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This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
The media buzz about Conservative rabbis and officiation at weddings of interfaith couples has slowed, but there has been important commentary in the past three weeks.
The rabbis of theÂ Jewish Emergent NetworkÂ â certainly among the most progressive younger rabbis in the country âÂ expressed solidarityÂ with Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie for raising important issues, expressing âhope that in the months ahead, the focus will shift from internal Jewish politics to the ways in which contemporary Jewish spiritual leadership, as it looks both to the past and the future, will respond to the increasingly fluid boundaries between the categories of Jew and non-Jew.â
The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle had an excellent summary of the Conservative officiation debate in anÂ article about varying opinions of local Conservative rabbis. One rabbi said the Rabbinical Assembly should only change its prohibition if there is an adequate halachic basis to do so; one said if the RA changed its stance he still wouldnât officiate. The article reports that there is a petition being circulated to affirm the prohibition and that the RA has a Blue Ribbon Commission examining the boundaries of the prohibition â not overturning it, but defining what it means.
I was disturbed to read Steven Cohen quoted as criticizing theÂ Cohen Centerâs researchÂ showing a strong association between having a rabbi officiate and interfaith couplesâ later joining synagogues and raising their children Jewish. Cohen apparently says the study provides no evidence of impact and just shows that people who seek a rabbi are more Jewishly engaged. I think the Cohen Centerâs interpretation makes much more sense: âInteractions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the coupleâs prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.â
The article reports that Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, who said he would officiate for interfaith couples if the RA changed its prohibition, found a way to participate in a wedding without overtly violating it: while under the chuppah he delivered the âwedding talk,â while a Reform rabbi conducted the actual marriage ceremony. He said, âI believe that for rabbis who are congregational rabbis, after 12 to 15 years these children are like your own childrenâŚ. And I have to say, âIâm so sorry I canât perform your wedding.â They never get over it.â He continued, and I think this makes a great deal of sense,
We are not going to have a better chance of a Jewish future if we reject our children. There is no chance then. The more welcoming we are, the better chance we have for a Jewish future. I do believe this is a matter of life and death for our movement. I believe intermarriage is not leading our kids away from Judaism. I believe it is our reaction to intermarriage that is pushing them away.
Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, who was expelled by the RA because he started to officiate for interfaith couples, says that the leadership of the Conservative movement isÂ at odds with its members. âThe Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary may adamantly reject the idea that Conservative rabbis should officiate at interfaith marriages; the Conservative constituency overwhelmingly believes they should.â
Intermarriage is one of the clearest manifestations of the consequences of the gap between rabbis and constituents, which I believe is at the core of the crisis in Conservative Judaism today. But the fundamental issue is that while leadership still perceives Conservative Judaism as a halachic movement, its constituents do not. For them, Judaism is not about law. It is a matter of the heart and spirit. It is about intent, feeling, and identity. And when it comes to intermarriage, it is about love. It is not about adherence to technical standards that are arcane and burdensome, that lack transparency, and make life harder and more difficult. Like most non-Orthodox Jews, members of Conservative synagogues are seeking religious communities that enable them to celebrate the milestones of their life with joy and meaning, and which help them shoulder the burdens of a challenging society with greater confidence and purpose.
But where they seek peace, Conservative Judaism offers Halacha. Where they yearn for fulfillment, they are given the message that they are Jewishly inauthentic. Where they crave acceptance, they are judged.
The New Jersey Jewish News had an interestingÂ essay by Conservative Rabbi Judith Hauptmann, who teaches Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and has a grandchild growing up in an interfaith home. She says that as of now, she wonât officiate for interfaith couples, âbut I wish I could.â (The essay is about what she says is the more important question of how to get the children of intermarriage to grow up Jewish, and about the key role that grandparents can play.)
Finally, there was aÂ great article interviewing Rabbi Keara Stein, director of InterfaithFamily/Los Angeles, who outlined six tips to make both sides feel comfortable while respecting their traditions. She explains she made the difficult decision to co-officiate because âthere have been couples who would not have had any other Jewish elements at their special day if I had decided against it.â
This post originally appeared onÂ www.edumundcase.comÂ and is reprinted with permission.
I donât have any weddings in sight â my children are married and Iâve been married for 43 years myself. Nevertheless, I loved reading Anita Diamantâs The Jewish Wedding Now.
Iâm most interested of course in interfaith couples, and highly recommend The New Jewish Wedding to them and their families too, because the book clearly is written with you in mind.
Describing changes over time, Diamant says âthe huppah, the wedding canopy, has become a very large tent, open to Jews of all descriptions and denominationsâŚ and people from different faith traditions. The status and validity of some of these weddings is the subject of intense debate â par for the course in all things Jewish â but this edition reflects the facts on the ground.â She explains that there is no chapter devoted to interfaith couples because the book âis a menu for all who wish to include meaningful Jewish choices as they plan their ceremony and celebration; choices that are the same for everyone.â
Thatâs the overall tone Diamant takes toward interfaith couples â intermarriage is happening, interfaith couples are welcome to make the same Jewish choices as everyone. To those who say the presence of interfaith couples under the chuppah is a threat to Jewish tradition, she says âthe countervailing tradition of adaptability is the reason why Judaism has survived and thrived.â The addition of new faces under the chuppah, she says, are âa healthy infusion of living waters, mayyim hayyim, and another chapter in a long, lively, disputatious history.â
If you stop to think about it, given that many in the Jewish community would not recognize a wedding of an interfaith couple as a Jewish wedding, it is quite remarkable that a prominent author revising a book about Jewish weddings for the third time would so matter-of-factly and explicitly help interfaith couples design their own Jewish weddings.
When I first read that there was no special chapter for interfaith couples, I was concerned, unnecessarily as it turned out, that the special considerations that interfaith couples do indeed have would not be addressed. To the contrary, in a few pages under the title âNon-Jews under the Huppah,â Diamant succinctly addresses the history of attitudes toward intermarriage, states that now âintermarriage is the communal normâ (I strongly agree), discusses some of the questions interfaith couples encounter, and says âCouples who can talk about religion before their weddings are much better prepared to handle knottier questions later onâ (I strongly agree). She also addresses ways to inform relatives from different faith traditions about what will be happening, and ways to include them in the wedding ceremony. I love how she casually mentions the presence of other traditions, when she talks about including phrases written in Chinese or Hindi on wedding invitations, translations of interfaith ketubot into Spanish and Japanese, and chuppot made from Scottish tartan or African textile.
I love that she talks about the phenomenon of couples having friends ordained for the day to officiate at their weddings, but gently says âyou need a rabbiâ to create a Jewish wedding. I love that Diamant encourages interfaith couples to find a compatible rabbi to officiate at their weddings, describing some of the rejection they may encounter and resources available to help them.
As Diamant says, debate is par for the course in all things Jewish. I donât agree with Diamant saying that the term âinterfaith is only appropriate if the non-Jewish partner has an ongoing connection to another religion and wants that tradition reflected in the wedding ceremony and in married life.â As Iâve said before, âinterfaithâ today doesnât mean anything about religious practice, that couples are practicing two faiths, or one and none; it just means they come from different faith traditions. I also try not to use the term ânon-Jewâ because people donât define themselves as ânonsâ and would have preferred to see the admittedly ungainly phrase, âpartner from a different faith traditionâ throughout the book.
Moreover, a not insignificant proportion of interfaith couples are looking for rabbis to co-officiate their weddings with clergy from other religious traditions; The Jewish Wedding Now is, I believe, silent about that phenomenon. As I noted above, the book is extremely informative about Jewish wedding traditions, with parts appealing perhaps more to those interested in more traditional ceremonies. I would have liked to see a nod to couples looking for co-officiation â something like, âThis is a book about Jewish weddings, not really about weddings that are conducted in Jewish and other traditions, although you can find elements of Jewish weddings in it that you might incorporate in such a wedding.â
Itâs a tribute to The Jewish Wedding Now that it would in fact be informative and helpful to the whole range of interfaith couples planning a wedding and wanting their wedding to include Jewish traditions, and itâs written in a way that makes those traditions accessible and inviting to interfaith couples.
Stay tuned for InterfaithFamily’s Facebook Live with Anita Diamant. Follow us on Facebook here.
There are many reasons I enjoy co-officiating weddings. Here are some of the important ones.
1. Â Partnership: Working with clergy of other faiths is extremely rewarding.Â Through planning the wedding, I have the opportunity to build a relationship with a clergy person of another faith and this enables me to teach about Judaism and to learn the tenets and practices of Catholicism and Hinduism, for example, from a true teacher. I also have the privilege of growing a community of liberal, progressive, open-minded clergy who support each other.Â I have enjoyed talking with them about families who want both faiths in their lives, how they deal with membership, and other spiritual and community building ideas that we share. The last Jewish-Hindu wedding I lead, the pundit asked me about the length of a Jewish wedding. I said, âOh, about 12 minutesâ with a chuckle. He looked at me with a smile and said, âHindu weddings are 6 days long.â
2. Â Teaching: I’m able to think about Jewish rituals, symbolism and meaning in different ways when I’m required to explain it to half or more of the wedding attendees who are of a different faith. I think about how I can fit, as a rabbi, within a multi-cultural celebration. Through conveying warmth and joy and through sharing timeless blessings with universal themes, I am able to show that Judaism can be appreciated and experienced by a diverse community. I am able to share the ever-new Jewish messages of continual creation, partnership, commitment, appreciation and thanksgiving and so many other themes which are relevant and inspiring.
3. Â Respect: I am able to work with couples who care deeply about their religious upbringing, current beliefs and connections to their family. Neither one of them can give up their religious and cultural identities and want them present at this most sacred moment in their lives. These are couples who are eager to talk about process, meaning and symbolism. They have a depth of respect for each other and a sense of compromise that is inspiring.
4. Â Pastoral Care: I am able to help parentsâthe future grandparents (because, letâs face it, itâs the future babies on parentsâ minds at the time of the wedding). I am able to engage in meaningful pastoral care with parents of the couple to sort out what it means that their child is marrying someone who is an active participant in a different religion. This is a time parents think about the role they will play with grandchildren one day in terms of passing on Judaism and Jewish values.
5. Â Inclusivity: I am able to be a representative of liberal Judaism at an interfaith wedding where hundreds of people may be in attendance. I can show that the people Israel is a diverse people and this gives us strength and adds beauty to our expression. I can show that the Jewish community is made up of people who have grown up with Judaism, people who have come to Judaism as adults and those who are not Jewish but who love, partner and support members of their family who are Jewish. I can show that Judaism can be experienced and practiced by those who are not Jewish. This is seen when a bride or groom who isnât Jewish signs a ketubah, breaks the glass or shares in Kiddush (the blessing over wine) for example. It is with pride, love and respect that the two partners share in each otherâs traditions.
6. Â Continuity: I make sure that in my pre-wedding meetings with a couple who will have a co-officiated wedding, that we talk through what their religious and spiritual lives look like as a couple. We talk about continued learning opportunities. We talk about where they struggle with their own faith traditions. We talk through questions they have about Judaism. We also talk about how they will pass on religious literacy and experiences to their children. Itâs such a privilege to talk to a couple just getting married about how to enhance their own religious lives now, what practices they may want to take on and to be a positive, supportive presence as they tell me about how they want to pass on cultural and religious aspects of Judaism and possibly other religions to the next generation.Â This is a truly fascinating and profound conversation to have with a couple who is serious about observance, about how this will look and feel.
7. Â Focus on Whatâs Shared: When I started officiating with Catholic priests I would write out the English to the Priestly Benediction for them so that I could say it in Hebrew at the end of a wedding and the Priest could translate it into English. Finally one priest told me that they say it at weddings too and know it! I have studied the Lordâs Prayer more and more and see its Jewish roots so clearly now. I find the number seven, our number of completion and perfectionâwhich is alluded to in the seven circles as well as in the seven blessingsâto also be woven throughout Hindu wedding ceremonies.
Co-officiating weddings has been a highlight of my rabbinate. I am honored each wedding to be able to support the Jewish family who is proud and fulfilled to have a rabbi with them on this sacred occasion. We form a bond that is solidified under the chuppah and continues in the years ahead when I am often invited to help bless their babies or to help them affix a mezuzah at their new home. Together, we continue to learn, brainstorm and mark time with meaning.