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June 29, 2010
An April 9, 2010 letter to the members of Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Conn.
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.
Rabbi Rachel Goldenberg