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Chaplaincy holds panel on interfaith marriage

Published: February 9, 2007
Section: Front Page


The Brandeis chaplaincy held a panel discussing the issue of interfaith marriages on Tuesday, before a group of approximately 30 students. The panel discussion and subsequent audience response section was facilitated by Professor Bernadette Brooten (NEJS), and featured Rabbi Allan Lehmann, Father Walter Cuenin, Imam Talal Eid, and Rabbi Aharon Frazer.

The interfaith panel discussion comes after last semesters Chabad sponsored talk on interfaith marriage featuring Doron Kornbluth, author of the book Why Marry Jewish? The controversy sparked by Kornbluths speech, Catholic chaplain Father Cuenin explained, was a catalyst for Tuesdays panel discussion. Cuenin expressed his hopes for the event as two-fold: that the event would provide information from the three major religious traditions as well as induce students to think more about how [interfaith marriage] impacts them.

We wanted to put an issue on the agenda which concerns peoplebut people dont feel they can have a frank discussion with clergy because they think clergy have fixed opinions, said Rabbi Frazer. I like to assume talking about things and thinking is better than assuming.

The focus of the night dealt primarily with law and practical matters. Each religious figures discussion dealt first with the permissibility of intermarriage and then with the pragmatic issues of whether or not he can or is willing to perform an interfaith marriage as well as the difficulties that these couples might face.

For some individuals, learning about different religions legal stances on interfaith marriage prompted their attendance. According to Lynn Lohnas 07, she decided to attend the discussion because she was curious to see, in the context of other religions, how my religion views [interfaith marriage].

Imam Eid began the discussion by explaining the Korans stance on interfaith marriages. He explained that early Muslim law prohibited both Muslim men and Muslim women from marrying outside of Islam but later in the Prophet Muhammads life, it was revealed to him that men may marry outside of Islam but women may not.

In America, Eid explained, the issue of interfaith marriage is prevalent. I do receive calls from women about interfaith marriage ceremonies, Eid said. He explained that he says to these women, Im sorry. I cannot do the marriage. I am not a Justice of the Peace.

Imam Eid added that he has spent a great deal of time contemplating the issue but he has found nothing in either the Koran or the prophetic teachings, known as the Sunna, that would provide a basis for allowing interfaith unions. As such, he said, I would not be able to officiate [an interfaith] marriage because it is against teachings of Islam.

Both Rabbi Lehmann and Rabbi Frazer shared Imam Eids discomfort with officiating at interfaith marriages. As a Conservative and Orthodox rabbi respectively, neither is permitted to officiate at interfaith weddings. Rabbi Lehmann explained that when he receives calls requesting that he officiate at an interfaith union, I try to explain without sounding racist or exclusivistwhy I as a rabbi might rejoice that this person is in lovebut why I dont think Im the right person to do the wedding.

The only panelist prepared to officiate at the wedding of an interfaith couple was Father Cuenin. While the Church generally has the inclination to want Christians to marry Christians, Father Cuenin said in todays Catholic Churchwe are more open on this notion.

As a result of provisions in Second Vatican Council, Cuenin explained, priests are permitted to perform interfaith weddings. I must ask for special dispensation [to perform the ceremony] but its usually granted, explained Father Cuenin. Additionally, the Catholic partner is required to verbally agree not to abandon the faith and also to promise to do what is in his or her power to share the faith with the children.

All four clergymen expressed concern over the issue of children. The Imams final thoughts regarding interfaith unions related to the families of these couples. An alarming percentage of these marriages, Imam Eid stated, end in divorce because of the difficulties couples face when deciding how to educate their children. In the end, said Imam Eid, the victims are the children.

Imam Eid and Father Cuenin added that they encourage any couple considering an interfaith union to discuss how they will raise any potential children before going through with the nuptials.

An interfaith couple, Imam Eid explained, must discuss the issue of children, name, education[a couple must] talk about everything so love will not be spoiled.

The biggest issue is not marriage, added Father Cuenin, but what you are going to do with the faith life of the family.

The religious education of the children of interfaith unions was of great concern for the panel speakers. Eid said that he is often told by couples that they will teach both religions to their children. According to Eid, when children are instructed in two religions, they end up with nothing. They grow up in confusion.

Cuenin agreed, saying that a child must know what he or she is[a person] cannot be both. Cuenin said that when faced with a Jewish-Catholic couple, I encourage them to raise the children Jewish because of the small number of the Jewish people [in the world] compared to two billion Catholics.

Rabbi Lehmann added that sometimes couples choose to instruct their children in neither religion. Lehmann felt this was equally detrimental, as the child will not receive the benefit of a religious or spiritual education.

Student opinion regarding intermarriage is extremely varied. Aylin Mentesh 09 said I think its important to have a discussion of marriage in general on a college campus and maybe a discussion of intermarriage ties into it.

Mentesh felt, however, that simply discussing interfaith marriage was insufficient. The discussion needs to be aboutwhat marriage actually is.

Andrew Giordano 08 says hes glad that this event featured voices from different religious backgrounds as opposed to last semesters event which featured a Jewish speaker only. Even though this event was interfaith, Giordano worries that it was not sufficiently publicized to the broader Brandeis community. I didnt see any religion neutral posters [on campus], said Giordano.