Monday, March 4, 2013

Old wounds

My open response to the rabbis of the Conservative movement who refuse to officiate at interfaith weddings:

I’m Jewish, and my wife is not. Just as we committed to when we got married over 10 years ago, we keep a Jewish home, and we are raising our son Jewish. Was there really no role for a rabbi at our wedding? The Conservative bet din was willing to convert our son based on our expressed intent and commitment. Why couldn’t a similar process have been used to allow a rabbi to officiate at our wedding?

When a Conservative rabbi refuses to officiate at an interfaith wedding, it certainly sends a message. The message is that the Conservative movement refuses to accept a relationship so important to a couple that they want to form a permanent bond, that the Conservative movement rejects the non-Jewish partner, and that the Conservative movement seeks to punish the Jewish partner. That message is conveyed to the couple, to our families, and to our friends.

Then, after the wedding, the Conservative movement wonders why so many couples doubt that they are truly welcome at a Conservative shul. The same rabbis who absent themselves from our weddings in order to publicly shame interfaith couples run outreach programs to those same couples. They create membership policies which explicitly welcome interfaith partners, offer educational opportunities to make the non-Jewish partner feel more comfortable at services, and even convert our children.

What is that turn-around based on? The only change is that the couple is now married instead of engaged. How can Judaism accord our interfaith marriages so much respect while refusing to participate in our weddings?

Perhaps I am simply living through a strange and difficult time of transition. After all, the Conservative shul in which I grew up would never have welcomed an interfaith family at that time. The Conservative Hebrew School I attended described interfaith marriages as a new Holocaust. Now the Conservative movement recognizes that the demographics of interfaith marriages are not inexorably bad for the size of the Jewish population, while a policy of rejecting interfaith families does guarantee a decline in the next generation. The Conservative movement now recognizes that interfaith couples can support the Jewish partner’s faith, can participate meaningfully in synagogue life, can raise Jewish children, and are more likely to do all of those with support from our rabbis and our shuls. Where in this new mindset does the old policy of refusing to celebrate our weddings fit?

Update: The story at explains the reasoning of a Reform rabbi who changed his position on officiating at interfaith weddings, and is worth reading. Another such story is at

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