The Top Five Questions Interfaith Families Have About Reform Jewish Life

Rabbi Emily Langowitz

Making the decision to explore connection with a Reform Jewish congregation can open the door to rich meaning, lifelong friendships, and inspirational community. But it can also lead to a lot of questions! We've collected the top five questions interfaith families ask when on their journey with Judaism.

Many are concerned that a Reform Jewish congregation won't be a place that their family can truly feel a sense of belonging:

I am Jewish; my partner is not. Are we welcome to participate fully in a Reform Jewish congregation?

Yes! Not only are you welcome, but interfaith families are vital members of the Reform community! Today, most Reform congregations have a large number of interfaith families that participate in all aspects of temple life. You can learn about Judaism, participate in worship services, enroll your children in religious school and be a part of the community. Contact a local Reform synagogue to find out about times for Sabbath worship on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, as well as for holiday services.

Although each congregation has its own specifications about who performs certain roles, you are welcome to participate in everything that is done or read by the whole congregation at a service. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to ask the clergy or lay leaders.

Some are intimidated by the prospect of participating in Jewish prayer or ritual:

When I attend Jewish services, how will I know what to do? Will I need to be able to read Hebrew?

While there are certainly familiar melodies to prayers and songs, many American Jews do not read or speak Hebrew with fluency. Most Reform congregations in North America use both English and Hebrew in the services and provide English translations for many of the Hebrew prayers and readings. If you wish to participate in reading the Hebrew aloud, transliterations (a phonetically written version) for common prayers in the service are often available. Transliterations usually appear either on the same page or in the back of Reform prayer books and you can also ask if other transliterations of prayers are available. It is perfectly acceptable to read only the parts of the service with which you feel comfortable or simply to sit and listen. If you need help finding the place in the prayer book, ask someone seated nearby. Temple members want visitors to feel welcome and at ease during services.

To learn more about what to expect when attending Jewish services, take a look at our guide on Everything You Need to Know About Shabbat Services .

Many families come to us with a desire to deepen their understanding of Jewish traditions, culture, and beliefs. Often, partners who were born Jewish may not feel like they have engaged with their heritage as an adult. Families committed to building Jewish ritual and values into their home life are looking for a strong foundation of knowledge:

What is the best way to learn more about Judaism?

Introduction to Judaism, A Taste of Judaism® and other basic Judaism courses are offered by Reform congregations in many communities. In addition, we offer Introduction to Judaism Online for individuals who do not have access to a course offered by a local Reform congregation. The classes cover such topics as Jewish ideas about God, Torah and other Jewish texts, how to celebrate the holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. A practice Passover seder or a Shabbat event is often featured. These classes provide an opportunity to pose your own questions about Jewish life, belief, and practice.

Although some of those who take these classes may be considering conversion, many take them for other reasons. The classes can be particularly helpful to those who are not Jewish themselves but are considering raising a Jewish child and to those who wish to be more comfortable at Jewish family events, such as a Passover seder. Many congregations also offer additional opportunities for members and newcomers of all backgrounds to learn more about Judaism.

If you and your partner, who come from different faith backgrounds, have children, you may be wondering how the Reform Jewish community will understand those children's religious identity:

Will my children be welcomed as Jews in the Reform community if only one of their parents is Jewish?

Absolutely! Not only are your children welcome, but interfaith families are vital and essential members of the Reform community! Our movement believes that a child's Jewish identity is rooted in their learning, values, and experiences, not in having two Jewish parents. Historically, Jewish law says that membership in the Jewish people is matrilineal, that is, individuals are Jewish only if their birth mother was Jewish or if they formally converted to Judaism. In 1983, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic body of the Reform Movement, broadened this definition and ruled that children with just one Jewish parent will be recognized as Jews if they are raised and educated as Jews. This landmark decision to widen the Jewish tent is often referred to as "patrilineal descent." Today, Reform congregations continue to embrace children from a diversity of family structures and honor and support their Jewish education and identity. Those with questions about their Jewish status are encouraged to contact Reform clergy. Use our "Find a Congregation" search on the top right of our website to find a Reform congregation near you.

Reform Judaism recognizes that just because a person is building a family with a Jewish partner, that doesn't make their family of origin and their tradition and culture any less important. Couples often want to know how to build a Jewish home that feels holistic and inclusive of all of their stories and loved ones:

How can I honor my family of origin and their faith traditions while remaining part of a Jewish community?

Many families, educators, staff, and clergy in our Movement have close personal ties to family and friends of other faiths. One of Judaism's core principles is the cultivation of a strong family life and the importance of loving respect for one's family of origin. You can certainly join with those of other faiths in their cultural and religious celebrations while maintaining a strong Jewish identity for yourself, your spouse, or your children. And we encourage you to welcome your family and friends to experience Jewish rituals and holidays in your home or congregation as well! Learning about your loved ones' traditions is a beautiful way to both affirm your care for one another and grow within your own spiritual journey. Reform Judaism welcomes you and your family in the fullness of your story and how it has shaped you to be who you are.