Zach Braff's movie, Michael Douglas & Diane KeatonBy Gerri Miller
New movies are coming out this month with several actors in interfaith marriages. Plus, the much anticipated Zach Braff film.Go To Pop Culture
Sixty percent of rabbis at Reform, Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal and unaffiliated congregations officiate at interfaith weddings, according to a new transdenominational survey by Dr. Caryn Aviv and Dr. Steven Cohen, reports JTA.
I haven’t seen the survey yet–it only was presented yesterday as part of a conference on best practices for engaging LGBT Jews–but if that number is correct, then it’s an astonishing development. The only comparable historical survey I know of is a 12-year-old rabbinic survey conducted by the Jewish Outreach Institute. That 1997 study showed that only 20 percent of rabbis across the denominations officiated at interfaith weddings, and even among the Reform rabbinate, only 36 percent officiated (although 85 percent of Reconstructionist rabbis did). Those numbers aren’t directly comparable to the reported number from the new study since the new study aggregates rabbis across several movements. But my guess is that officiation numbers are up across the board within movements that permit officiation at interfaith weddings.
The new survey polled 1,221 North American rabbis, synagogue directors and presidents in attempt to learn about how synagogues approach and engage gay and lesbian Jews. Among the other reported numbers: 73 percent of these leaders felt their synagogue did a good job welcoming gay and lesbian Jews; 33 percent said they held programs explicitly for gay people; 73 percent of synagogues had rabbis who officiated at same-sex ceremonies; and 47 percent of synagogue leaders said their attitudes toward gays and lesbians had become more favorable over the last decade.
I will let you know more once I get my hands on the report, but early signs suggest that the research will show that synagogues have become more welcoming towards gays and lesbians AND interfaith couples over the last decade. That’s a welcome development.
Independent rabbis without congregations get a bad rap. There seems to be a general cultural assumption that unless you have a congregation–or you’re famous, the great reprieve of American culture–you are somehow not a “real” rabbi. Somehow the fact that a small group of volunteer leaders at a synagogue decided to pay you a salary confers more legitimacy on you than if you write, do freelance projects and travel the country to officiate at weddings and other life cycle events.
An otherwise quite thoughtful article in the Baltimore Jewish Times about changing attitudes toward intermarriage in the religious movements is marred by this prejudice:
Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll recently wrote an article about
Rabbi Lev Baesh and I were interviewed and photographed for the article. We
Rather than use her column as an opportunity to critique or praise Feldman, she ponders the value of the snub–both Maimonides School’s snub of Feldman and Feldman’s snub of the school and the Modern Orthodox community. Does the snub work? Does it lead to a desired change in behavior, or does it just piss people off?
Wiener certainly leans toward the latter option. Feldman’s case provides a double dose of evidence that the snub doesn’t work: Feldman intermarried and was unashamed of his life decisions despite his exclusion from the announcement section of his day school’s alumni newsletter while the Modern Orthodox community has responded to Feldman’s essay not by reconsidering some of its policies but by counterattacking Feldman with often virulent force.
Not to toot our own horn, but we appear to have tapped into something with the hiring of Rabbi Lev Baesh as the director of our Rabbinic Circle and rabbinic officiation referral service. Julie Wiener of The Jewish Week has written her most recent “In the Mix” column on the growing interest in officiation at intermarriages. At last year’s convention of Reform rabbis, Rabbi Jerome Davidson, of Temple Beth El in Long Island, advocated for the Reform rabbis’ association to change its position on officiation; currently its official line says that intermarriage “should be discouraged,” but leaves the decision on officiating to the discretion of individual rabbis.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Erica Greenbaum, a recent graduate of Hebrew Union College, the Reform rabbinical seminary, recently completed her senior thesis on rabbinic officiation at intermarriage.
Further, we’re aware of two studies in different stages that look at the impact of rabbinic officiation on Jewish involvement.
To all this, we say “Mazel tov!” We’ve long been of the opinion that the Jewish community is missing a golden opportunity to attract interfaith couples to Judaism through officiation at intermarriages. Nobody yet knows whether a rabbi’s involvement in an interfaith wedding makes it more likely for an interfaith couple to engage with Judaism, but it certainly can’t hurt. A rabbi’s involvement in an interfaith wedding gives a couple a personal, emotional connection to the Jewish community that they might otherwise not have. We have received numerous thank you notes from couples who we’ve helped find a Jewish officiant.
In the coming months, I suspect we will hear even more about this issue.
Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner died on June 28. The obituaries in the Jewish press, including JTA and the Jerusalem Post, described how Rabbi Klausner, the leader of a Reform synagogue in Yonkers, N.Y., for 25 years, was the first Jewish chaplain in the US Army to enter Dachau and had been a leading advocate for Holocaust survivors. The New York Times obituary tells that story too, with quotes from Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that Rabbi Klausner was “the father figure” for more than 30,000 survivors found at Dachau, and was instrumental in improving conditions in the displaced persons camps after the war. But the Times tells one more story about Rabbi Klausner that the Jewish press didn’t mention.
The question of rabbinic officiation at intermarriages threatens a schism in the Reform movement, writes Steve Lipman’s in today’s The (New York) Jewish Week:
I wouldn’t quite go that far, but Lipman does focus on a growing phenomenon: friction between rabbis who won’t officiate at intermarriages and members of their synagogue who want them to officiate. According to the story, officiation has become a litmus test for hiring in many congregations, especially congregations in small Jewish communities. “Officiating has become a sine qua non for rabbinic placement,” says Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, who is leaving The Temple in Atlanta partly due to his refusal to perform intermarriages and the tension that causes.
This kind of controversy shows the importance and relevance of our recent hiring of Rabbi Lev Baesh to run our Rabbinic Circle. Rabbis grappling over the issue need a safe space to talk about the issue. Those who do officiate need templates for ways to articulate their decision to their congregations, and those who don’t need ideas for how to welcome and engage interfaith couples. And those on the fence need intelligent, reasoned arguments for and against.
The fact that there is a gap between the desires of the lay membership and the consciences of their rabbis further demonstrates the need for the service Rabbi Baesh will be providing. People who are Jewishly engaged, as demonstrated by their membership in Reform synagogues, want authentic, credible rabbis to officiate at their interfaith weddings and don’t want to wade through the hazardous seas of the web, where it is difficult to determine who’s “legit” and who’s not.
The story broke today. We have hired our first rabbi. Rabbi Lev Baesh, who led a congregation in Dover, N.H., for 12 years and has taught classes for the Reform movement’s Northeast region, will start July 9 as director of our Rabbinic Circle.
His role will have two goals:
We are well aware that rabbinic officiation is one of the most controversial issues among rabbis today–even the Reform movement’s rabbis are divided on the issue. We’re not looking to tell rabbis to officiate, but we are looking to provide greater reliability, efficiency and integrity to the process of looking for a rabbi to officiate.
Greetings InterfaithFamily.com readers! I wanted to share with you all a very interesting experience I had the other night. Quite often, my position here at InterfaithFamily.com as the Community Connections Coordinator intersects with my “real life” outside of work – as evident in the story I’m about to tell you. Outside of working here, one of my volunteer hats is to be the Social Action chair of my synagogue board. Part of this role is to attend the monthly temple board meetings to give a report. Monday night was our monthly meeting, however, it was like no other meeting I had ever attended. The rabbi of our congregation is retiring after over 30 years of service to the community, and our congregation has the daunting task of finding a new rabbi to be the spiritual leader of what is a small, but very warm – and extremely diverse – Reform congregation. Our search committee and long range planning committee brought a candidate to meet with us at our monthly meeting, and we had the opportunity to ask this rabbi as many questions we could come up with!
There was a nice article in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent last week by Ryan Teitman called “Rabbi Deconstructs Marriage, in All Its Assorted Permutations.” It’s little more than a description of a Jewish marriage class taught by Rabbi Yair Robinson of Shir Ami-Bucks County Congregation, but it includes some little-discussed insights.
For example, the article points out “that a rabbi [is] not a necessary element in the Jewish wedding ceremony.” As counter-intuitive as it may seem, a Jewish wedding does not require a rabbi to make it binding.