On the “Christian-Jewish” Child
To the Editor:
As a young mother, I read Eleanor K. Folder’s question, “My Child: Jew or Christian?” in September’s COMMENTARY with interest and surprise. I sympathize with Mrs. Felder on the difficulty of her choice. . . . But what I find upsetting is the stale, impersonal motivation that prompts Mrs. Felder to action at all. How passive the privilege of parenthood seems to be! Perhaps I am overzealous in believing that it is as much a parent’s duty to give a child a religious background, as it is to give the child a Vitamin D concentrate. Just as the child needs additional vitamins for sturdy growth, so he needs additional faith and love, beyond his family, for mental and spiritual growth.
Mrs. Felder says her child needs a sense of “belonging.” True, but this sort of thing can hardly be the result of a decision made, a program begun, and actions carried out. It is like the mother who told me that they did not have any religious observances in the home because “our children aren’t old enough to enjoy them yet.” The child is exposed to religion, not through weekly attendance at Sunday school, but through his early and constant experiences at home and in school. The irreligious parent, Jew or Gentile, only creates conflict and frustration, as the author noted, when he sends the child out to “get religion.”
Mrs. Felder says that every child has the right to be exposed to religion. But she ignores the fact that the child’s attitude, his acceptance, and his absorption of faith depends solely on the parent, and the home. In Judaism, this is especially stressed, by the numerous home observances still found beautiful and touching for parent and child. The smallest child will be fired by the enthusiasm of a sincere parent who makes religion meaningful for the family.
Claire L. Levi
Buffalo, New York
To the Editor:
Mrs. Felder’s article on the “dilemma” presented by children of mixed marriages strikes one reader, an inveterate agnostic and rationalist, as distinctly superficial and fallacious. It attaches too much importance to what “kids” in school or on playgrounds say to one of the group who cannot tell them what he is—a Jew, or Protestant, or Catholic. Kids should be told that some of their questions cannot be answered in terms they understand and they will have to wait some years for the proper answer. This is true of religion, of science, of philosophy. . . .
Parents are under no obligation to teach what they know to be false, puerile, and utterly unrealistic. They are under the moral obligation to tell the truth. If formal and orthodox religion means little to them—and this is obviously the case with the Felders—their children are bound to sense that fact. . . .
Moral conduct needs no supernatural sanctions. It is and long has been independent of religion. Men and women of the highest ethical standards and finest conduct have been rationalists, secularists, freethinkers, agnostics. . . .
Victor S. Yarros
La Jolla, California
To the Editor
It was with intense interest that I read the article by Eleanor Felder. Oddly enough, I too am the wife of a physician, a Jewish man, and we have a son, seven years of age, whom we are raising as a Jew. I can well understand the mental conflicts that are being waged in Mrs. Felder’s mind, having gone through the same thought processes myself as the Gentile mother of a Jewish son.
I use the term “Jewish son” in answer to the first point of view expressed in Mrs. Felder’s article. Mrs. Felder says: “The world demands a precise answer to the question: What are you?” I feel most strongly that the world does not ask: “What are you?” but tells you what you are. The son takes the identity of the father. A young “Levy” is what the name implies just as a young “O’Neill” is what that name implies. Therefore the son of a Jew, even though he may be raised as a Gentile, is in the eyes of the world also a Jew. . . . Even though the child’s mother is a Christian, the child reared as such would become a type of religious freak. He would not be known as John Doe, Christian—but as John Doe, Christian Jew. . . .
I feel that the basic problem goes deeper than religious training or the manner of worshiping God. The problem, as I see it, is that of raising the child in a definite pattern and way of life. The son of a Jewish father should be openly identified as a Jew and be taught the tradition and history of his people as well as their religious beliefs. Through knowledge comes understanding and love, a vital necessity to the emotional stability of a child. With resultant pride in his heritage he will gain security and can face the world with dignity, wearing his title of Jew as the badge of honor it is. . . .
The conversion of the Christian mother is not necessary. She must, however, be willing to subordinate her Christianity to the extent of learning the philosophy and tradition of Judaism for the sake of her son. If he is taught the proper values and learns the first lesson of Judaism, that of each man to his own creed and manner of serving God, then he will learn to accept and live with his mother’s Christian beliefs. . . . I personally decided to become a Jewess one year after my son began his religious education at the age of five, but one of the happiest families I know is that of a Jewish physician, his Christian wife, and their two Jewish children. Both the Jewish and the Christian holidays are observed in their home. The children are happy youngsters, aware that they are Jewish and why. They follow the routine of Hebrew School and synagogue services normal to all Jewish youth, yet their mother has retained her Christian affiliations. . . .
Frances A. Price
Camden, New Jersey