Is it possible to have a child christened and go through a bris/baby naming?

Answered by
Rabbi Don Rossoff

Honestly, no. What I mean by this is that if you are going to be truly honest with yourself, then, on many levels, you cannot have both a christening and a bris/naming.

Why do I say it this way? Because as nice as it would be for intermarried parents to be able to "cover both bases," not have to make any big decisions just yet, and provide something for all of the grandparents, having a child brought into the body of the Church in Jesus as well made part of the Covenant Community of the Jewish People is not being honest to either tradition. (The word "bris" actually means "covenant.")

I cannot speak for my colleagues in the Christian clergy, but I know that most Reform Rabbis will not participate in a bris/naming if the child has been or will be christened.

As "exclusionary" as this sounds, this position is based on common sense, respect for the integrity of both Judaism and Christianity as religions with particular and distinct messages as well as what has been found through years of experience as being in the ultimate best interest of the child.
Religiously speaking, children need to know who they are. They need to have a solid, unambiguous faith identity which gives them a place in the world, a spiritual tradition through which to experience the important times of life and a community of meaning, not just to know about, but to be a part of and to feel at home in. This means that, when it comes to religion, one is better than none and better than two.

This sounds tough, especially when parents have strong feelings of connection with their own faiths and faith communities. (And then, of course, grandparents often add their own hopes and values into the mix as well.) Both "sides" have their hopes and their primal feelings, some of which they were not aware of when they got married. Neither "side" wants to ask too much sacrifice from the other; both has a sense of what they can and can't live with. Plus, if the decision as to what will be the religion of the children has been put off, it is difficult to start this most emotion charged discussion when you are still in the hospital nursery.

What about exposing children to both traditions and then letting them choose? Since interfaith marriages have been with us for some time, there have been studies done on children raised in two traditions. (In addition, I have had discussions with many people so raised.) With few exceptions, the results indicate that it is not a good idea to raise a child in two traditions; and in some cases, it is actually cruel.

Many "dual-religion" children (some, now adults) express a great deal of anger at their parents for not having made a decision and for putting them in the middle of an issue that the parents themselves could not resolve. When a person has to choose one religion over the other, it is almost never a theoretical consideration. However evenhandedly it is presented, there is the unconscious or conscious sense that one is choosing one parent over another. (One of my ten year old daughter's friends put it this way, "When I do the Jewish stuff, my Dad gets upset. And when I do the Christian stuff, Mom gets angry.")

Children need and deserve the best from their parents. This often entails making sacrifices when it is clear that the needs and desires of the parents have to become secondary to the real needs of the children. In this spirit, (and here I may differ from some of my colleagues) I have told many couples trying to decide about the religion of their children, that if the Christian parent feels stronger about their religion than does the Jewish member, then they should raise their children as positive, affirmative Christians. Why? Because it is better for the children themselves to have a solid unambiguous identity in one religion than to be given a hazy, partial, little bit of this, little bit of that sense of who they are. Our children deserve better from us.

Choosing one religion for the children does not mean being cut off from the religion of the extended family. One can celebrate holidays like Christmas and Passover WITH our extended family. It may not be OUR holiday, but we are celebrating their holiday with them just as they celebrate our holidays with us. No, it is not easy to be the "odd parent" out - the one whose children are being raised in the other religion. And yet, I have found that time, patience and knowledge are the best keys to being able to feel at home in the "home religion."