Jews wring their hands over Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials

Her marriage to Jewish man has people wondering whether she'll convert.

July 16, 2010 04:41
2 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

chelsea clinton 311. (photo credit: Bloomberg)


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WASHINGTON – The Shonda! Chelsea Clinton is marrying a Conservative.

No, not that kind of conservative.

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The Jewish kind.

If Clinton, part of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Democratic dynasty, were marrying a diehard Republican, that might cause a few ripples as well.

But the waves being made in the run-up to her nuptials to Marc Mezvinsky at the end of this month are decidedly of the religious kind.

Media – of the Jewish and non-Jewish persuasion – have been running rampant with speculation about the interfaith dimensions of the event. Will Clinton, the daughter of a Methodist mother and Southern Baptist father, convert? Will there at least be a rabbi co-officiating? A huppa? A glass? Details of the wedding are under wraps – though press accounts have it taking place on July 31 at the Astor estate in Rhinebeck, NY with 500 invitees ranging from US President Barack Obama to Steven Spielberg – but that hasn’t dampened mass attention and Jewish consternation.

As Rob Eshman of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles put it in a letter to Clinton, “You are probably wondering how people can take something so powerful and intimate as the kind of love that leads to the lifelong commitment of marriage and turn it into a crisis, a cause for hand-wringing and breast-beating, a symptom of the inexorable disappearance of an entire religion and culture off the face of the earth, a kind of genocide-by-‘I do.’” In short, he continued, “Welcome, Chelsea, to the Jews.”

But while there’s been angst in the Jewish community, it hasn’t been reciprocated. The question on people’s minds has been whether she will convert to Judaism, not whether Mezvinsky will embrace Christianity.

Whatever Clinton eventually decides, already her choice of a Jewish mate and the ho-hum response from the masses indicates how accepted Jews have become in US society.

“In the mid-20th century, Jews were the least prestigious white ethnic group in America,” according to Steven Cohen, an expert on American Jewry. “Half a century later, they are among the most prestigious, most desirable and most sought-after family members for Americans of all backgrounds.”

He pointed out that Clinton has been participating in Jewish rituals such as Shabbat meals and at least one Yom Kippur service, so that whether she formally converts or not, she is already part of a significant trend in American Jewish life.

“Many non-Jewish spouses are going through sociological conversions rather than rabbinical conversions.

They’re becoming in effect members of the Jewish community without official rabbinical instruction or authorization,” he noted. “Sociological conversions may be the biggest denomination of converts today.”

Of course, with a combined four parents at the weddings having held elected office, the couple could easily choose to hold a civil ceremony with no need for religious officiates.

In fact, former president Bill Clinton performed such a role himself this past weekend when he married New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Jew and a Democrat, and Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton and a Muslim.

One thing’s for sure, according to former Clinton White House staffer Steve Rabinowitz, this wedding won’t feature any interfaith awkwardness.

The Clintons are a family well familiar with the hora, chair-hoisting and other Jewish rituals, should they be included in the festivities.

“They probably know how to do the sheva brachot,” he said.

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