When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
I haven’t seen the survey yet–it only was presented yesterday as part of a conference on best practices for engaging LGBT Jews–but if that number is correct, then it’s an astonishing development. The only comparable historical survey I know of is a 12-year-old rabbinic survey conducted by the Jewish Outreach Institute. That 1997 study showed that only 20 percent of rabbis across the denominations officiated at interfaith weddings, and even among the Reform rabbinate, only 36 percent officiated (although 85 percent of Reconstructionist rabbis did). Those numbers aren’t directly comparable to the reported number from the new study since the new study aggregates rabbis across several movements. But my guess is that officiation numbers are up across the board within movements that permit officiation at interfaith weddings.
The new survey polled 1,221 North American rabbis, synagogue directors and presidents in attempt to learn about how synagogues approach and engage gay and lesbian Jews. Among the other reported numbers: 73 percent of these leaders felt their synagogue did a good job welcoming gay and lesbian Jews; 33 percent said they held programs explicitly for gay people; 73 percent of synagogues had rabbis who officiated at same-sex ceremonies; and 47 percent of synagogue leaders said their attitudes toward gays and lesbians had become more favorable over the last decade.
I will let you know more once I get my hands on the report, but early signs suggest that the research will show that synagogues have become more welcoming towards gays and lesbians AND interfaith couples over the last decade. That’s a welcome development.
Fee For Service Judaism may hold us until we get our communal act together in a new way.
Judaism is changing, yet again. Many feel it is changing for the wrong reasons or in a bad way, but the fact of the change is palpable.
Post Holocaust Judaism in North America was built on two major foundational lines of thinking. The first was the cry “never again”, referring to the horrific destruction of Jewish life in Europe, and the second was the suburbanization of American Jewish communities. The intersection of these two points created a Judaism that was based in fear, on the grand scale of the Holocaust, and on the smaller but not less significant scale of assimilation into American culture. The role of rabbi50 years ago was, in no small part, to constantly remind their congregations that affiliation with Jewish community and vigilance against mixing with those outside of the Jewish community would protect us from a second holocaust (small ‘h’ holocaust).
And here we are, over half a century later, and fear based Judaism is no longer holding sway in our communities. Maybe it never did hold sway.
From L-R: Anne Hathaway, Tunde Adebimpe, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mather Zickel in Rachel Getting Married.
As a ravenous consumer of film (insert shameless plug here), I make it a point to see as many of the Oscar contenders before the show as I can. Given that the Oscars are in less than three weeks–and nominations only came out a week-and-a-half ago–I’m in a bit of a film frenzy. Last night, I saw Rachel Getting Married.
Rachel Getting Married is about a recovering addict/bulimic/human grenade, Kim (Anne Hathaway), who is released from rehab for a few days to attend her sister Rachel’s (Blake DeWitt) wedding. Kim is a narcissistic mess of a human being who proves that the only person more tiresome than an addict is a recovering addict.
But this post isn’t about Kim. It’s about Rachel and her husband, Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), and their cross-cultural mishmash of a wedding.
A question that has always boggled my mind is “How popular must a particular cultural phenomenon be before TV producers choose it for sitcoms?”
The CW’s hit series Gossip Girl recently aired an episode with an interfaith wedding, co-officiated by an Episcopal priest and a rabbi. The Forward ran an article about this episode.
The ceremony even had the traditional Hebrew phrase “Ani L’dodi…” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” from Song of Songs in the Hebrew Bible.
It’s one thing to have a Jewish wedding with an interfaith couple. It’s another to see television writers showing a co-officiated wedding with the clear expectation that the audience to get the cultural jokes made out of playing the stereotypes off each other. And, knowing that TV producers aren’t willing to risk airing a joke no one will get, it is clear that they know that co-officiated weddings are at least normalized enough to get people to pay attention to the jokes and not the be distracted by the scene itself. Continue reading →
A New York Timesarticle on the new president of the New York Board of Rabbis had us shaking our heads here in the InterfaithFamily.com office. It’s kind of funny that the Orthodox and Conservative rabbis can handle female or gay rabbis on the 700-rabbi board, but heaven forbid they should include anyone who would officiate at an intermarriage! (Which is in one way incredibly cool and exciting–women were first ordained as rabbis by the major movements in my lifetime, and wow, did you ever think you would be reading that about gay rabbis–but still.) How does intermarriage, something that apparently over 30% of Jews are doing, get to be the one thing that’s so far beyond the Pale? Continue reading →
Independent rabbis without congregations get a bad rap. There seems to be a general cultural assumption that unless you have a congregation–or you’re famous, the great reprieve of American culture–you are somehow not a “real” rabbi. Somehow the fact that a small group of volunteer leaders at a synagogue decided to pay you a salary confers more legitimacy on you than if you write, do freelance projects and travel the country to officiate at weddings and other life cycle events.
Rabbi [Bradd] Boxman arrived at Har Sinai in 2003. Up until then, he had not officiated at a single interfaith ceremony. He had been thinking about it and, he felt, if he were going to make a change, this would be a good time.
This summer, we began asking wedding couples, through a follow up questionaire, if our rabbinic and cantorial referrals were helpful for their weddings. One of our goals in providing this referral service, and the follow up questionnaire, is to help foster connection between interfaith couples and the Jewish clergy who officiate at their weddings. We hope that the rabbis and cantors we refer are welcoming and help foster a greater connection between the couple, their wedding ceremony, and other Jewish choices they may make in their journey as a family. And with every response to our six-month follow-up with the couples, we learn a little more about who is using this service and what their real needs are.
With a sample of responses in, here are some of my unscientific findings thus far. It appears that more and more couples are requesting holding wedding ceremonies before the end of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday night. Almost half of our requests for referrals ask for Saturday weddings. Many more than before are planning a wedding with a co-officiant of another faith, and several have asked for rabbis or cantors who will officiate in a church. It seems that the spectrum of what interfaith couples are seeking for wedding ceremonies is expanding. The ceremonies now range from traditional Jewish ceremonies, with all the ritual, traditions and Hebrew to ceremonies where the Jewish officiant is offering a prayer or blessing, maybe a glass is smashed, and the wedding is in a church.
Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll recently wrote an article about
the difficulties interfaith couples can face trying to find a rabbi to
officiate at their wedding. She gives examples of rabbis whose status as
rabbis is questionable, who do not respect Jewish tradition in the weddings
they conduct, and who charge unreasonable fees for their services.
Rabbi Lev Baesh and I were interviewed and photographed for the article. We
told her that there is a trend for more and more legitimate and respected
rabbis who do respect Jewish tradition to officiate at intermarriages
without charging unreasonable fees. Continue reading →
Rather than use her column as an opportunity to critique or praise Feldman, she ponders the value of the snub–both Maimonides School’s snub of Feldman and Feldman’s snub of the school and the Modern Orthodox community. Does the snub work? Does it lead to a desired change in behavior, or does it just piss people off?
Wiener certainly leans toward the latter option. Feldman’s case provides a double dose of evidence that the snub doesn’t work: Feldman intermarried and was unashamed of his life decisions despite his exclusion from the announcement section of his day school’s alumni newsletter while the Modern Orthodox community has responded to Feldman’s essay not by reconsidering some of its policies but by counterattacking Feldman with often virulent force. Continue reading →
Not to toot our own horn, but we appear to have tapped into something with the hiring of Rabbi Lev Baesh as the director of our Rabbinic Circle and rabbinic officiation referral service. Julie Wiener of The Jewish Week has written her most recent “In the Mix” column on the growing interest in officiation at intermarriages. At last year’s convention of Reform rabbis, Rabbi Jerome Davidson, of Temple Beth El in Long Island, advocated for the Reform rabbis’ association to change its position on officiation; currently its official line says that intermarriage “should be discouraged,” but leaves the decision on officiating to the discretion of individual rabbis.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Erica Greenbaum, a recent graduate of Hebrew Union College, the Reform rabbinical seminary, recently completed her senior thesis on rabbinic officiation at intermarriage.
Rabbi Greenbaum, who is director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Project Downtown in Lower Manhattan, says the research for her thesis was heartening overall.
“There continues to be a perception in some parts of the non-Reform community that any rabbi officiating at intermarriages is a shady character just doing it for the money,” she [says]. “That’s not a fair characterization. Certainly there are those people, but lots of rabbis on both sides are doing what they’re doing with a lot of integrity.”
Further, we’re aware of two studies in different stages that look at the impact of rabbinic officiation on Jewish involvement.
To all this, we say “Mazel tov!” We’ve long been of the opinion that the Jewish community is missing a golden opportunity to attract interfaith couples to Judaism through officiation at intermarriages. Nobody yet knows whether a rabbi’s involvement in an interfaith wedding makes it more likely for an interfaith couple to engage with Judaism, but it certainly can’t hurt. A rabbi’s involvement in an interfaith wedding gives a couple a personal, emotional connection to the Jewish community that they might otherwise not have. We have received numerous thank you notes from couples who we’ve helped find a Jewish officiant.
In the coming months, I suspect we will hear even more about this issue.
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