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A Change in Policy

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June 29, 2010

An April 9, 2010 letter to the members of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn.

Dear Friends:

I'm writing to let you know that I have recently decided to change my policy regarding officiation at interfaith weddings. For the past seven years of my rabbinate, I have chosen to only officiate at weddings between two Jewish individuals (regardless of gender). As many of you know, I have struggled for many years with the question of whether to officiate at weddings between a Jew and a non-Jew. I have now reached a point where in order to continue to fulfill my role as one who opens doors to Judaism and to the Jewish community, I feel an obligation to begin officiating at certain interfaith weddings.

Before I was ordained, I, like my classmates, had to form a policy regarding intermarriage. I decided not to officiate, not because I thought that intermarriage was necessarily "bad for the Jews," but because I felt my role as a rabbi was to officiate at Jewish weddings within the particular Jewish covenant. I had trouble figuring out how a ceremony between a Jew and a non-Jew could be an authentic Jewish wedding.

Since then, after serving several pulpits, I have seen that synagogues today, CBSRZ being a prime example, are full of committed interfaith families in which the non-Jewish spouse is a full partner in raising Jewish children, creating a Jewish home and perpetuating the life of our people. I found that because of my policy, over the past three years I have only been able to say "yes" to two weddings in total and have said "no" to at least five to six weddings per year.

Whereas I previously thought that I could say "no" to an interfaith wedding but could successfully bring the couple into the life of the congregation, I have not found that to be the case. In fact, my policy has only served to close doors that I feel are my responsibility to open. I have come to believe that I can indeed officiate at authentically Jewish weddings for interfaith couples who have made certain commitments, and that by doing this, I am growing and strengthening the Jewish community.

I have decided to begin officiating at intermarriages for couples who have demonstrated to me their commitment to creating a Jewish home, to raising unambiguously Jewish children and to being a part of the Jewish community. I will also require the couple to engage in Jewish learning. I will continue to encourage conversion to Judaism, which has proven to be the most effective way to raise children who identify as Jews. I will not be co-officiating at weddings with non-Jewish clergy, and I will continue to only officiate at weddings for couples who have joined the synagogue or whose parents are members.

Please know that I do not take this decision lightly. I have spoken in depth with colleagues and have read and thought about this issue for over seven years. I have shared my decision with the Executive Committee, the Religious Affairs Committee and the Board of Directors. Now I share it with you.

I imagine that there will be those in the congregation who will celebrate this change, and there will be others who are unhappy. I hope that if you have questions or concerns, you will share them with me directly. I am always available to meet one-on-one. Additionally, I invite you to attend one of two gatherings I have scheduled on ... to engage in dialogue with me about this change.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg

Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg

Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek
in Chester, Conn. She was ordained in May 2003 at Hebrew Union College.
She is an alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, serves on
the board of Rabbis for Human Rights - North America, and is a
participant in the 6th Rabbinic cohort of the Institute for Jewish
Spirituality.

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