New Approaches to Officiation in D.C., S.F.

IFF is in the early stages of developing a resource for rabbis on the issue of officiation at interfaith weddings. It’s a sticky issue for rabbis; the Conservative movement forbids its rabbis from officiating at interfaith weddings, but obviously there are a significant number of interfaith couples in their congregations. The Reform movement’s position is more nuanced: the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the association for Reform rabbis, has a resolution on the books that disapproves of officiation but also leaves the decision up to individual rabbis.

Once a rabbi decides he will officiate, the situation often gets trickier: What are the conditions? How do you announce the decision to your congregation? The third-largest Reform congregation in the U.S., The Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C., recently went through this process, as detailed in a Washington Jewish Week article. Judging from the article, it sounds like they’ve thought long and hard about the decision, and have come up with a carefully crafted policy that is fair to the needs of interfaith couples and respectful of individual rabbis’ principles.

Meanwhile, a rabbi at a Conservative congregation near San Francisco, Congregation B’nai Shalom, has taken a unique approach to officiation at interfaith marriage, according to this article in the J., the Jewish news weekly of northern California. Rather than just saying no to interfaith couples who come to him asking to be married, Rabbi Gordon Freeman directs them to a group of retired judges who will perform civil ceremonies with some Jewish elements. His restrictions seem a bit severe:

…in working with [the judges], Freeman has been very clear about what is permissible and what is not at such a wedding.

For example, he won’t allow the breaking of the glass, since a non-Jew has no connection to the First Temple, of which the glass-breaking is symbolic. He won’t allow the statement that accompanies the ring exchange, consecrating the bride to the husband according to the laws of Moses and Israel. He will allow a ketubah, as long as they write it themselves.

But, nonetheless, his approach is a very good start, and we commend Rabbi Freeman for looking for innovative ways to keep interfaith couples Jewishly engaged. The J. apparently concurs with our view.

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