Article Discussion: Making A Right Turn On Intermarriage

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October 12, 2009 at 6:13 am #3849


Click here to read the article: Making A Right Turn On Intermarriage

October 13, 2009 at 8:06 pm #3856

Michael Habif

Where does Reconstructionism come into play? My understanding was that this was essentially Modern Conservative. They’re accepting of mixed marriages and they are still essentially Conservative.

What’s the difference as far as mixed marriage and other issues?

October 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm #3857

Ruth Abrams

Reconstructionism is a separate movement from Conservative Judaism, but I can see why you might think of it as a modernization of Conservative Judaism specifically. Mordecai Kaplan, whose theology informs Reconstructionist Judaism, was a Conservative rabbi who taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Since his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein and other followers founded the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1968, however, they have been a separate movement.

One key issue on which these two movements differ is the role of halachah (Jewish law.) The Reform movement disconnected itself from halachah in the 19th century, but Conservative Judaism is essentially a reformist reading of halachah. They have a Committee on Law and Standards that makes decisions for the movement with reference to traditional Talmudic texts and rabbinic commentaries.

The Reconstructionists took a middle position on halachah, mainly because their view of God is quite different. Rabbi Kaplan famously said “halachah has a vote, not a veto.” When I was growing up, many Reconstructionist synagogues looked more traditional than their Reform counterparts–even though their theology is far less traditional.

On interfaith families, the Reconstructionists adopted the principle of patrilineal descent in the 1980s, around the same time as the Reform movement did. If a Jewish dad and a non-Jewish mom want to raise Jewish children in the Conservative movement, they need to convert their children in infancy with a trip to the mikveh, and then the children must affirm that conversion at bar or bat mitzvah age. (the latter stipulation is true of all child converts.) In a Reconstructionist or Reform congregation, a Jewish dad and a non-Jewish mom can raise Jewish children without that conversion ceremony.

Where an interfaith family will find a good fit isn’t totally dependent on the movement or Jewish theology. Writers on our site have described experiences of finding welcome, or feeling unwelcomed, in all different kinds of Jewish communities. The key is to check out what feels right to you. 

October 14, 2009 at 4:21 pm #3863


Ruth, thank you for the informative background information. As someone who was raised in the Conservative moment (and is currently in an interfaith relationship) I’ve become dissociated from the movement precisely because of its very slow and hesitant process of change, in addition to the centrality of halakha. I appreciate this article in that it is nice to see any rabbi take a welcoming stance to intermarried families (especially the rare Orthodox rabbi who does so!) – but, unfortunately, the Conservative movement’s hesitancy reminds me of when it was deliberating about whether to ordain gay rabbis. For a while some thinkers were saying – we welcome gay people in our synagogue, but we’re not sure we want them to be role models for our community as rabbis. Even though they finally did make that change, which I salute, I felt it should have happened quicker, because the equality of people regardless of sexual orientation is a moral issue, not a halakhic one. And if halakha makes us slow to change what is clearly wrong, we need to put morality above halakha. And that is also how I feel about intermarriage in Judaism. Rabbis want to discourage it with one hand, but welcome you into their congregations with the other. This attitude even exists in some of the most liberal Jewish communities. For myself, I would only feel comfortable in a community that wholeheartedly welcomed everyone, without judgment, and saw that welcoming as part of their moral vision for Judaism.

October 14, 2009 at 5:26 pm #3868

Ruth Abrams

I’m hoping to get more in-depth discussion of the core beliefs of each Jewish movement and how each one is responding to interfaith families on the site in the near future. I consulted a friend who is a Reconstructionist rabbi and she had more nuanced things to say than what I did about both the history of Recon with respect to children of interfaith marriage and also about the halachah of childhood conversion. The article I found online that first stated that Reconstructionists should accept Jews with a Jewish dad was from the 1980s, but the policy may be older (and indeed, the Reform movement’s official shift on patrilineal descent in 1983 came after many congregations were acting on the premise.)

I think it’s cool that there are all these kinds of Judaism and that they all have different ways to welcome interfaith families (and different issues getting in their way of being welcoming, too!) I chose my current Havurah precisely because I also saw equality of GLBT Jews as a pressing ethical issue. But, I can also understand why someone would join a synagogue that meets their needs in one way and not in another.

October 15, 2009 at 10:01 am #3875


Dear Friends: I was very pleased to read Rabbi Lerner’s interesting discussion about how his congregational experiences changed his outlook on welcoming interfaith couples to Conservative shuls.

While I am in agreement with many of his other very positive suggestions, as the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, the largest organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I should alert him that adult children of intermarriage will be massively opposed to one of his suggestions — putting all bar/bat mitzvah students into the mikveh, so the children of Jewish fathers and Christian mothers can be smuggled into halachically Jewish status covertly.

Only a few Conservative rabbis have suggested this idea. To the best of my knowledge, no rabbis of any other non-Orthodox movement have endorsed it.

If the Conservative movement wishes to maintain a distinction between the children of Jewish fathers and the children of Jewish mothers — that is its right.

But the Conservative movement cannot evade the resulting arguments and hurt feelings of patrilineal Jews by putting all of its bar/bat mitzvah students into the mikveh — I believe that other Jewish groups, both non-Orthodox and Orthodox, would challenge the validity of such mikveh ceremonies as not truly constituting real individual conversion ceremonies.

Otherwise, I enjoyed Rabbi Lerner’s article, and look forward to reading more about his experiences.

October 15, 2009 at 10:06 am #3876


Dear Friends:

My apologies — I forgot to identify myself in my previous comment. I am Robin Margolis, Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network,


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