Her new book is "Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family." Her New York Times op-ed about a grassroots movement of interfaith families like hers forming communities to bring up children fully into religions has caused quite a stir.

One reader who teaches Hebrew school wrote that he remembers a student who was upset about a grade on an exam. The student thought he had it right. The parents backed him. They told this teacher that the Torah can be interpreted through Christian eyes. And the teacher responded, yes, it can, but then it's not Judaism. And he also writes that unlike what Susan claims, a child will be confused in an interfaith home.

And, Susan, here's another one from a person raised in an interfaith home. He wrote from Uruguay that he had an identity crisis; that Jews, on the one hand, ignored him in college because he was Christian. Christians ignored him because he had a Jewish last name. He felt he didn't belong anywhere. So, Susan, address that kind of identity confusion for kids.

MILLER: We like to say that complexity is not necessarily confusion. I surveyed 50 teens and young adults who were raised in these interfaith family communities, in these religious education programs, and some 90 percent of them said that they were not confused. And even the 10 percent who said they were confused often claimed that as a kind of a positive, spiritual wrestling, intellectual engagement with the material.

What I'll say is it was much harder being an interfaith child in the generation that I grew up in because religious institutions were really opposed to interfaith marriage, and this is something I've had to deal with all of my life. I've had to defend my identity as a Jew. My parents chose Judaism for me even though I was from an interfaith family. And I've had to defend that identity all my life. And that is difficult on the one hand but also character building on the other hand.

And what we tell parents is your children are interfaith children, and they are going to have to defend their identity no matter what it is. If you give them a single religious label, they're going to have to defend that identity because people struggle when they see interfaith families. They don't quite get it. And there's a level at which, I think, people born into these families get interfaithness(ph), bothness(ph) on a level that even their parents are never going to completely understand because they were raised in a single faith.

YOUNG: It's so interesting you say that your parents are interfaith and assigned you a faith. And that was harder for you than what you're now doing maybe in reaction with your own children, bringing them up in both faiths - you're nodding yes - in giving them a choice.

MILLER: Well, I think my parents made a very good choice. There weren't a lot of choices in 1960 when they got married. Every clergy member was urging them to choose one as most clergy would still do today. There were benefits to the choice they made to raise us as Jews, but there were also drawbacks. And so any pathway you choose, whether it's one religion or the other or a new religion or both or all religions, there are going to be benefits of that pathway, and drawbacks.

But in each case, you're still raising interfaith children, and part of what we do in these interfaith family communities and what I would urge all religious institutions do is to help the children to feel positive about that interfaith ancestry and to see themselves as bridge builders and ambassadors of peace who represent this love that transcended boundaries, rather than feeling that it's something negative.

YOUNG: Well, in fact, your interfaith community is led by both a pastor and a rabbi. The pastor is the Reverend Julia Jarvis. The rabbi is Harold White. They told you that as opposed to the fears that Jews have, that this might lead children not to be Jewish, that, in fact, the fact that it's not being imposed on them, they are choosing to be all Jewish. Is that - do we have enough statistics yet to know what children in interfaith marriages are choosing?

MILLER: I really was hoping, when I wrote this book, to inspire more social scientists to look at this because we really don't have any statistics yet from academics. I surveyed 250 parents and asked them to report on how their children were turning out. And these are all parents who put their children in these formal interfaith education programs. And they reported a higher percentage choosing Judaism than choosing Christianity. And of those who were still interfaith or both, more of these kids, these young adults said that they leaned Jewish, whatever that means.

Now, a lot of them talked about the possibility of choosing a single religious identity someday in conjunction with a spouse, that when they got married, they might choose one. So it's not that they feel torn between the two parental religions. That's something people worried about. It's more that they feel both, they celebrate both, they see the advantages of staying connected to both, but that they might make a decision to choose one someday when they marry.

YOUNG: And just one last thought. I was stunned at the number of children in homes with at least one Jewish parent. It's, I believe, 1.8 million. That's it, out of a country of over 300 million. And of those, as you write, 300,000 being raised in two religions. So that leaves something like 1.5 million being raised as Jewish. And then you also have the branch of Jews that are Jews for Jesus, you know? Do you understand the fear of Jews that - that's a very small number in America - that they might worry that they lose the number of Jewish children.

MILLER: I absolutely understand that fear, and that is one of the reasons why I raised my children with passion for Judaism, connection to Judaism. My son learned Hebrew and read from the Torah. And they only have one Jewish grandparent. So for my family, if forced to choose one, the logical choice would've been Christianity. Instead, in raising my children with both, I see that I am passing on Judaism because I feel passionate about it.

So I do understand the fear and I empathize with it, but I don't think that forcing families to choose one or the other is a successful strategy. I think we have to have confidence that Judaism is very compelling. People will be attracted to it because it's a vibrant religion and because it has a lot going for it and that we have to realize that children born into interfaith families will have choices. Even if we try to label them one way or the other, they will have a choice and they will continue to make those choices.

YOUNG: Well, and I'm sure it has not escaped you that we have such an odd intersection this year of Thanksgiving, the uniquely American holiday, and Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday. It sort of seems to be a metaphor for the kind of melting pot faith that you're talking about.

MILLER: I realize both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, on some level, celebrate religious freedom, so there is a nice synergy there. But I would point out that families that are raising children with both religions in a serious and intentional way are not celebrating Christmakkah. We don't try to blend and mix the two. We're trying to explain the common ground but also the very important differences. And we're trying to give children an understanding of the real religious meanings of these holidays, not telling them what to believe about them but explaining the true meanings, going beyond the secular. So Thanksgivukkah, OK, Christmakkah, no.


MILLER: Not for us.


YOUNG: Susan, thanks so much.

MILLER: Thank you.

YOUNG: Susan Katz Miller, her new book is "Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family." Interesting, Jeremy, she said kids were choosing Judaism when they grew up in two-faith families. I mean, early research and Pew Research says early studies showing that she's right, they are.


Well, and I think there are probably a lot more of these interfaith families on the way. I've been to a number of weddings in the past many years, and I would say more than half of them have been interfaith.

YOUNG: So we didn't mean to upset the applecart at dinner tonight. Happy Hanukkah.

HOBSON: Happy Hanukkah.

YOUNG: And a lot of food for thought. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • TJtruthandjustice

    I was raised Unitarian, my wife is Jewish. We are raising our kids as Jewish, not as “both.” Above all else, religion, in my opinion, is about being a member of a community. I can’t imagine being members of both a synagogue and a church. To which community do you belong? Do you pay dues to a synagogue and make contributions to a church? Do your kids do Christian Sunday school one week, Jewish Sunday school the other? Do they believe that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead every other year? Do you do celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas day and then celebrate Hanukkah as well? This approach seems more like a course in anthropology than anything else. “I am both Christian and Jewish” is a statement that conveys a lack of understanding of what religion actually IS.

  • J__o__h__n

    Stop brainwashing children in any faith.

    • Arturo Cantante


  • Boston Listener

    The long term studies show again and again that children raised in two faith households end up with no feeling of connection or faith at all. There needs to be one faith in the house. Trying to share two communities don’t feel comfortable in either. Both = neither.

  • Tonyn Palmello

    I think what a lot of protestants, and non-christians fail to realise, is that jewish history is, to a great extent, christian history. That is part of the reason why the old testament is part of the canonized version of the bible. So, in theory, i think this is possible, but my question is about practice: in practice, does interfaith identity preclude full participation in either religion. For instance, can an interfaith child who wants to undergo rights of passage, such as first communion, or bar mitsvah, participate in theses sacraments and rituals when they don’t wholly believe in the theological underpinnings of these rites?

    • David Horesh

      Your question about bar mitzvah hilights the dilemma inherent in the discussion as framed. Most people, including most Jews, are woefully undereducated about Judaism, it philosophies and it’s practices.

      Bar Mitzvah is not a rite of passage. It is a node in someone life – a point in time when they boy or girl – are recognized as having the education, intellect, and reasoning ability to accept the consequences of the mitzvot – the Commandments handed down in the Bible. The rite was developed as a means of displaying those skills and as an opportunity for the community – which it was supposed took part in raising and nourishing the child – to see and take pride in the fruits of their labor.

      The way it was is that ritual or not, any Jewish person of age (12+ for a girl, 13+ for a boy) of relatively normal and healthy intellect and mental development, is a bat/bar mitzvah.

  • Lisa

    Considering that Christianity’s roots begin in Judaism I would think that Christians could celebrate all of the Jewish holidays which are in the Old Testament and at the true question doesn’t lie in the existence of Jesus but who he is to us

  • Taffy

    Intense belief in a “single faith” answer is just a small step away from intolerant fundamentalism and often the difference lies in the temperament of the believer. We see the end result of this in the intense literal beliefs in the middle east where they lead to stonings, terrorist attacks, and interfaith hatred. I was raised a strict protestant but was quickly disillusioned when I found that this religion produced people no better than those of many other faiths.

  • Duane_Dibbley

    I question the importance of raising children in any religion. Why this is so important to many people in 2013 is a mystery to me. Forcing your kids to follow your choice of god and making them perform your antiquated rituals is selfish and backwards.

    • DW

      Thank you! My sentiments as well. NPR spends far too much time beating this dead horse.

      • TJtruthandjustice

        There is a tremendous value in being part of a community that is not school or work related, that puts an emphasis on the greater good, on the beauty of life, the worth of each individual, the value of compassion, the vastness and mystery of the universe. People that don’t raise their children in “any religion” tend not to replace it with anything else. More often than not there is simply a void that is filled with shopping, Xbox, television, etc.

        • J__o__h__n

          Any proof that children not burdened with religion waste their time?

        • Strandwolf

          I think the Unitarian-Universalist brand of ‘religion’ (I speak as an outsider be it noted) covers those bases without some repulsive crucifixion fixation.


    I have no problem with who I am connected with religiously. Why? My parents beat the fear of god into me. It ain’t complicated.

  • Anne

    Thank you, for taking the time to address such a prickly subject. My son is 23 and when he was born his father and I decided that it is the height of arrogance to choose a faith for another person. We chose not to baptize him but did provide him with an education that included a Lutheran grade school and a Catholic high school. My son had since made his own determinations and has thanked us because as he traveled through Asia and Europe he felt he was better equipped to talk with people knowing that religion is rarely a black and white area for people. I wish more people would give their kids credit when it comes to introducing introducing philosophies and ideas that may not jibe with your own. They will make their own determinations anyway.

  • Tim Rohe

    I love the idea that raising children as interfaith will somehow confuse them. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are pretty confusing on their own, so good luck explaining them to any child, regardless of which you prefer. You could even make an argument that Jesus was “interfaith” since he was Jewish yet is the prototype for Christianity.

  • Arturo Cantante

    My wife, raised as a Roman Catholic of Italian descent, and I, a cultural Jewish atheist, have been married for 53 and 3/4 years. Religion has not been an issue in our marriage. I think that religion is a combination of mythology and superstition. If I had to select a bible, I would choose the book written by Christopher Hitchens entitled “god is not Great” subtitled “How Religion Poisons Everything.” Hasn’t anyone noticed that the most wars and terrorism are due to religious differences. The Islamic terrorists want to take us back 1000 years to primitive lifestyles due to their religious beliefs.

    BTW, how many marriages between people of the same religion have lasted as long as the marriage of my Catholic raised wife and me has lasted? Not many!

  • Midwestern UU

    My husband was raised in an Orthodox Synagogue and I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church. We raised our children with the religious traditions of both religions to provide them with a connection to their roots. We attended a Unitarian Universalist Church that teaches about and respects all religious traditions. There was no synagogue in our community. Our children have never been confused, but are confused about why other people insist that they should be confused. They see no conflict in observing Jewish and Christian traditions, in fact, they loved December when we celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas.

  • Atheists for Santa

    Get over the guilt and shame nonesense. Celebrate Christmas, celebrate Easter, celbreate Passover, celebrate Dawali, celbrate Festivus or anyting else you like. (The mere act of marrying someone outside your faith is an ackowledgement that life and love are far more important than any particualr religious doctrine.)

  • David Horesh

    From my first hand experience, those who grow up with two religions or are left to choose their path, choose the one that demands the least of them.

    That said, I laude the efforts to educate children in these dual classroom situations. It’s seems a genuine effort to provide children with both education and a safe space for dialogue. But Hebrew literacy is not Jewish education. It is Hebrew fluency which may raise zionist or cultural Jews, but will not raise religious ones.

    We are in the midst of the holiday of Hanukkah. Is it taught simply as the holiday of lights which celebrates a cruse of oil lasting for 8 days, or does it deal with the real root of the holiday and the real miracle. A small band of Jewish fighters expelled one of the most powerful armies the world had known, out of the land and out of the temple which they had desecrated by placing sacrificing pigs and installing statues of a man who the Greeks thought of as a deity. I imaging it’s the former because it is the easier, candy coated version of the story. Reconciling the Jewish rejection of Hellenism and certainly that of human deification, two elements inherent in Western Christianity and Catholicism in particular, would be near impossible.

    The above example illustrates the challenge of reconciling two different religions, but I wonder if these programs even give the children the ability to chose which level of Judaism to follow. Do they discuss and teach the scope, breath and power of the Jewish Oral Law as viewed from the Orthodox Jewish perspective? Do students explore the great commentators like Rashi and Rambam (Maimonedes)? Are they exploring the depths of Philosophical Judaism, or Mystical Judaism, and not just the post modern versions with a simply red string attached to their wrist, but to the classics – based on 2500 year old wisdom and couched in the observance of Biblical and Rabbinic commandments. If not, then these organizers are not really giving children the opportunity to choose between the Jewish religion and Christianity, but between Jewish identity and normative American Christian values.

  • J__o__h__n

    This story would have been more interesting if it focused beliefs other than Judaism and Christianity. A Muslim/Jewish family, a Hindu/Buddhist family, an atheist/Baptist family might have conveyed something we haven’t heard before. A polytheist parent and a monotheist parent would have more interesting issues than the Christmas/Hanukkah annual story.

  • Renee Swanson

    I was raised in a Jewish family in a largely Jewish community. I married a man raised in a Christian family and we were married in 1972 by the only Rabbi in the Detroit area who would marry “interfaith” couples. It was very clear to us that we shared similar values and that most of them were shared by our birth families. When our children were school age we started attending a Unitarian Universalist church and have been there ever since. Our church embraces exactly what your guest was talking about, helping children see the commonalities of all religions and making there own decisions about their answers to religious questions. In fact our first principal is “the free and independent search for truth and meaning”.

    • TJtruthandjustice

      I disagree that the Unitarian Church is what the writer is describing. As a member of a church, you and your kids are members of a community of people who teach each other, learn from each other and care for each other. If somebody is straddling two different communities, they either must have a huge amount of free time to do so or they are not fully committed to either. Observing religious rituals is only one small part of being a member of a religious community. Giving back is equally – if not more – important.

  • Mensamom

    I really enjoyed this segment today. I was raised Protestant Christian, but I have many Jewish friends with whom I have celebrated many Jewish holidays. One of my best friends was raised Reform, while her husband is Roman Catholic. Their daughter chose to follow a traditional Jewish education and upbringing and identifies as Jewish, but is very aware of her Catholic background as well. I, myself, attend a unique church that is made up of a combination of Protestant denominations and members of our Junior and Senior High Youth Groups go on “field trips” to synagogue several times a year. Our minister has said in the past that “Religion gives Faith a bad name.” I have come to realize that it is not necessarily WHAT you believe but THAT you believe. And by learning about other faith traditions, not only do we gain a greater appreciation of our own beliefs, but we also gain an understanding of the beliefs of others, which in turn can lead to a better understanding of the individuals themselves. When we embrace our fellow humans not because they are “like” us but because they are NOT like us, we make the world a closer, more united community.

  • S David H de Lorge

    The Unitarian Universalist Church publishes a Sunday School curriculum, age appropriate, for all school grades, which addresses many of these questions. Most central, in addition to questions of moral development, are specific lessons on the religions seen in our world. These lessons attempt to report sympathetically, from the inside out. Critical thinking is encouraged, but judgmental dismissal of the beliefs of others is not.

    Many parents with a serious interest in giving their children two different faith traditions would be well-advised to check out nearby UU congregations to see if they are offering this religious education in Sunday School.

  • S David H de Lorge

    BTW, something strikes me as esthetically pleasing about the name “KatzMiller.” Might I suggest a slightly altered pen name?

  • David Horesh

    I find it interesting that, at least from my reading of these comment, no religiously observant people commented here. As a person of both faith and practice I will say that I believe that religion offers structure, philosophy, and discipline that takes us humans out of the center of the equation and forces us to make choices that may not be in our own self interest. I am forced to think about what and how I eat and the source of that food. I am charged to give charity – anonymously – when it would be much easier to keep the money in my own pocket. I have to stop working and spend time with my family. I am charged to pause three times a day and contemplate the world in which I live, the gifts that fill my life, and my obligation to give even more of myself. In a world driven by hedonism and moral relativism, I want my children to swim freely in the sea of our religious wisdom and guidance. I want them to understand that they have the power to control anything and everything around them. Then I want them to understand that their religion demands and then shows them the way to subdue the foremost and most difficult thing to control – their own ego.

    Humans are frail and fault ridden – the Bible makes that eminently clear. That doesn’t mean that the religions which they proclaim as their own are to blame. It simply means that we, as humans, have a long way to go.

  • mitchell brown

    A wonderful segment but I thought one thing was missing. Jesus, Paul and Matthew were all Jewish, the picture they give us of the messiah is thus from the Jewish prophetic tradition. Does it then finally make such a great difference that some believers will perform their mitzvot while they wait for the messiah while others will do there mitzvot in the name of Jesus? The actions: care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and a concern for justice, will be the same. (from a Jewish Mennonite)

  • C.H Romero

    I am of East Indian decent and my family for generations have been and are Hindus but I myself grew up learning about Christianity and other religions. Although my parents were Hindus they had the insight and intelligence to teach their children about other cultures and their religion I could not be more grateful for this because it thought me at a very young age that God doesn’t just manifest himself in Hinduism/Judism/Christianity or any other one specific religion but in all at the same time. I was eight years old when I came to this conclusion. I am now married and my husband is Catholic. Our son is now eight years old and not only is he Hispanic and Indian but Hindu and Catholic. He has not been baptized yet because my husband and I feel that he should Learn about both religion and then it’s for him to choose what faith he wants to follow. Our daughter was the same and when she turned 17 she decided on which religion she wanted to follow and its such a beautiful thing. She was baptized into Christianty and she grew up with both religion. I personally feel that one of the greatest gifts that God has granted us is free will and it’s taken for granted on so many levels. When a child is baptized as an infant it’s 100% for the parents security or insecurity. It’s almost like an spritual insurance plan that the parents take out for the child’s soul if in case they go on the wrong direction or tragedy strikes, their soul is guaranteed to not be in limbo. This is just closing them to other regions and cultures occupying the same world. There is so much out there than just our own beliefs and we should make room and have respect for other religions. And we start by teaching our kids that God is bigger than just one faith.

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