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To Officiate or Not?

Reprinted from The Jewish Journal Boston North. Originally titled "Local Rabbis Weigh In on Interfaith Marriage."

July 28, 2006

Reform rabbis in the North Shore suburbs of Boston agree that intermarriage is one of the most difficult issues they grapple with, though many have decided not to perform them.

David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, Herman Blumberg of Temple Tifereth Israel in Malden, and Robert Goldstein of Temple Emanuel in Andover do not officiate at interfaith weddings, though they stress that they remain committed to being open and welcoming to non-Jewish spouses.

"In my function as a rabbi and officiant at a wedding ceremony, I represent Jewish tradition and Jewish community, and I am respectful of Jewish law," said Blumberg. "A Jewish marriage is one which occurs between two Jews, and I cannot violate that reading of tradition.

Blumberg acknowledges the considerable tension this issue generates within the Reform movement, with its commitment to freedom of choice and the recent calls from its leadership to be more welcoming to interfaith families. "This is a very difficult issue, and rabbis agonize over it again and again," he says. "The continual debate and discussion have made us all more sensitive to the needs of interfaith families."

David Meyer cites the 1973 decision of the Conference of American Rabbis in explaining his refusal to officiate at interfaith weddings. The non-binding resolution declared the CCAR's opposition to performing an interfaith marriages, but respects the right of other rabbis to do so if they choose.

"In the Jewish religion, the bride and groom marry each other," said Meyer. "The rabbi is present to ascertain that Jewish norms are fulfilled. The language of the ceremony assumes the bride and groom are parties to God and the Jewish people. In an interfaith ceremony, the language would not be fitting."

Meyer did say he would be willing to help interfaith couples plan a ceremony which incorporates Jewish traditions.

"I am glad to talk to any couple to help them think through their decision or to help plan a ceremony that incorporates Jewish traditions, such as the breaking of the glass or having a chuppah, none of which requires the presence of a rabbi," he said.

Like his colleagues, Robert Goldstein is committed to outreach to interfaith couples but won't perform the ceremony himself.

"I am a product of my training and my upbringing and I have never officiated at an interfaith marriage," he said. "I respect those rabbis who have different views, and I believe the Reform movement should support its rabbis, regardless of their personal stance on this issue."

Howard Kosovske, of Temple Beth Shalom in Peabody, took a more nuanced approach.

"Following the latest thinking as articulated at the recent CCAR convention, the issue of whether a rabbi does or does not officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies is an issue best discussed within the rabbi's study, directly with the rabbi," he said.

The only local rabbi who does perform interfaith ceremonies is Judy Epstein, leader of the Reconstructionist Congregation Keshet Yam in Manchester. Epstein says she became a rabbi, in part, in order to officiate at interfaith weddings. Of the 30 or so weddings she consecrates annually, she estimates that 25 involve interfaith couples. Her only prerequisite is that each couple agrees to study with her ahead of time, examining the issues surrounding an interfaith marriage, from each person's own history to the impact on children and other family members.

"This education process is better for all concerned," Epstein says.

Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Nancy Fromson

Nancy Fromson is a freelance writer living in Marblehead, Mass.

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