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When a Jew announces his or her decision to marry a non-Jew, red lights tend to start flashing. For the most part, the Jewish community perceives intermarriage as a threat to the continuation of the Jewish people.
In the Chasidic and Orthodox world inter-marriage is the worst that can happen, its the door out. It used to be that the parents would sit "Shiva", as if that son or daughter had passed away. Today, given than 50% of Jewish marriages are mixed, some Chasidic sects, such as the Chabad, and many Orthodox groups, do Kiruv work (trying to get these Jews back to Judaism). If a a woman is the one who intermarrys her children are Halakhicly Jewish, so they try to convert the husband. If the man is Jewish, they need to convince the wife and kids to convert to Judaism.
Relatively few rabbis officiate at interfaith marriages, and couples who feel personally rejected by this position rarely understand its basis in Jewish law. A Jewish wedding has legal standing when two witnesses see the bride accept a ring from the groom and hear him say, "With this ring you are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel." A rabbi does not marry a bride and groom, they marry each other with these words and gestures. Thus, if one of the parties is not bound "by the laws of Moses and Israel," the marriage has no standing. Another reason for rabbis' reluctance to participate in intermarriage ceremonies is that the major function of Jewish weddings is to establish Jewish homes and families. According to traditional Jewish Law, children born to non-Jewish mothers are not considered Jews. Recent demographic evidence has shown that very few children of mixed-faith marriages identify with the Jewish world.
Strong feelings about intermarriage tend to overwhelm and ignore the dilemmas facing many interinarrying couples. However, there are individuals in most cities and towns -among them counselors at Jewish agencies, rabbis, and cantors- who are willing to listen and discuss the ways intermarrying couples can affirm their connection to Judaism through the wedding. Many rabbis suggest that couples seek out a judge or justice of the peace to perform a ceremony that includes Jewish references and symbols.
Some rabbis and cantors do officiate at weddings between Jews and non-Jews, not as a matter of course but on a case-by-case basis. Such rabbis agree to officiate when the non-Jew has no religious affiliation and both people express a willingness to create a Jewish home. These interfaith weddings, which may not include all the liturgical elements of a traditional Jewish wedding, are seen as ways of encouraging couples to become members of the Jewish community, and to raise Jewish children. But the only option that satisfies the entire Jewish community is the conversion of the non-Jewish partner to Judaism. Once a non-Jew has become a Jew, intermarriage is no longer an issue. However, it must be noted that Orthodox Jews and the state of Israel recognize only those conversions supervised by Orthodox rabbis.
Should Reform Rabbis Perform Intermarriages?
The problem we want to look at here is not conversion or even whether or not to accept intermarried couples as members of Reform congregations. Most synagogues have no difficulty welcoming intermarried couples into congregational life. The unresolved question involves what Reform rabbis ought to be doing. Specifically:
The rabbis who perform intermarriages say that what they are doing will help the Jewish community. They'quote statistics showing that the majority of intermarried couples choose the Jewish community when they choose to be involved in a religion, and that they raise their children as Jews. These rabbis point out that many non-Jewish partners even convert to Judaism later on. They believe that by welcoming the newly married couple and making them feel that they can find a home within Judaism the rabbi is helping keep them as part of the Jewish community. They say that rabbis who refuse to perform mixed marriages are discouraging Jewish families and chasing away' future Jews. Needless to say, the Reform rabbis who do not perform intermarriages disagree. They feel that they have been ordained to serve the Jewish community and that their authority extends only to Jews. They believe that when they perform a wedding ceremony they are giving the marriage the blessing of God and the Jewish people. It seems to them that sanctifying an intermarriage makes a mockery of the values of Judaism. These rabbis, and they are the majority of the Reform rabbinate, don't agree that sanctioning an intermarriage significantly increases the Jewish community. They are suspicious of these statistics and cite statistics that are far more negative. They feel they can appropriately welcome an intermarried couple into the community without lending their presence to an event of which they do not approve. Besides, they find it nonsensical to urge kids not to interdate or to encourage them to marry only Jews, if they then reward those who go against the community ideal with the full blessings of Judaism.
Two important Reform Jewish values clash here. The emphasis on ethics and the equality of all people would seem to make marrying any good person a reasonable thing to do. And perhaps intermarriage wouldn't matter so much if there were hundreds of millions of Jews in the world and we weren't so strongly convinced that Judaism must be preserved. But the survival of the Jewish people and the perpetuation of Judaism are critical to us. The world Jewish population is very small, so every Jewish family matters very much for keeping Judaism alive.
There is another reason why many Reform rabbis feel that it is not right for them to perform intermarriages. They are concerned about the rest of the Jewish people. They want to get along with Conservative and Orthodox Jews for the sake of community causes at home and to help strengthen the Reform movement in Israel. They believe that if Reform rabbis cooperate with the other movements in areas concerning who is a Jew and perform marriage and conversion ceremonies according to traditional law the others will have less reason to oppose Reform.
After some years of passionate debate, the CCAR passed a resolution in 1973 urging Reform rabbis not to
perform intermarriages. The new resolution only reaffirmed what had already been said as early as 1909 (the
problem extends back at least that far). Individual rabbis of course continued to have the right to follow their
own consciences if they disagreed with the decision, as many did.