Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
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The issue of whether rabbis will officiate at marriage ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews is an important and emotionally charged one for many in our community. In Reform congregations across the country, no question is more pressing or of greater significance. We want, therefore, to share our thoughts and positions regarding officiation at interfaith weddings with you, the members of Temple Sinai.
Reform Judaism differentiates itself from other streams of Judaism by empowering individuals to make informed and educated choices about authentic Jewish practice and living. Whether rabbi, cantor or layperson, we make decisions regarding individual and communal religious practices and positions by combining the wisdom of our tradition, heritage and texts together with our modern sensibilities and understanding of what is appropriate. Life experiences and contemporary Jewish realities occasionally warrant a change in position and practice.
Temple Sinai respects the authority of its clergy to make informed and responsible decisions in matters of worship, teaching, and life cycle officiation. Though at this point our cantor does not officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies, we have great respect for one another?s views and honor both our similarities and differences. Similarly, we hope you will honor and show respect for well-considered positions that may differ from your own. If you have any questions regarding this or any other matter involving the clergy of Temple Sinai, please do not hesitate to call upon us.
One of my primary rabbinic responsibilities is that of strengthening the Jewish people. It is through this lens that I look when making decisions about teaching, life cycle officiation and other aspects of the rabbinate. For the past ten years, I declined requests to officiate at interfaith marriage ceremonies. I wanted to understand fully whether I could effectively serve and welcome interfaith couples into our congregational family without officiating. I have personally concluded that I can not.
I have studied with many married adults and congregants toward conversion over the years. For any number of reasons, prior to their marriage, most simply were not ready to make this commitment; and some might not ever be ready. However, after sitting with countless interfaith couples over the years and listening to their stories, after watching our interfaith families participate actively in our congregation, and after trying to open doors of welcome on one hand while, in essence, saying "no" on the other, I believe I can best extend a genuine welcome to those non-Jews who wish to create Jewish homes with their Jewish partners by officiating at their marriages.
As I try to do my part to strengthen the Jewish community, I can agree to officiate with joy at an interfaith marriage with the following understandings:
Essentially, I am comfortable and committed to fully embracing those who want to embrace us, the Jewish people, at the time of their marriage and in the years to come.
I will officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies for three reasons: first, to validate the desire of the Jewish partner to stay connected to his or her faith, people, and culture, as well as to provide a positive "first Jewish experience" to the non-Jewish partner. Secondly, because there are many ways to create and foster Jewish families. I believe that a family with one Jewish partner and one who is not Jewish can still raise Jewish children and keep a Jewish home. Thirdly, because the saga of the Jewish people has always been entwined with people who are not Jewish. From Rebecca to Leah to Zippora to Ruth, non-Jewish spouses have played a significant role in creating and maintaining Jewish tradition.
While I will officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies, I am uncomfortable with the inclusion of any other non-Jewish clergy in the marriage ceremony. The ceremony I perform is a Jewish ceremony; I do not include texts from other religious denominations and I do not perform a secular service. I also meet with each couple at least four times prior to the wedding ceremony to discuss, among other things, the role that Judaism will play in their home and in their lives. These sessions not only allow me to get to know the couple but they also help the non-Jewish partner become more attached to me not as their "officiant" but as their rabbi.