Intermarriage and Circumcision

Everyone in the sphere of a family is affected when a couple intermarries. Life suddenly gets a little more complicated – there are more holidays to celebrate, more customs to learn, but more importantly everyone will want to know how you are going to raise your children. For the Jewish grandparents, this can manifest in numerous ways – will they have a bar/bat mitzvah? Will they go to Hebrew school? Will they celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah? And if it’s a boy, will they be circumcised?

It’s the last question that prompted someone to write a letter into the Forward newspaper’s Bintel Brief. Circumcision for a Jew is a lifelong reminder of their heritage, so when a grandmother found out that her son and daughter-in-law weren’t going to circumcise their child, she wanted to know what to do next. She and her husband have already explained how important it would be to them, so should she back off or push the issue? The remarkably sensitive reply came from a guy who wasn’t always known for being remarkably sensitive – former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

First, he said since the grandparents have already stated their case, they shouldn’t press the couple – that might drive away them and the grandchildren. He said its better to let the son and daughter-in-law bring it up:

If, in the future, during a conversation, your son or daughter-in-law raises the matter, as they might, you can use that opportunity to provide factual information, your views and even talk of the need for Jews to remember who they are and not become indifferent to the traditions into which they were born and for which so many died in the last 2,000 years…

But, be careful not to antagonize either of them. The most important aspect of life is family and the love and support of one another that exists among those in that family.

This is great advice. The worst thing these or any grandparents can do is create a relationship based on disappointment. Instead, grandparents should focus on what they can do to share and explain pieces of Jewish tradition with their grandchildren. Maybe it’s something as simple as having a mezuzah on the door or wearing a hai necklace – anything that will encourage children to say “What is that?” Those become perfect teaching moments.

It’s a delicate balance, and Jewish grandparents might not be happy with every decision made about raising interfaith grandchildren. But life will present itself with plenty of other opportunities for grandparents to nurture, and in some cases establish, the Jewish identity of their grandchildren.

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