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Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a leading Conservative rabbi whose essay in March explained why he thought Conservative rabbis should continue to not officiate at weddings of interfaith couples, has a new essay arguing that â€śthe Conservative movement should be the movement of conversion.â€ť He wants to â€śmeet people where they are,â€ť and as I understand it make the conversion process easier, in particular not requiring converts to be â€śfully observant.â€ť
I have always felt that conversion is a wonderful personal choice and I donâ€™t have any issues with making the process easier including for some couples who are getting married. But the idea that making conversion more inviting and â€śdoableâ€ť will enable Conservative rabbis to meet young couples who are getting married â€śwhere they areâ€ť is sorely misguided. Because neither partner is thinking that the partner who is not Jewish needs to make a fundamental change in who he or she is in order to be marriageable.
As David Wilensky and Gabriel Erbs have just written in A Taxonomy of Stupid Shit the Jewish Establishment Says to Millennials:
We really donâ€™t understand how any thinking person believes an intra-communal breeding program will be a convincing appeal to young people. Jewish millennials chafe against this pearl-clutching because we embrace, overwhelmingly, progressive values about gender, sexuality, and marriage. To us, baby-boomer chatter on intermarriage sounds alarmingly like what a lot of â€śpolite societyâ€ť said at the advent of racial intermarriageâ€¦.
If Jewish boomers are really anxious about generational continuity (a phrase that verges on eugenics in its subtext), they should stop their hardline rhetoric, which simply pushes millennials out of the communal fold. For interfaith Jewish families who wish to build their family life within the Jewish communal context, this kind of talk constantly reminds them of their second-class status â€“ so they leave.
Shaul Magid writing in The Forward also disagreed with Rabbi Cosgrove, though for different reasons:
I do not think it is fair, or spiritually refined, to ask the non-Jew to become a Jew in order to solve a Jewish problem [intermarriage]. Or to allow us, as rabbis, to sleep at night. To do so is to make conversion into an instrument and the convert into a tool to benefit us.
Rabbi Cosgrove advances other interesting ideas. Since Conservative rabbis do not recognize patrilineal descent, he recommends that all marrying couples go to the mikveh before their weddings, which would â€ślevel the playing field of Jewish identityâ€ť â€“ and, as I understand it, enable Conservative rabbis to officiate at those weddings. He also recommends that all bâ€™nai mitzvah children go to the mikveh, which would confirm the Jewish identity of patrilineal children.
But these are band-aids that donâ€™t address a much bigger issue. Rabbi Cosgrove has said we must be â€śpassionate in creating a culture of warm embrace for Jew and non-Jew alike.â€ť Not recognizing patrilineal descent, not allowing partners from different faith traditions to participate in Jewish ritual, and not officiating at weddings of interfaith couples â€“ all of these undermine any possible warm embrace.