Forcing Two Religions on Your Children

The Times op-ed "Being ‘Partly Jewish’" by SUSAN KATZ MILLER appears to make the case for forcing two religions on one's children. Katz Miller is the product herself of such an upbringing, which she thinks is just fine and dandy and she is the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.”

Here is how she starts her opinion article:
IN the course of a year, my family celebrates Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Passover and many Shabbats. We also celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. We are part of a growing movement to raise interfaith children with both family religions.

Many Jewish leaders and institutions consider this a terrible and potentially damaging choice — one that will confuse young people, create Jews for Jesus and ultimately contribute to the demise of Judaism. But as an interfaith child and an interfaith parent, I refuse to accept this blame, or subscribe to such pessimism. Both my experience and my research tell me that we are turning out young adults who feel deeply connected to Judaism, not through coercion, but through choice.
And here is how she ends the article:
My own community, the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, is led by the Rev. Julia Jarvis and Rabbi Harold White. Ms. Jarvis told me, “I think actually we’ve made Judaism very attractive, because we’re not trying to force these kids to stay Jewish — because it’s a choice.” Rabbi White agrees, adding that these interfaith communities “might even increase the numbers of Jews.”

Dual-faith parenting is an exercise in letting go. We dare to give our children full knowledge of their religious backgrounds. We think it’s working: for the parents, for the kids and even for Judaism.
"We do it so it must be good" is not a strong argument. And yes, the sociological conclusion that intermarriage is a net gain for the Jewish people is mathematically defensible but psychologically difficult for many Jews to accept. If a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman you have potentially one Jewish family. If both marry "out" and 51 percent of the resulting families raise Jewish kids, that is a Jewish population gain.

My problem is with the assertion, "it's a choice" for the kids to decide what religion to follow. In America it is always a choice because we live in free country and nobody is forced to join a religion. Unless you are a child and your parents force you to go to synagogue or church. That is no choice. That is parental coercion - something that we tolerate and even value because we have the notion that parents ought to pass a religion along to their children.

When parents coerce children to attend the services and practice the rituals of two religions, that is not enabling a "choice". That seems to be a case of dual coercion. And it is something that we ordinarily do not tolerate well in our society. Why? Partly it is because it's too much for the average child to learn and practice not one but two religions.

Let's be honest. Double coercion does not foster the lovely ideal of choice. It forces two religions on children. That is legal but in spite of the op-ed's best intentions to make it so, it may not be laudable. Children do not have unlimited bandwidth to absorb the details and demands of two religions. And they are sensitive to the approval and disapproval that may come their way from many friends and neighbors who witness odd behavior.

So is it as claimed by the op-ed, "you may choose one of two"? Or is it more honestly, "you must come with us to both"?

Letters to the editor criticize the op-ed from other perspectives.

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