divorce decree Orthodox Union

Perhaps you’ve heard there is a special Jewish religious divorce. It is called a “get”. In ancient times, men basically owned the women in their lives – wives, daughters, sisters. So creating a way that marriage ends and frees the woman to marriage again was pretty forward thinking. Interfaith couples rarely worry about a get but it is nice to know what it is.

This short video from G-dcast will give you an understanding of this Jewish ritual object.

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Divorce w-ring

The High Holy Days can bring up some intense feelings for every Jew. One young man called me with a unique issue around the Holidays – his interfaith parents’ divorce and the subsequent lack of clarity about his status.

My September column (Mixed and Matched) in the J-Weekly addressed his feelings.

Here is his question to me:

My dad is Jewish and my mom converted before they got married. Her conversion was Conservative, but after they divorced my father began to go to an Orthodox shul. I have always known that I’m not seen as really Jewish when I’m at my dad’s synagogue. If my mom had continued to raise me as a Conservative Jew, I think I would have been OK, but she stopped practicing Judaism. So I went back and forth between a secular Christian home and a quasi-Orthodox one. I’m back in the Bay Area now, post-college, and living with my mom. The High Holidays are the worst. My dad wants me to go with him and I want to be Jewish and at shul, but not at his shul. The members are nice to me, but I know how I am perceived. My mom doesn’t do anything Jewish anymore. I want to fit in as a Jew. What should I do?
— Torn Apart

Read the rest of the article on the J-weekly page here.

Posted by admin under Adult Child of an Interfaith Family, Divorce, High Holidays, In the News, Rosh Hashanah
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Kveller, an online magazine published the first person story of a woman whose eldest daughter from her first marriage is not Jewish and her second daughter from a Jewish marriage, is Jewish.

How this woman got to this place in life is interesting and is the result of being alive in a time when many things are possible. You might read her story and think that she should have done things differently. Or you may believe you know how she should handle things with her ex. In my work I see the bottom line being the daughter who wants to be included. Mom has her hands tied in a number of ways but there are things she can do to create work-arounds that will help her older child to feel part of the family.

Read Rita’s story.

Here’s my advice to her.

Rita, I’m betting that there is a lot more to this than can be put in a single article. If it is possible, I would suggest broaching the subject with your ex. Can you figure out some cultural things that our new family does that could include your daughter without upsetting him? When non-Jewish kids in my family visit us, we include them in holiday activities – decorating the sukkah, making charoses pyramids, picking flowers for the Shabbat table. Have a list of potential activities and see if he can OK them. I am guessing that she will decorate a Christmas tree, dye eggs, dress up for Halloween while with her dad. These are all Christian cultural activities. It is reasonable that raising her as a culturally aware individual that she learn about other cultures. You could include some of the Jewish traditions from Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews so that both girls have a richer understanding of the practices of others around the globe. (My sister-in-law is from Tunisia. Their dress, food, dance, music and language are all different from my Ashkenazi family.)

Also, sit down and explain to your daughter that her dad loves her and that the two of you have agreed on some special things in her life. Point out the things that she will be doing at each home and explain that this is what you both have decided to give her.

One very important thing that parents in your situation frequently fail to do is decide WHAT AGE is it that you will let your child make her choice. Will it be a particular year – age 12? 16? 18? Or will it be after a particular accomplishment? Since this is now an important time in her life, the two of you need to be clear about when it is. Then going forward you can say, “Honey, you’re learning about the different cultures that your dad and I practice so that you’ll be ready to decide when you are…”

See if there are some things around the house right now that she can do to feel included. Can she help set the table? Help make her sister’s Purim costume? Hold the poles up as you put up the sukkah? Find ways that she is essential to your family activities so you can honestly say, “You are important. You do …”

Surely your ex wants his child to feel good about herself. Approach this topic not as a conflict but as a solution that the two of you will solve together. Good luck!

Posted by admin under Conversion, Divorce, Parenting
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I recently heard from a Catholic woman asking for help in navigating her interfaith divorced family. Her ex-husband is Muslim and their two daughters were being raised with both religions until the divorce. Things have reached a very painful state.
I will pause here and ask you to think about this… What do you think is at the heart of this family’s sorrow?

I will tell you the answer. It is the divorce. Dividing a family has a profound impact on everyone, especially the children. Parents can heap a lot of baggage labeled “Religion” onto a divorce, but it’s the divorce that is the real problem.

For that reason my goal in working with couples is to find common ground, throw light on what got you together in the first place and try to work out differences. Parents are responsible for making sacrifices for their children. With religion, often one parent makes the larger sacrifice. That parent deserves many accolades. BUT that parent should also be making a willing sacrifice on behalf of their children, not succumbing to a browbeating.

There are times that can involve a very large sacrifice; the Christian who celebrated Christmas growing up may have decided to give up the holiday. If your partner did something like this you own them words and acts of gratitude. I suggest that you give them an extra gift – a bouquet of flowers, a hand made card, dinner out. And put your gratitude in words. To the non-Jewish parents who are making sacrifices for their families, I want to say, on behalf of the Jewish people, thank you. Thank you for becoming a part of us, for casting your lot with us. We are stronger and better because of you.

So what did I advise this mother? I suggested that she stop fighting from her side. The children will not profit from being the object of a tug-of-war. As the Christian partner she can know that her children will indeed learn about her culture simply by living in America. Additionally, there is tremendous strength in being the gentle parent, the accepting parent. I suggested that she ask the children to teach her what they are learning about Islam and to embrace the shared values. Find ways to act upon common values; I told her, if they talk about charity, go out and do charity together. Find ways to be comfortable with what the children are being raised with. As time goes by and they are not put on the hot seat, they will be able to think, talk, and ask questions about their mother’s background.

Try not to be in a hurry when it comes to this type of situation. You have a lifetime to teach your children but only their childhood years to make them feel strong, supported, and secure.

Is there a different perspective for the Muslim dad? Yes, his is the minority religion, the one his children will not learn about simply by living in the US. Like Jewish parents, this dad has some serious thinking to do about how to portray his faith tradition given that he should support his children’s well being as the first priority. He must find a way to talk with his ex-wife about his concerns and desires for their children. Hopefully, they can come to an agreement. They would profit from some counseling.

Posted by admin under Children, Divorce, Parenting
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