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June 29, 2010
A June 11, 2010 letter to the members of Congregation Beth Emeth in Wilmington, Del.
I want to speak with you about something that is very near and dear to my heart, as well as to the mission of this congregation: our outreach efforts toward those Jewish families with non-Jewish spouses.
At the Central Conference of American Rabbis meeting in March, the rabbis of the Reform movement had a conversation about reaching out to those whom we have often referred to as "interfaith families," and what we must do, as rabbis, to welcome them into the community. While officiating at weddings between Jews and non-Jews was among the topics, there was a general sense among all Reform rabbis that we must do more in general as clergy to hold out that hand of invitation that is so important.
As you know, we at Congregation Beth Emeth pride ourselves on our warmth, our welcoming nature and the way we invite people into our spiritual lives. For years we have exemplified this by permitting non-Jewish spouses and parents some role on the bima for lifecycle events and worship, accepting children born of either Jewish parent as Jewish and providing them an education, offering introduction to Judaism classes (along with the other rabbis of Wilmington) and providing opportunities for conversion for those who would choose Judaism.
This past year, we have moved toward being more welcoming, expanding the role of the non-Jewish parent at b'nai mitzvah, blessing interfaith couples about to be married with an aufruf on the bima and blessing the non-Jewish parents and spouses in our midst. However, there is more we can be doing.
As many of you know, I do not currently officiate at weddings or civil unions where both partners are not Jewish. This is not because I feel that the couple is doing anything wrong, but merely speaks to my own sense of empowerment: As a rabbi, I do not feel that I am permitted to be misader kiddushin--the celebrant--at such events. Having said that, I always do whatever I can to welcome the couple to Jewish life, offering to do premarital counseling, encouraging the taking of introduction to Judaism courses, offering a blessing before the ceremony, helping them write a service that fits both of their faith traditions and finding an alternative clergyperson. I know from my own family how important it is to have a Jewish clergyperson present, as Marisa's parents were confronted with this exact issue when they married some 40 years ago.
While I am not changing my position at this time, I know there are Reform clergy who do feel empowered to celebrate and rejoice with our families at their sacred moment of kiddushin.
That is why I am (with the support of the board and the staff) bringing one more opportunity forward. Today, the clergy of this congregation (including future clergy) are welcome to celebrate lifecycle events with our congregants so long as they follow certain guidelines, attached to this letter. I'm sure you have questions and would like to provide feedback. Please join me on ... for a discussion ... about these changes.
Here are the guidelines:
Proposed Guidelines for Congregation Beth Emeth Clergy Officiating at the Wedding of a Jew and a Non-Jew
A rabbi or cantor of Congregation Beth Emeth may officiate at the wedding of a Jew and non-Jew under the following circumstances:
- The couple must have a relationship with the congregation, either as current members themselves or the children of members in good standing.
- The couple commits to establish a Jewish home and, if they are blessed with children, raise them exclusively as Jews, providing them with a Jewish education and identity, including appropriate lifecycle experiences (brit milah/brit bat, bar/bat mitzvah, confirmation, etc.).
- The couple agrees to complete an Introduction to Judaism class (either the RAD course or a URJ approved equivalent) and/or a program designed with a CBE rabbi/cantor.
- In addition to the initial meeting(s) with a member of the clergy, the couple agrees to meet with that clergy member on a regular basis, established by the rabbi/cantor, prior to the wedding date.
- The ceremony will be a Jewish ceremony, inclusive of all rules and guidelines (e.g. cannot be on Shabbat or holidays, will only include Jewish liturgy, etc.)
- No non-Jewish clergy may co-officiate in the ceremony. Couples may opt for the participation of Jewish clergy who are members in good standing with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) or the American Conference of Cantors (ACC). Clergy who are members in good standing of another rabbinical or cantorial association approved by a CBE rabbi/cantor may also officiate. No clergy other than those approved by a CBE rabbi or cantor may participate in the ceremony.
- The officiating CBE clergyperson must approve the liturgy to be used at the ceremony. No prayers or symbols or music of another faith may be part of the ceremony.
- If the couple does not meet these guidelines, the rabbi or cantor acting as the point of contact may choose to refer the couple to another rabbi or cantor, as described above, and/or to a Jewish justice of the peace (JP) who has a relationship with CBE.