Our Rabbinic Intermarriage

Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler
April 16, 2012
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There was a time, early in our relationship, when my husband and I made jokes about our peculiar form of intermarriage: he preferred diet Pepsi and I, diet Coke.  We laughed about the 24-pack of cans of each variety in our pantry, acknowledging that we’d save money if we could just agree on one soda and purchase 2-liter bottles.

Now, neither of us drink diet colas. And we’ve stopped joking about intermarriage because the very real differences in our religious observances aren’t really so funny when they’re brought up too often.

He wouldn’t call my eating habits kosher.

I think he takes halachah way too seriously.

Most of the calendar year, our Jewish home hums with dual rhythms of Jewish living, weaving us in and out of each others’ communities and observances.  Pluralism is alive and well in our Jewish home.  We check in with one another and are now mostly able to predict the areas of observance where each of us might become excessively uncomfortable in the others’ religious sphere: when he comes to shul with me, he brings his own nusach sefard siddur and davens silently on his own even as we sing along to melodies accompanied by a guitar.

When his more orthodox friends or relatives visit for Shabbat, I know how and when to bentsch licht, to tape the light in the bathroom, and to unscrew the lightbulbs in the fridge. I go to sleep early, long before the singing and bentsching is complete following a traditional Shabbos dinner.

We’re each pretty certain that our way of observing Judaism is right. For us. Are we certain?  No. Our marriage works because we are open enough to the possibility that another way might be better for someone else. He might not like that I eat chicken parmesan.  I might not like that his default is to read and repeat traditional commentaries rather than inventing new interpretations to text. But we love and respect one another. We are committed to sharing one home and one life, even as we make choices that the other wouldn’t make. Most of the year, our certainty about each other is stronger and clearer than any doubts we have about our differing religious observances.

On Passover, however, it’s much harder. The rest of the year, we keep our dishes and cooking utensils kosher to his standards, but we often order in “hot dairy” from non-hechshered restaurants, and he looks aside when I bring home food he considers treyf, to be eaten with disposable utensils. But on Passover, he won’t order in, or eat out (except in kosher for Passover restaurants), and won’t allow any outside prepared food to be brought into the house. I often feel like a guest in my own kitchen. As much of the Jewish world becomes more stringent in their observances, I innately rebel and slide further and further to the left.

“That’s between you and God,” my husband tells me.
“God doesn’t care,” I respond.
“That’s also between you and God,” he says.
And so it goes.

On Passover, sometimes it feels like certainty beats out pluralism. Usually, we divide up kitchen chores: he does the cooking, and I do the cleaning. For Passover, he does both the cooking and cleaning for the holiday, and I help only when absolutely necessary. I need to have space from it all.

I go out to lunch with friends during chol ha-moed Pesach and eat salads without croutons.
On Passover, pluralism is much, much harder because the stakes seem higher. A number of our friends and acquaintances have admitted that Passover is frequently the most challenging part of the year in marriages where the two partners have differing standards or norms of observance. There are, apparently, often quarrels around Passover, and tensions can run high.

And yet, we also notice that these marriages remain intact, and do not appear to break– no more than we expect our marriage to break, even if Passover really is my least favorite of the chagim.

Pluralism is more than just “politics of tolerance” and polite, self-imposed segregation of those with different ideas. It’s about living together, in the most literal sense. And what we do to create and maintain an over-arching shalom bayit– Passover arguments notwithstanding– can be done to create and maintain an over-arching shalom bayit– occasional disagreements notwithstanding– for all the House of Israel.

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Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler works at the Aitz Hayim Center for Jewish Living in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. She also serves as the Director of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism. She received master’s degrees from the University of Judaism and from Harvard Graduate School of Education and was ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion in 2006, where she found deep meaning writing and researching her Rabbinic Thesis on the Book of Job: "Talk to Me: (Or, When More Bad Things Happen to Good People)." She is married to Rabbi Amitai Adler (also an S Blog contributor) and this year became Michael Zachary Joel Adler's mother.


  1. i found this blog – came to it by chance – rather sad. The world is `going up in smoke,` people are starving, Israel is split in a hundred ways…and two Rabbis argue about which plate should go on which section of draining-board; or not. Will continue to read your blog as I am sure your Pesach experience is, as you say, is not the norm in your lives!

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  2. I actually thought Julie did a pretty good job not only of showing that it’s not just a matter of which side of the draining-board the dishes go on that’s at issue, but that even with the legitimate issues at hand, we davka don’t let the disagreements of personal observance get in the way of our mutual commitment to overarching goals, both of observance and of ethical practice. I think Julie’s message was actually quite hopeful and productive.

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