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In March Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, a Conservative rabbi at Ansche Chesed in Manhattan, explaining “Why I Will Not Simply Accept Intermarriage,” wrote for the Forward that â€śCelebrating interfaith weddingsâ€¦ [would] diminish a sacred covenantal tradition, and risk making liberal Judaism into a jumble of traditional gestures that might please individuals but demand nothing from them.â€ť I wrote a letter to the editor which appeared in the March 20 print issue of the Forward (it’s not on the Forwardâ€™s website):
Today another Conservative rabbi, Michael Knopf from Temple Beth-El in Richmond VA, had a very important response published in Haâ€™aretz, “Getting over intermarriage: Judaismâ€™s guide to finding the right partner.” Rabbi Knopf says that â€śJewish leadersâ€™ obsession with discussing intermarriage through the prism of permissibility risks trivializing Judaism as a religion of policies, rather than as a fountain of relevant and enduring wisdom and values.â€ť Stating that Jewish tradition has much wisdom to offer about finding a partner that is just as relevant to those who intermarry, he says â€śWhat if, instead of trying to finger-wag Jews into endogamous relationships, we offered compassionate and nonjudgmental support to people, drawing from the riches of our tradition, as they seek to couple?â€ť Among his many refreshing comments are, â€śJudaism teaches that marrying Jewish is not a guarantee of a successful relationshipâ€ť and â€śpeople of different backgrounds can be oriented to faith in harmonious waysâ€ť and â€śtwo people of different backgrounds can sharpen each other in myriad ways.â€ť Rabbi Knopf concludes,
We applaud Rabbi Knopfâ€™s novel approach and the welcoming attitude he expresses. But what happens when interfaith couples are brought closer to Judaism, specifically to Conservative synagogues? In March, Rabbi David Lerner of Temple Emunah in Lexington, MA, wrote a blot post for The Times of Israel describing a New Conservative/Masorti ceremony for interfaith couples, which is described in greater length on the website of the Rabbinical Assembly (the association of Conservative rabbis).
Rabbi Lerner was a co-chair of the Rabbinical Assemblyâ€™s Commission on Keruv (Outreach), Conversion, and Jewish Peoplehood and he concentrated on creating a ceremony to welcome interfaith couples, â€śa ritual through which a couple could celebrate their love and the Jewish choices they were making, while including family and friendsâ€¦ within our understanding of halakhah (Jewish law).â€ť The core of the Hanukkat Habayit ceremony is putting up a mezuzah; the ceremony is described at length in the blog post and on the RA website and it does appear to offer a lovely and meaningful ritual and celebrate the Jewish choices the couple has made. It also comes with a three- to six-month learning period with the rabbi before the ceremony and continuing conversations with the rabbi afterwards, all aimed as supporting the coupleâ€™s Jewish growth.
We applaud this effort to support and recognize interfaith couples who make Jewish choices in a Conservative context, but itâ€™s important to note that very clear Jewish choices are required for the ceremony: It is â€śfor interfaith couples who have decided to build an exclusively Jewish home and family together;â€ť â€śif the mother is not Jewish, the children would undergo a halakhic conversion;â€ť â€śThere should also be the clear expectation that non-Jewish symbols and observances would not be a part of the coupleâ€™s home, such as a Christmas tree.â€ť Many interfaith couples who might want to make Jewish choices in a Conservative context may note be quite as far along in terms of their decision making as is required for the ceremony. And there is continuing tension with those coming from the perspective of tradition â€“ as Rabbi Lerner says, â€śsomeâ€ť in the movement may be uncomfortable with the ceremony, even with its requirements, â€śas we seek to straddle the space between our tradition and keruv.â€ť
This will surely be a continuing discussion worth following.