New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
Leading up to and during my vacation there have been three big intermarriage stories in the media. They all revolve around whether, and how, Jewish communities are going to open their gates and draw in interfaith couples and families.
First came a JTA story by Uriel Heilman, The War Against Intermarriage Has Been Lost. Now What? The title pretty much tells the content of the article: Jewish institutions and in particular religious denominations are not â€śfighting against intermarriageâ€ť so much any more; the question now is how to react to the intermarriages that are going to happen; the overall strategy appears to be to engage with the intermarried in an effort to have them embrace Judaism; the denominations differ in how far to go in that embrace, and how strongly to push for conversion. Heilman says there has been a shift in attitudes so that intermarriage is viewed as â€śa potential gain, in the form of the non-Jewish spouse or children who may convert.â€ť
I’m not sure how widespread the shift in attitudes is â€“ there have been lots of recent anti-intermarriage comments from Jewish leaders â€“ and I think itâ€™s unfortunate to see gain only when there is conversion. But the real issue is, what are Jewish institutions and denominations going to do to engage with the intermarried. I would be more interested in seeing a JTA article on the efforts that are underway to do exactly that.
Second was a series of three essays on MyJewishLearning.com about patrilineal descent. A Conservative rabbi, Alana Suskin, in The Non-Jewish Rabbi? The Problem of Patrilineal Descent, tells how badly she feels about not recognizing patrilineal Jews as Jewish in large part because itâ€™s easy to convert. Then an Orthodox rabbi, Ben Greenberg, in Patrilineal Jewish Descent: An Open Orthodox Approach, also feels badly, and says that a child of Jewish patrilineal lineage, must be respected greatly for their identification with the Jewish people, their love of Judaism and of Israelâ€¦ people of patrilineal descent [should] be referred to as Jews who need to rectify their status vis-a-vie Jewish law.â€ť But Greenberg says that the Reform rabbisâ€™ decision on patrilineality was a mistake from a â€śbalcony perspectiveâ€ť because of the impact the decision had on recognition of people as Jews by other denominations.
I would say, from what I would respectfully suggest is perhaps a more important â€śbalcony perspective,â€ť what about the impact the decision had on the thousands of patrilineal Jews who are now engaged in Jewish life and community? I couldnâ€™t help but make this connection when reading the Forwardâ€™s profile of Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. Rabbi Buchdahl is an amazing Jewish leader â€“ and yes, a patrilineal Jew. (At least, that is, until her college years; we proudly reprinted Rabbi Buchdahlâ€™s essay originally in Shâ€™ma, My Personal Story: Kimchee on the Seder Plate, where she says she went to the mikveh at that time to â€śreaffirm her Jewish legacy.â€ť)
The Reform rabbi who wrote for MJL, Rachel Gurevitz, I think gets it right. In Patrilineal Descent: Why This Rabbi Feels No Angst she first acknowledges Rabbi Greenbergâ€™s concern with complications for klal yisrael but says
Rabbi Gurevitz then focuses on what I would agree is most important:
The third major story was an excerpt of a â€ślive discussionâ€ť on interfaith marriage on Huffington Post, where Rabbi David Wolpe, widely-regarded as one of the most influential rabbis in America, explains why he wonâ€™t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Contrary to Uriel Heilmanâ€™s perceived shift in attitudes towards seeing intermarriage as a potential gain, Rabbi Wolpe actually says (I donâ€™t have a transcript but I made notes when listening to the video) that â€śinvariably,â€ť in an intermarriage, the chances that the children will be raised as Jewish are much less, and that intermarriage â€śalmost alwaysâ€ť results in a diminishment of Judaism. That is the first reason he gives for not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples. I would respectfully suggest that the chances of the children being raised as Jewish and the chances of the intermarriage not resulting in â€śdiminishmentâ€ť would be increased if interfaith couples could find officiating rabbis for their weddings and be spared from hearing Rabbi Wolpeâ€™s rationale.
Rabbi Wolpe also says that he doesnâ€™t officiate because a Jewish wedding involves a marriage according to Jewish law and a person who isnâ€™t Jewish isnâ€™t subject to Jewish law. I canâ€™t argue with any rabbi who takes that position, although I think he goes too far when suggesting that itâ€™s â€śbad faithâ€ť for a rabbi to officiate because he or she isnâ€™t representing Jewish tradition. He says that is true â€śat least for meâ€ť but it comes across as a cheap shot at all of the serious committed rabbis who do officiate for interfaith couples
The common thread of all of this press is, how open are our gates going to be â€“ in our efforts to engage interfaith couples and families, in who we recognize as Jews, and in for whom we officiate. Those are the key questions. Iâ€™m for wide open gates.
Now back to vacation.
Note: All comments on InterfaithFamily are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed.