Can my shul host a kiddush to celebrate a non-Jewish grandchild?

An Orthodox and a Reform rabbi tackle issues in contemporary Jewish life


Question: A popular shul member with a non-Jewish wife has offered to sponsor a kiddush on Shabbat to celebrate the birth of his grandchild.  Can the shul celebrate the birth of a child with non-Jewish parents?

An Orthodox view

We could imagine this as a Yes Minister situation in which Sir Humphrey is attempting to explain the options to Keith Hacker. He, in turn, looks to Bernard for assistance knowing that he must make an unconscionable decision in a way that will avoid offending his constituents but at the same appease those on both sides of his party.

Of course, the birth of a child is a joyous event that anyone would want to celebrate both privately and publicly, and even more so for a grandchild which, some say, is the reward for having survived being a parent, it is all the nachat and simchah without the pain and hard work!

However, this question contains a few assumptions which means it is not as simple as it appears.

Firstly, the description of the shul member as “popular” suggests that this would, in some way, influence the decision as it implies that we would have to factor in the potential backlash of refusal amongst his friends.

We must remember that Judaism has never been a popularity contest seeking to win votes: instead it is calling us to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” in which we are tasked with bringing spirituality into the physical world and being to willing to forgo immediate gratification for future reward.Therefore, sometimes we have to make difficult decisions while trying our hardest not to shame, embarrass or turn anyone away from Judaism or the community.

Secondly, without knowing the person, we might reasonably assume that they are totally comfortable with their own choice of marrying outside of the faith and the implications that now has for their children and grandchildren.

It is conceivable that this life-cycle event has generated an element of regret of even guilt as they are conscious that, in the eyes of Jewish law, their offspring are not recognised as Jewish. They may have offered to sponsor a kiddush in order to celebrate whilst innocently believing that it will assuage their feelings but deep down they know in their heart that it is not appropriate.

Thirdly, they would understand the many positives there are to belonging to a community including expressing religious identity and forming relationships. A community is a group of individuals who support each other in good times and in challenging ones without being overtly judgmental of each other. It goes without saying that we would want to celebrate the birth of a child, however, sadly, in these circumstances, we just could not make kiddush over it.

Alex Chapper is senior rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree (United) Synagogue

A Progressive view

There is a massive assumption in your question that reflects not just one of the differences between an Orthodox and Progressive approach to status issues, but which also mirrors the social reality of British Jewry today.

That reality is two-fold: first that intermarriage is a major aspect of Jewish life, with up to a third of Jews who marry today choosing non-Jewish partners.

Fiery sermons in the 1960s and ’70s about “doing Hitler’s work for him”, plus massive investment in Jewish day schools in the ’80s and ’90s, have not altered that fact.

Second, look at the person you cite: he has not abandoned Judaism, but is still an active member of his shul. The message that I and others preached for so many years - not endorsing intermarriage, but recognising it was here to stay and that “marrying out need not mean dropping out” - has proved true.

In fact, “marrying out” is often the wrong term, as it can equally be a case of the non-Jew “marrying in”. They can become part of Jewish life, if treated warmly and if greeted with a smile rather than a scowl.

As for the assumption you made: you are reckoning that because his wife is non-Jewish, therefore the child arising is not Jewish and therefore nor is the grandchild.

It is true that for over two millennia Jewish status has gone through the mother’s line, but remember that before then, in biblical times, it went through the father’s line. So “tradition” is variable, depending which part you quote.

Today, Reform and Liberal Jews know that many mixed-faith marriages involve not a Jew and an antisemite (a common stereotype!), nor even a Jew and a frum Christian, but someone Jewish and someone without any faith. The latter is often happy for the Jewish partner to pass on their heritage to the children.

In these situations, we recognise the Jewish status of that child, whatever the gender of the Jewish parent. So the supposedly non-Jewish grandchild could be Jewish after all.

Even if that is not the case, a child with Jewish roots may choose to reclaim them later and should always be welcomed rather than pushed away.

To put it bluntly: a kiddush does not confer status, but indicates inclusivity… to all three generations.

Incidentally, all of the above would apply just as much if he was an unpopular member of the shul!

Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue

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