Officiation News

Today’s Cleveland Jewish News reports that Rabbis Richard Block and Roger Klein, from temple-tifereth-israel/">The Temple-Tifereth Israel, one of Cleveland’s largest Reform synagogues, have announced that they have changed their positions and will now officiate at weddings of interfaith couples under certain circumstances. The article reports that the rabbis will only officiate at the weddings of couples “in our congregational family” who are “committed to raising Jewish children, creating a Jewish home, and participating in the life of the community.” Rabbi Block, one of the most highly-regarded Reform rabbis in the country, reportedly said that the couple should commit to joining and maintaining membership in a synagogue, and that he will ask interfaith couples to take an introduction to Judaism course; he will not insist that the non-Jewish partner consider conversion, but will “urge them to do so.”

The timing of this announcement is interesting — the Reform rabbis’ association, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), is meeting in San Francisco March 7 – 10, and prominent on its agenda is the release of a report from its Task Force on Intermarriage. The CCAR’s last resolution on officiation, dating from 1973, disapproves of the practice. We had hoped that the CCAR would approve a new resolution changing that position, but word is that the no new resolution is forthcoming.

I do sense that more and more Reform rabbis are changing their position in favor of officiation. For example, we re-published an important article by Rabbi Daniel Zemel, another very highly-regarded rabbi, from Temple Micah in Washington DC explaining his reasons for making that change.

But officiation remains a challenging issue. The January 2010 bulletin of Temple Sinai in Rochester New York reports that their junior rabbi, Amy Sapowith, decided that she would officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Her senior rabbi, Alan Katz, does not officiate, but supported her decision to do so. Rochester has a Board of Rabbis which does not allow its members to officiate; when Rabbi Sapowith announced her change, the Board asked her to resign. Rabbi Katz then voluntarily resigned from the Board of Rabbis.

InterfaithFamily.com’s Resource Center for Jewish Clergy has been working to help rabbis address the officiation question. We’ve held workshops for clergy in Boston (May 2008) and Philadelphia (February 2009) and have another coming in Atlanta on March 15, 2010. At each of the first two workshops, experienced rabbis told us that it was their first opportunity to have a meaningful discussion of the issue.

InterfaithFamily.com is exhibiting at the CCAR convention, so we’ll blog about the Task Force report when it comes out.

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2 thoughts on “Officiation News

  1. Ed, A terrific article. What a shame that the Rochester Board of Rabbis would require someone who officiates to resign. Not only does it undermine Jewish pluralism but it sends a clear message that interfaith couples are really not welcome in Rochester synagogues. The Chicago Board of Rabbis, which has a variety of very strong views, welcomes anyone ordained from a recognized seminary, and it’s members have an array of practices. Evan

  2. [b]I am so sad that it is still a question as to whether you can find a Rabbi to marry an interfaith couple.  I am 75 years old and was confronted with this same attitude when I married at 18!  I raised my children Jewish and they also married out of their faith.  Again, they met with difficulty in finding a Rabbi to officiate at their weddings.  Recently, my grandson (also raised Jewish) married out of his faith and had to request a Rabbi from IFF.  Don’t you think that this pushes them away from their faith?  If they feel welcome at a house of worship that is not theirs, but pushed away at their own, do these Rabbi’s really think they will remain in their faith?  Everyone wants to feel welcomed and loved.  That is not the message they are receiving when they are turned away from the temple they grew up in.  Refusal to celebrate the love of their lives, is being pushed away.[/b]

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