I led a session on “changing attitudes towards intermarriage” today at Limmud Chicago. It was fun!
An interesting mix of people came – several who identified themselves as Orthodox, several young adults, several who looked like grandparents, and in between. We did a “take the temperature of the room” exercise where I asked people if they agreed, disagreed, or weren’t sure about, the following statements (thanks to Benjamin Maron for piloting this approach at TribeFest):
* if a rabbi and a priest or minister co-officiate, it’s not a Jewish wedding
* if you intermarry, your family will be a Jewish family only if your partner converts
* you can only raise Jewish children if both parents are Jewish
* if you have a Christmas tree in your house, your children won’t be Jewish.
The more traditional folks present expressed concerns on several fronts – a wedding between a Jew and someone not Jewish under Jewish law is not a Jewish wedding, why does a rabbi have to officiate, why couldn’t a judge officiate; what is the future going to be when there are so many people who identify as Jews who aren’t halachically Jewish; people won’t be recognized as Jews in Israel; etc. The very nice thing about the discussion is that it was civil and respectful on all sides. I don’t think anything was resolved, but I did offer my idea that everyone in the Jewish community could recognize self-identifying but non-halachic Jews as Jews for all purposes except those where halachic status matter.
I saw a lot of heads nodding when I talked about Jewish partners in interfaith relationships who say they get more Jewishly active because of the relationship, and partners who are not Jewish who get very Jewishly involved. People I talked with after the session appeared to be thirsting for ways to positively respond to and engage interfaith couples.
I haven’t been to a Limmud before and to be honest when I arrived it looked like a mostly traditional set of attendees that made me wonder if anyone would come to my session and how it would be received. But it looked like perhaps 10% of the registration did come and it was a very lively discussion. It was great to be there, and I want to especially thank Debbie Burton, who has written many articles for InterfaithFamily.com, and has commented frequently on our discussion boards, for inviting me.
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