Beyond Chris­mukkah: The Chris­t­ian-Jew­ish Inter­faith Fam­i­ly in the Unit­ed States

Sami­ra K. Mehta

December 18, 2018

The rate of inter­faith mar­riage in the Unit­ed States has risen so rad­i­cal­ly since the six­ties that it is dif­fi­cult to recall how taboo the prac­tice once was. How is this devel­op­ment under­stood and regard­ed by Amer­i­cans gen­er­al­ly, and what does it tell us about the nation’s reli­gious life? Draw­ing on ethno­graph­ic and his­tor­i­cal sources, Sami­ra K. Mehta pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing analy­sis of wives, hus­bands, chil­dren, and their extend­ed fam­i­lies in inter­faith homes; reli­gious lead­ers; and the social and cul­tur­al milieu sur­round­ing mixed mar­riages among Jews, Catholics, and Protestants.

Mehta’s eye-open­ing look at the por­tray­al of inter­faith fam­i­lies across Amer­i­can cul­ture since the mid-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry ranges from pop­u­lar TV shows, hol­i­day cards, and humor­ous guides to Chris­mukkah” to chil­dren’s books, young adult fic­tion, and reli­gious and sec­u­lar advice man­u­als. Mehta argues that the emer­gence of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism helped gen­er­ate new terms by which inter­faith fam­i­lies felt empow­ered to shape their lived reli­gious prac­tices in ways and degrees pre­vi­ous­ly unknown. They began to inter­twine their reli­gious iden­ti­ties with­out com­pro­mis­ing their social stand­ing. This rich por­trait of fam­i­lies liv­ing diverse reli­gions togeth­er at home advances the under­stand­ing of how reli­gion func­tions in Amer­i­can soci­ety today.

Discussion Questions

Jew­ish com­mu­nal con­cerns over the ris­ing rates of inter­mar­riage have spawned numer­ous stud­ies, poli­cies, and ini­tia­tives that focus on min­i­miz­ing its neg­a­tive impact on Jew­ish con­ti­nu­ity. Sami­ra Mehta’s Beyond Chris­mukkah approach­es the top­ic with­out this parochial lens, con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian mar­riage from the per­spec­tive of Amer­i­can reli­gion and teas­ing out the role played by both faith and reli­gion in impact­ing it. In doing so, she pro­vides fresh insights into how cou­ples from var­i­ous faith tra­di­tions, eth­nic back­grounds, and races build mean­ing­ful lives togeth­er by nav­i­gat­ing cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, choos­ing which rit­u­als to observe, and find­ing — or cre­at­ing — sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ties to rein­force their efforts. She also illu­mi­nates the role of media mes­sages, state­ments by nation­al reli­gious bod­ies, and local cler­gy in impact­ing the atti­tudes, deci­sions, and reac­tions of indi­vid­ual cou­ples and their fam­i­lies. Final­ly, thanks to in-depth inter­views with fifty inter­faith fam­i­lies, Mehta con­vinc­ing­ly and mov­ing­ly illus­trates how indi­vid­ual fam­i­lies nav­i­gate larg­er issues to cre­ate mean­ing­ful lives.