Variations on Inclusion

|

I loved Rabbi Deborah Waxman’s explanation of why the Reconstructionist movement  rebranded itself as “Reconstructing Judaism,” including her statement that “A critical path forward is shifting from a focus on ‘being’ Jewish – important but insufficient for providing substance and structure – to a focus on ‘doing’ Jewish.” That shift in focus is a fundamental basis of a radically inclusive approach to interfaith families, and it’s not surprising that Rabbi Waxman also says, “Let’s make sure our children can tell their non-Jewish friends, family members and life partners how Jewish organizations opened pathways to engagement.”

There’s been more ferment in the Conservative movement about intermarriage. In Jews Should Have Taught Our Children How To Intermarry, Philip Graubart, a Conservative rabbi who is now the “Chief Jewish Officer” at a day school in San Diego, relates that thirty years ago his father, also a Conservative rabbi, took the position that “we need to imbue young Jews with enough self-confidence and pride that even if (or, really when) they intermarry, they’ll insist on raising their kids as Jews.” Graubart says his father was correct:

None of the dating schemes or the refusals to officiate, or pushing away the non-Jewish spouses during bar-bat mitzvah ceremonies, or the sometimes complex conditions some rabbis put on intermarried couples — take these classes, perform these rituals, structure the ceremony in these ways, stand here during this ceremony, but not here; say this, but not this — made a dent in what we now recognize was inevitable. In a free and prosperous country, Jews are going to meet and marry non-Jews in large numbers, no matter we do.

But Graubart says his father did not go far enough:

Rather than refusing to officiate at intermarriages, we should have insisted that we were exactly who these couples needed to sanctify their union, without conditions. At least then, Jewish spirituality would have had a voice and role in the most important day in the lives of a generation of young Jews (and many non-Jews). Instead of rejecting their most important and intimate decision, we could have helped them celebrate, and kept them close. But we pushed them away.

Graubart says the issue is larger than intermarriage – it is what to think about and how to live with those who are not Jewish. The attitudes that have “colored all our thinking about intermarriage” are that they “threaten us physically. Or they engage in non-Jewish practices which tempt us. Or, more subtly, they threaten our distinctive identity. They come too close, sometimes into the very walls of our synagogue, or on the bimah.” Graubart says things have changed, “non-Jews” (his term) are a crucial part of our Jewish community, and

[O]f course, many of the non-Jews now married to Jews take the lead in creating Jewish moments for their kids. Imagine what they would have done if, instead of rejecting them on the most important day of their lives, we embraced them. It’s probably time to start.

In the meantime, Josh Nathan-Kazis reported for the Forward that a little more than a year ago, a young Conservative rabbi discovered that the Conservative movement never officially adopted its ban on blessing intermarriages, that the movement’s response was to convene a secret commission, and that the Rabbinical Assembly (RA) (the association of Conservative rabbis) recently adopted the commission’s recommendation with “new language for the rules that reaffirm most of the ban on blessing intermarriages.” The RA has also had a rule that Conservative rabbis could not attend interfaith weddings; the commission apparently reported that the RA had not enforced that rule and suggested “the beginning of a process that could allow rabbis to attend them without sanction.”

The article notes that while some “insiders” knew that the rule against attendance was not enforced, other rabbis complied with the rule at great personal expense, including not attending weddings of family members; Nathan-Kazis had a follow-up article titled Saddened Rabbis Learn They Could Have Gone to Loved Ones’ Interfaith Weddings.

Nathan-Kazis writes that some rabbis see the commission’s report, by opening up the standards and practices for discussion, “as a first step toward acceptance of intermarriage by the Conservative leadership.” Separately, Rabbi Graubart offers his take on the issue:

[I]s the debate over intermarriage really about rules?… Aren’t there other values at play — family, romance, intimacy, respect, kindness, tolerance, pluralism, freedom? Of course these questions lead me to similar inquiries about Conservative Judaism. Can a great religious movement really be reduced to a set of behaviors, or even a range of behaviors within a prescribed path? Isn’t there more to Conservative Judaism — more to Judaism — than Halacha?

I try not to say “non-Jew” any more, and would respectfully suggest to Rabbi Waxman and Rabbi Graubert that they consider not doing so either. I saw an interesting piece relating to another controversial term, “half-Jewish,” recently. In There’s No Such Thing As ‘Half-Jewish.’ It’s Simply ‘Jewish.’Alyssa Pinsker relates how as a child of a Ukrainian Greek Catholic mother and a Jewish father, and after practicing Judaism for eleven years, “somehow I am always considered ‘half’.”

The position of the half-Jew is different from any other bicultural or biracial adult: One side is rejected by traditionalists, and the other by anti-Semites. Ask most Israelis, Conservative Jews and any Orthodox Jew, and they will quickly tell you that I am not Jewish. On the other hand, during a teaching stint in Switzerland, I lost my job due because I was practicing Judaism openly and talking about it; and with my Jewish background, I could never work in Saudi Arabia. This puts me -– and all other so-called “half Jews” — in a painful twilight zone, neither here nor there.

Pinsker is considering undergoing an Orthodox conversion “so that my children don’t have to go through what I went through.” In the meantime, she says, she’s “made my choice about who I am – despite the hardships, and regardless of whether or not I go through conversion down the road….I am just another Jew. Period.”

In other news, you might want to see:

  • A nice mention in the Forward of Hebrew College’s graduate certificate in Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement led by Keren McGinity.
  • A great report on One Table that notes that 15% of hosts come from interfaith families.
  • A nice article on Base Hillel that notes that 13% of participants came from “non-Jewish” homes.
  • Yet another example of the Israeli attitude that intermarriage is the same as assimilation – with the wrinkle that Arab Members of the Knesset don’t want their children to marry Jews and be “assimilated.”

Inclusion as a New Year Begins

|

Charlene Seidle, an important funder, in Five 2018 Jewish Philanthropy Trends To Watch, refers to “positive opportunities to meet our constituents where they are, in innovative ways that resonate with their needs and interests.” She continues:

Judaism is our competitive advantage, and 2018 is the year to use Jewish wisdom to its full and vibrant extent. This will not happen by drawing lines in the sand, but rather by being radically welcoming and giving people of all interests and backgrounds the chance to produce, consume, revive for themselves, speak up, speak out and “pray with their feet.” If we don’t, the existential crisis will not be their rejection of all that’s righteous, but rather the dire loss of talent that the Jewish community will suffer through our rejection of those who don’t look and feel exactly like “we” do (whoever “we” is these days).

I love the reference to “radical welcoming” and agree about the dire loss of talent that rejection generates. I love that Seidle refers to Jews of Color as an example, noting they represent 20% of the Jewish community and that “if we were fully inclusive, Jewish convenings like the GA, URJ Biennial, Jewish Funders Network and others would include scores of non-white Jews. What an opportunity to form new friendships and benefit from the diverse experiences which contribute to innovation and reinvention in lasting ways.”

But I can’t help but note that if we were fully inclusive of interfaith families and partners from different faith traditions, who represent 50% of the Jewish community and even more of the liberal Jewish community, that would really “make 2018 the year of bold Jewish philanthropic vision and action.”

When the Forward asked twenty rabbis Where Do You See the Jewish Community in 50 Years,  two responses related to that need for inclusion: Reform Rabbi Denise Eger, former head of the CCAR, saidThere are more Jews leaving the formal attachments to the Jewish community because the structures of the community are not in touch with where the Jewish people are really at,” and Reconstructionist Rabbi Nina Mandel said “My hope is that in 50 years, the global Jewish communities will be embracing the diversity of practice, region, ethnicity and peoplehood.”

The top story in the New York Jewish Week’s Stories to Watch in 2018 is “Rabbis Officiating at Intermarriages:” “As intermarriage increases in this country, the willingness of rabbis to officiate at interfaith marriages is becoming a topic of growing interest, especially in the Conservative movement… 2018 could prove to be a pivotal year in the debate.” The Jewish Week suggests that processes and decisions by Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie and congregation B’nai Jeshurun perhaps provide “a blueprint for others wishing to find some way to support interfaith unions.” There was an interesting story in the Wisconsin Jewish newspaper, Local synagogues work to welcome interfaith families, about increasing welcome to interfaith families, including rabbis who have started to officiate for interfaith couples, as well as anecdotal data on apparently increasing instances of conversion. This will clearly be an important continuing story in the new year.

In “’Interfaith’ term rings hollow for some Jews” Holly Lebowitz Rossi, reporting on a panel at the URJ Biennial for the Religion News Service, writes that Jewish communities are “more supportive and inclusive than in previous generations” but the “language of this inclusion effort matters” to interfaith families. Rossi quotes InterfaithFamily’s Jodi Bromberg recommending that Jewish communities stop using the term “non-Jew.” She also quotes a rabbi who says the term “interfaith” isn’t accurate and prefers “families where individuals come from different faith backgrounds.” But I agree with Susan Katz Miller, also quoted in the article, that the term “interfaith” “works for families that have chosen to practice only Judaism, as well as those that maintain both parents’ traditions.” The article has one other very interesting comment by a lay person at the biennial, who distinguished welcoming and inclusive: “Welcoming makes you feel like you’re a guest, … Inclusion is, ‘you belong here.’”

Let’s hope that 2018 does become a year of inclusion and bold philanthropic vision and action toward that end.

Welcome Back, URJ!

|

The Reform movement made a very important announcement last night, the launch of RJ Connect, which has the potential to engage many more interfaith couples and families in Jewish life.

The Reform movement originated what used to be called “outreach” to interfaith families back in the 1980s. The movement had a pioneering outreach department that at its high point had a part-time regional outreach director in the movement’s fourteen regions around the country. The outreach staff were exceptionally warm, embracing, talented and hardworking ambassadors who helped congregations to be more welcoming and to offer programs, including the Yours, Mine and Ours workshop that helped new couples learn to talk and make decisions about having religious traditions together.

Sadly in 2003, the outreach department was dismantled, reportedly for financial reasons. I heard at the time a view that if interfaith families were going to join synagogue, they would gravitate towards Reform synagogues, so no special outreach efforts were needed.

In 2007 InterfaithFamily started an officiation referral service to help interfaith couples find rabbis to officiate or co-officiate at their weddings. In the ten years since, InterfaithFamily responded to probably more than 15,000 referral requests. In 2011, InterfaithFamily launched its Your Community initiative, with staff rabbis in communities around the country offering a range of services and programs, including workshops/discussion groups/meet-ups for new couples.

It is very affirming to see the Reform movement come back with its huge resources to once again offer services and programs explicitly aimed at reaching and engaging interfaith families. RJ Connect will apparently include an officiation referral service that will help couples – including but not limited to interfaith couples – to find rabbis and cantors – limited to Reform rabbis and cantors – to officiate. RJ Connect will also in some fashion offer the Yours, Mine and Ours program for interfaith couples. These are very promising initiatives and a welcome addition to existing efforts that include and reach beyond Reform clergy and congregations.

The URJ announced that Rabbi Julie Zupan will be RJ Connect Director – I want to personally congratulate Julie, who has done a wonderful job as director of Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. I send her very best wishes for success in her new very big job with very big potential.

Growing Inclusivity

|

The intermarriage news since the High Holidays has continued to be positive for the most part. I was especially pleased to read Rabbi Micah Streiffer’s Yom Kippur sermon announcing that he was going to start officiating at weddings for interfaith couples. I say “especially” because Rabbi Streiffer is in Toronto, Canada and as far as I know he is the first Reform rabbi there to officiate. I remember many years when InterfaithFamily was not able to refer people in Toronto to any “mainstream” rabbis, so this is a welcome breakthrough.

I also say “especially” because Rabbi Streiffer cites the Yom Kippur morning Torah portion in which Moses says that everyone present is entering into the covenant with God – and Rabbi Streiffer explicitly says that includes “the ger, the non-Jew.” That’s an argument I first made back in 2000. It’s very affirming to have a rabbi endorse of that view. It’s an exemplary inclusive sermon that is well worth reading.

A second great item was an article by InterfaithFamily’s Stacie Garnett-Cook, Interfaith Inclusion: One Year to Lasting Change, who asked, “What should an organization actually do to become more inclusive? Many organizations say that they are welcoming, but do our actions and words match our intentions?” InterfaithFamily’s new Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI), modeled on the Keshet Leadership Project and funded by the Covenant Foundation, supports leaders in organizations who create and implement action plans to accomplish those goals. The article describes the program design and underlying theory, as well as the organizations that participated in the first year.

The importance of being truly inclusive in attracting and engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community can’t be over-estimated. I hope many more Jewish organization will seriously consider participating in this initiative.

I was honored to be included in Moment Magazine’s Symposium, Is Intermarriage Good for the Jews? (If you want to know how I looked at 24, take a look at my wedding photo – my 7-year old grandson said I looked “young” – and I assure you that the tie I was wearing was very fashionable at the time!) Marilyn Cooper did a great job putting together very diverse views; reading all of them carefully left me feeling, well, that there are very diverse views. I was the only person who actually said there are many strong arguments why intermarriage is good for Jews. Keren McGinity also expressed a positive view:

Provided that intermarried Jews and their families are treated equally as inmarried families, and that Jewish education is accessible and engaging, intermarriage can be an opportunity for Jews and their loved ones to draw closer to Judaism and the Jewish community.

Several contributors, including Bob Davis, A. J. Jacobs and Naomi Schaefer Riley, saw increased tolerance as a positive impact of intermarriage. Rabbis Matalon and Lau-Lavie, who are pushing the Conservative movement’s boundaries on officiation, offer very realistic assessments that I thought were optimistic about engaging interfaith families Jewishly.

But there were several expressions of quite negative views. In upholding the movement’s ban on officiation, I respectfully think Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chair of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, is wrong to say that officiating at interfaith marriages does not help the Jewish people, and that “Reform rabbis have been doing this for quite a while and, for the most part, they have not succeeded in convincing the intermarried couples to be actively Jewish.” I think that is an untenable position given the research I’ve mentioned many times that shows correlation between officiation and later synagogue membership and raising children as Jews.

Two Orthodox perspectives insisted on opposing intermarriage, one saying “intermarriage is heartbreaking.” Sarina Roffe was most extreme: “Every time someone marries out, a whole generation of Jewish people is gone.” She comes from the Syrian Jewish community, which she says rejects not only those who intermarry, but even those who marry Orthodox converts.

I was puzzled by Elisha Wiesel, son of Elie Wiesel, who says that if he had intermarried, “experiences that I currently derive tremendous meaning from would be missing.” I say puzzled because there is no reason why the experiences he mentions – saying Kaddish for a parent, preparing a son for his bar mitzvah, and watching a daughter learn Hebrew – have to be missing in intermarried families.

The Forward also published We asked 22 rabbis: Is intermarriage a problem or an opportunity which offered a not dissimilar set of diverse views. Susan Katz Miller had an interesting take on the piece, criticizing the sample for being half Orthodox rabbis (when the Orthodox are 10% of the population) and only two Reform, and the “corrosive” content of many of the responses. She correctly points out that interfaith families reading many of the opinions will not feel welcomed or included.

I was struck, however, by responses from two wonderful Orthodox rabbis, Shmuly Yanklowitz and Avram Mlotek, who did emphasize inclusivity. Rabbi Yanklowitz said, “With the proper inclusive programming and outreach opportunities, there are ways to make interfaith families feel welcome in the community, which will, in turn, spark interest in creating and perpetuating loving Jewish households.” Rabbi Mlotek said, “If our Jewish communities seek to be relevant religious centers for the 70% of American Jews who choose to intermarry, it is incumbent upon us to welcome these families unabashedly and work with them as they strive to build Jewish homes.”

Finally in the continuing discussion about Conservative rabbis and officiation, there is items. Letter Reignites Interfaith Officiation Debate refers to a letter by four Conservative leaders that re-affirms the ban on officiating for interfaith couples, but does talk at length about welcoming them. Conservative Jewish Leaders Are Endangering Their Brand is an opinion by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall who objects to the letter’s statement that the intermarried should be welcomed with “equally open arms.” Kwall wants to retain the Conservative brand’s strong preference for in-marriage — that’s a non-inclusive approach that I believe can only lead to decline.

Letters in the Scroll

|

I hope your Jewish holidays this year were good. Despite all of the bad news in the world, my holidays were excellent. They ended with the first grade consecration of my oldest grandchild on erev Simchat Torah at Temple Sinai in Brookline, Massachusetts. The rabbi had all of the children present at the service sit cross-legged on both sides of the center aisle of the sanctuary and rolled out two Torah scrolls with the children holding them off the floor while the end of one and the beginning of the other were read; the look of awe on my grandson’s face was wonderful to see. I wish all of the people who say that the grandchildren and children of intermarriage won’t be Jewish could have seen it.

My holidays began on an equal high, and that’s saying a lot. Rabbi Allison Berry of Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts gave a truly wonderful sermon, The View From Mt. Sinai – Building Our Inclusive Community. Recalling Jewish tradition that the people gathered at Mt. Sinai included generations past and future, she said “I was at Mt. Sinai. I was there, and so were you.” She said “all of us were part of the … chain of tradition.” And then she made  explicit who she was talking about, mentioning first by name the parents and children of an interfaith family (before mentioning her adopted Korean-American sister, an upcoming Bat Mitzvah who uses sign language, seniors and transgender people). Noting that nearly half of the Temple’s religious school students come from interfaith families, she said “you are part of us. We appreciate the many ways you expand what it means to be Jewish…. We are honored you have chosen this community.”

Rabbi Berry is a rabbi who “gets it.” I wish the critics of intermarriage who say the Jewish community is already plenty welcoming to interfaith families would take this to heart: “I’ve learned from experience there is a tremendous difference between being a welcoming community and being a community that actually includes. We need to allow our perceptions and assumptions to be challenged. We need to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable. We need to be aware that language has the power to include or exclude.”

I was especially moved when Rabbi Berry quoted Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as saying “The Jewish people is a living Sefer Torah [Torah scroll], and each of us is one of its letters.” While Rabbi Sacks is a brilliant Jewish scholar and teacher, he is a harsh critic of intermarriage; one of his many books, Will We Have Jewish Grandchildren, suggests he would be surprised that my grandson was just consecrated, and I don’t think he would say there are letters in the Torah for intermarried partners from different faith traditions, or for the children of mothers who are not Jewish. But Rabbi Berry does. She said that “Somewhere embedded on the scrolls behind me, in our ark, is the letter containing” the story of the interfaith family she first mentioned;

Together these letters of Torah construct our history and our future. They are an expression of our joys, sorrows, and moments of transcendence. When we leave people out or do not see those asking to be allowed in, we lose letters vital to the integrity of our Torah. When we build sacred, inclusive community we stand together as envisioned at Sinai….

We need more rabbis like Rabbi Berry whose deep-seated attitude is that there are letters in the Torah not just for every Jew, but for every Jewishly-engaged person.

It was quiet on the intermarriage front during the holidays. I was very pleased to be quoted in a great JTA story about How Mark Zuckerberg Is Embracing His Judaism; I had said in my last blog post, after Zuckerberg’s Facebook post that he had given his grandfather’s Kiddush cup to his daughter, that “The fact that such a super-influential couple clearly are making Jewish choices for their family is the best news with which to start the new year. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan could really change the course of Jewish history if they got involved in efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life.” I’d like to think there are letters in the Torah for Priscilla Chan and her children.

Before the holidays there was a lot of news about developments in the Conservative movement. The leaders of the movement just today came out with a statement that affirms the movement’s invitation to partners from different faith traditions to convert, its prohibition on rabbis officiating at weddings of interfaith couples, and its desire to honor and include them:

It is a blessing that growing numbers of non-Jews are willing to see us as colleagues, neighbors, friends and even family…. We joyously include them and their families in the lives of our congregations and organizations, in our teaching of Torah, in our worship, in our social action. And we find ways to celebrate their marriage and love that honors their choice not to merge their identity with the people Israel by being present as pastors before the wedding, as rabbinic guides and companions after the wedding and as loving friends during the wedding period.

There is a lot that is positive in this language. But with all respect, the stated reasoning behind the officiation prohibition – “Honoring the integrity of both partners in a wedding, and for the sake of deepening faithful Jewish living” – is misguided, in my view. The partner from a different faith tradition who wants a rabbi to officiate isn’t dishonoring his or her integrity, and I believe it is clear that officiation leads to more faithful Jewish living, not less. They are saying, in effect, that that partner doesn’t have a letter in the Torah unless he or she converts.

Objective Social Science?

|

Michelle Shain, a researcher at the Cohen Center at Brandeis, has written a very damaging article about the Cohen Center’s game-changing study, Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage, about which I’ve said, “The many rabbis who don’t officiate at weddings of interfaith couples because they think those couples won’t engage in Jewish life no longer have that leg to stand on.” Shain says she is a social scientist and wants people to understand exactly what the study demonstrates and what it does not – but she picks and chooses pieces of the study that support the apparent intention of her article to support maintaining Conservative rabbis’ opposition to officiation for interfaith couples.

The key findings of the study were that interfaith couples who had a rabbi as sole officiant were far more likely to join synagogues and raise their children as Jews. Shain’s main point is that those who chose to have a rabbi had richer Jewish experiences, so that the “logical conclusion is that their stronger pre-existing Jewish commitments led them both to seek a rabbi to officiate at their weddings and to engage in Jewish life after their weddings.” She says that on four measures, including having a special meal on Shabbat, there was no difference between couples who had a rabbi and those who did not after controlling for the pre-existing differences.

What she doesn’t say is that the study says (at p. 21) that after controlling for pre-existing differences, “intermarried couples who married with a sole Jewish officiant were still significantly more engaged in Jewish life than other intermarried couples on many of the outcomes discussed above. In particular, they were significantly more likely to raise their oldest child Jewish by religion, enroll children in a Jewish early childhood education setting, belong to a synagogue, attend religious services, celebrate Jewish holidays, participate in Jewish community activities, donate to Jewish or Israeli causes, and talk to family and friends about Judaism.” (emphasis added)

Shain also stretches to mention – without citation – a 2010 study that she says shows that officiating rabbis don’t have subsequent contact with couples, and take the standard pot-shot that without a random sample survey, no one can say anything about the impact of officiation on subsequent Jewish engagement.

Shain like anyone else is entitled to her views on policy, but is it appropriate to position oneself as an objective, dispassionate researcher and be selective like this? Conservative rabbis who oppose officiation have already made the pre-existing differences argument, and now have support from a researcher at the Cohen Center itself, when the key findings about raising children and synagogue membership aren’t touched by that argument.

I would urge Conservative rabbis to consider what the study very carefully does say, without claiming causation: ““Interactions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the couple’s prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.” That is entirely consistent with common sense and experience, which sometimes are as important as research.

Fortunately, there have been five very positive responses to intermarriage in recent weeks — you can read about them here.

Postscript September 19
Len Saxe and Fern Chertok have an excellent response in eJewishPhilanthropy, Neither Fact Nor Fallacy.

The Conservative Officiation Debate Continues

|

The media buzz about Conservative rabbis and officiation at weddings of interfaith couples has slowed, but there has been important commentary in the past three weeks.

The rabbis of the Jewish Emergent Network – certainly among the most progressive younger rabbis in the country – expressed solidarity with Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie for raising important issues, expressing “hope that in the months ahead, the focus will shift from internal Jewish politics to the ways in which contemporary Jewish spiritual leadership, as it looks both to the past and the future, will respond to the increasingly fluid boundaries between the categories of Jew and non-Jew.”

The Pittsburg Jewish Chronicle had an excellent summary of the Conservative officiation debate in an article about varying opinions of local Conservative rabbis. One rabbi said the Rabbinical Assembly should only change its prohibition if there is an adequate halachic basis to do so; one said if the RA changed its stance he still wouldn’t officiate. The article reports that there is a petition being circulated to affirm the prohibition and that the RA has a Blue Ribbon Commission examining the boundaries of the prohibition – not overturning it, but defining what it means.

I was disturbed to read Steven Cohen quoted as criticizing the Cohen Center’s research showing a strong association between having a rabbi officiate and interfaith couples’ later joining synagogues and raising their children Jewish. Cohen apparently says the study provides no evidence of impact and just shows that people who seek a rabbi are more Jewishly engaged. I think the Cohen Center’s interpretation makes much more sense: “Interactions with Jewish clergy in preparation for the wedding may serve to welcome the non-Jewish partner into Judaism, establish the groundwork for a continuing relationship, and affirm the couple’s prior decision to raise a Jewish family. However, the opposite may also be true. Rejection by Jewish clergy may serve to dissuade couples from pursuing other Jewish commitments and connections.”

The article reports that Rabbi Alex Greenbaum, who said he would officiate for interfaith couples if the RA changed its prohibition, found a way to participate in a wedding without overtly violating it: while under the chuppah he delivered the “wedding talk,” while a Reform rabbi conducted the actual marriage ceremony. He said, “I believe that for rabbis who are congregational rabbis, after 12 to 15 years these children are like your own children…. And I have to say, ‘I’m so sorry I can’t perform your wedding.’ They never get over it.” He continued, and I think this makes a great deal of sense,

We are not going to have a better chance of a Jewish future if we reject our children. There is no chance then. The more welcoming we are, the better chance we have for a Jewish future. I do believe this is a matter of life and death for our movement. I believe intermarriage is not leading our kids away from Judaism. I believe it is our reaction to intermarriage that is pushing them away.

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, who was expelled by the RA because he started to officiate for interfaith couples, says that the leadership of the Conservative movement is at odds with its members. “The Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary may adamantly reject the idea that Conservative rabbis should officiate at interfaith marriages; the Conservative constituency overwhelmingly believes they should.”

Intermarriage is one of the clearest manifestations of the consequences of the gap between rabbis and constituents, which I believe is at the core of the crisis in Conservative Judaism today. But the fundamental issue is that while leadership still perceives Conservative Judaism as a halachic movement, its constituents do not. For them, Judaism is not about law. It is a matter of the heart and spirit. It is about intent, feeling, and identity. And when it comes to intermarriage, it is about love. It is not about adherence to technical standards that are arcane and burdensome, that lack transparency, and make life harder and more difficult. Like most non-Orthodox Jews, members of Conservative synagogues are seeking religious communities that enable them to celebrate the milestones of their life with joy and meaning, and which help them shoulder the burdens of a challenging society with greater confidence and purpose.

But where they seek peace, Conservative Judaism offers Halacha. Where they yearn for fulfillment, they are given the message that they are Jewishly inauthentic. Where they crave acceptance, they are judged.

The New Jersey Jewish News had an interesting essay by Conservative Rabbi Judith Hauptmann, who teaches Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and has a grandchild growing up in an interfaith home. She says that as of now, she won’t officiate for interfaith couples, “but I wish I could.” (The essay is about what she says is the more important question of how to get the children of intermarriage to grow up Jewish, and about the key role that grandparents can play.)

Finally, there was a great article interviewing Rabbi Keara Stein, director of InterfaithFamily/Los Angeles, who outlined six tips to make both sides feel comfortable while respecting their traditions. She explains she made the difficult decision to co-officiate because “there have been couples who would not have had any other Jewish elements at their special day if I had decided against it.”

More Shifting Ground

|

It’s been busy the past two weeks. As Shmuel Rosner just pointed out, since his original article a month ago, “The volume of writing on Jewish interfaith marriage in America is high.”

Rosner had said that in the absence of definitive studies or any consensus, the debate about whether intermarriage will weaken or strengthen us will be decided by trial and error over three or four generations, with some rabbis officiating and some not. I said his was an incredibly non-activist approach and that “arguing that intermarriage weakens us is self-fulfilling. Intermarriage won’t be an opportunity to grow in numbers and vitality if the messages the Jewish community sends – like by rabbis not officiating – disapprove of interfaith couples [and] relationships.”

Rosner now says that I was right, in the sense that a clear and unified message might be better. But he says critics of intermarriage can make the same argument, that “arguing that sticking with in-marriage weakens us is self-fulfilling. In-marriage won’t be an opportunity to grow in numbers and vitality if the messages the Jewish community sends – like by rabbis officiating – disapprove of insistence on Jewish couples and relationships.”

That is a false equivalency, in my view. There can’t be any question that decrying intermarriage turns interfaith couples away, or that insisting on in-marriage doesn’t work. No one is arguing that in-marriage is bad. Rabbis officiating for interfaith couples does not send a message of disapproval of in-marriage. Intermarriage could be regarded as an equal norm, along with in-marriage; they can co-exist. It’s the insistence that there is only one right way that’s the problem.

Rosner says a Conservative rabbi who refers to “the naive hope that [a rabbi] standing under the chuppah will have a significant impact on the Jewishness of interfaith couples or the families they build” is right. How anyone can hold that position after the Cohen Center’s latest research showing the positive impact of rabbinic officiation escapes me. (Rosner cites an article by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall that rolls out the tired old, previously failed strategy to “actively” encourage conversion, and an interesting “descriptive, not opinionated” analysis by Emma Green in the Atlantic.)

The Continued Decay of Jewish Federations, which generated a lot of comment on eJewishPhilanthropy, takes pot shots at intermarriage; the anonymous author says “if the person I walk down the aisle with isn’t Jewish, how much am I really going to care about the [Jewish] folks down the block?” and “72% of non-Orthodox intermarrying is … about Jewish apathy.” Fortunately one comment wagers that the writer “holds outdated views that intermarriage… divorce[s] from the Jewish community,” while another says “this resentment of people in interfaith relationships has got to stop.”

Thankfully there has been more positive perspective in the media. Rob Eshman, publisher and editor of the LA Jewish Journal, says:

But I know — we all know — too many wonderful intermarried couples. They continue to serve the community as volunteers, funders, activists. They raise children who go on to practice Judaism, embody its values and contribute to the Jewish community and the world. They succeed at being Jewish far, far better than any number of “in-married” Jewish couples who stay uncurious and uninvolved, whose biggest contribution to Jewish life was paying the rabbi who married them.

This truth puts rabbis and movements who resist intermarriage in the same bind as many were before acknowledging same-sex marriage. How do you exclude a committed, loving constituency, willing to belong and contribute to Jewish life, from meaningful Jewish rituals? Can intermarriage done correctly actually be not a curse, but a cure?

The ground has shifted on this issue, and something tells me we’re about to find the answer.

One outstanding example of an answer is Debbie Karl, who tells How One Interfaith Family Found a Home in a Synagogue: because a wonderful rabbi agreed to officiate for her and “turned the whole process into a positive experience for both of us.” If she hadn’t, “that could have been the end of Judaism for me… I could easily have written off organized Jewish life, as so many disenchanted Jews choose to do.” This is one of the most persuasive pieces by a lay person that I’ve ever read; I wish every rabbi who doesn’t officiate would read it and take to heart what she says about the children of intermarriage:

if they do choose a non-Jewish partner, and try to find a rabbi to marry them, will they be accepted and counseled warmly and openly? Will their interest in honoring their Jewish heritage with a Jewish-style wedding be respected and appreciated? Or will they be made to feel that they are being judged for marrying the person with whom they have fallen in love, who happens not to be Jewish? Will they feel unwelcome in the very synagogues and communities which raised them?

An outstanding example of a cantor who “gets it” is Erik Contzius, who says Let’s Stop Calling It “Intermarriage.” He used to not officiate, but “Coming to understand how a hostile attitude from clergy turns young couples away from Jewish identity and practice changed my mind.”

I can almost guarantee that a couple of divergent religions will not affiliate, identify, or become otherwise involved with the Jewish community if they are turned away and thus invalidated by Jewish clergy who tell them that they will not officiate at their wedding.

Avram Mlotek, a courageous Orthodox rabbi, reports that he “encountered fierce opposition” to his op-ed about welcoming interfaith families and “ adopting a posture of radical hospitality,” but steadfastly believes that “providing a space that caters to every Jew’s spiritual needs — even if that Jew is married to someone of another faith — is the most practical way to ensure the future of the Jewish family.”

Two of the smartest thinkers on intermarriage happen to be senior leaders of the secular humanist movement. Rabbi Adam Chalom offers Intermarriage Agony? Been There, Past That:

So when the Conservative Movement grapples publicly with whether or not their rabbis should maybe consider a way to possibly be less than fully rejectionist, the arguments for inclusion are what we [secular humanists] have been saying and living for 40 years. We who have celebrated interfaith and intercultural families for a generation are pleased to have company, but like the woman in a board meeting whose ideas are overlooked until repeated by a man, we are not amazed. Better late than never, and better now than later, and still better to recognize that you are late to the party.

Today the Reform Movement trumpets its “audacious hospitality”, the Conservative Movement will accept non-Jews as members (with limited privileges), and intermarriage-friendly rabbis are easily found online at InterfaithFamily.com. The one piece missing in most of this dialogue is, “we’re sorry, we were wrong.” For the thousands of couples, families, and children pushed away by Jewish communal shortsightedness over the past decades, some teshuva (repentance) might also be helpful.

Paul Golin offers two excellent pieces. Intermarriage is the Wrong Bogeyman (an edited version of a longer piece on Medium) explains that the approach that intermarriage is the cause of declining Jewish engagement is based on

a dishonest sociology…, promulgated by a handful of academicians who’ve been at it for decades…. Shmuel Rosner, a reporter who contributed to this latest effort, displays this confusion when he writes, “interfaith marriage leads to eventual assimilation.” Such purposeful oversimplification is not sociology, it’s smear. “Assimilation” is not the story we’ve seen for huge swaths of intermarried households. Intermarried Jews are involved in all Jewish denominations and most organizations. There are literally hundreds of thousands of exceptions to the supposed rule.

Golin argues that theism is the problem – most people do not believe in the concept held by most of organized Judaism of a God that answers personal prayers. I agree with Golin that “When there’s no magical ‘Jewish gene’ to perpetuate, Judaism must be about meaning and benefit. And if Judaism is meaningful and beneficial, why would we limit it to just Jews?” But while secular humanism may be an approach that would suit many interfaith couples, many others are interested in spirituality, and the religious movements could do a lot of work developing concepts of God and liturgies that express those concepts that contemporary couples would be far more comfortable with.

In his second piece, Golin uses the terrible situation of government of Israel reneging on a deal for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall to point out that the Chief Rabbinate’s claim that liberal expressions of Judaism are invalid is not unlike liberal Jewish leaders’ claims that intermarriage makes a Jew “not Jewish enough.” I agree that his as usual trenchant comment: “policing of Jewish observance by Jews against other Jews is disastrous regardless of who’s doing it.”

More Negative Conservative Officiation News

|

The intermarriage debate in the Conservative world over officiation continued since June 21 with a mostly negative focus.

In a positive step, the Conservative-trained rabbis at B’nai Jeshurun explained their decision to create a new ceremony to officiate for interfaith couples. I applaud their decision and think their reasoning is very important: (1) “We subscribe to the approach in Halacha, rabbinic law, that holds that Jewish law must be interpreted and applied in relation to the realities of the community.” (2) There are two current realities: “When selecting life partners, shared American values often play a bigger role than religious identity, even for strongly-identified and -committed Jews; at the same time, never before have non-Jews been as open to playing an active role in the Jewish community, with or without conversion.” (3) They want to “be courageous and expand Halacha as a living and dynamic system with both commitment and compassion.”

Also, at least one more Conservative rabbi thinks it’s time for creative solutions. Rabbi Alfred Benjamin proposes that interfaith couples have a civil legal officiant who declares them married, and a Conservative rabbi lead a non-halachic “celebration of commitment” that is “infused with Jewish meaning, ritual and symbolism.”

When it comes to building and strengthening Jewish connections between an interfaith couple who want a Jewish-faith family, it is time for the Conservative Movement and the Rabbinical Assembly to be creative, courageous and encouraging. This scenario permits us to do so in a way that respects the integrity of all involved and is also “good for the Jews.”

While I don’t agree with all of Rabbi Benjamin’s reasoning, in particular what a partner from a different faith tradition could do or say with integrity, at least his proposal has Conservative rabbis acknowledging, welcoming and celebrating the couple and their commitments.

But the  Jewish Theological Seminary announced that it was not appropriate for Conservative rabbis to officiate for interfaith couples. JTS says that there is “much that Jews can and must do to signal our respect and welcome for non-Jews in our community, whether or not they choose to become Jewish,” but warmly invites “those who are or wish to be members of our communities and of our families” to convert. There’s nothing new there. But respectfully, the JTS statement goes off the rails when it says first that the data confirms that “by far the most effective path toward building a Jewish future is to strengthen Jewish identity, beginning with the Jewish family” and then continues: “This is not the moment for Conservative Jews and their rabbis to abandon the profound and joyful practice of rituals and learning, work for social justice and encounter with the Divine, love of Torah and love of the Jewish people that continue to make this form of Jewish life a source of community and meaning.” It is a non-sequitur to say that officiating for interfaith couples would mean such abandonment; indeed I believe, and the Cohen Center research on the impact of officiation shows, that officiating would lead to more Jewish life of community and meaning.

The New York Post summarized that B’nai Jeshurun was telling interfaith couples to “goy ahead” and marry in their sanctuary. (I hate that term.) A Canadian Conservative rabbi said the “renegade rabbis” at Lab/Shul and B’nai Jeshurun don’t deserve admiration or praise. Professor Roberta Rosenthal Kwall’s take on all of the discussion is that conversion should be promoted.

There were three more essays by individual Conservative rabbis that call out for response.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik disagrees strongly with officiating for interfaith couples, arguing that “boundaries are irreducibly critical to the Jew’s quest for a holy life.” But it is a non-sequitur to suggest that being holy by being separate and not like everyone else means that Jews shouldn’t marry people from different faith traditions. It isn’t being separate for separateness’ sake, it means acting in ways that lead to holiness – ways that people from different faith traditions can embrace, without conversion. Rabbi Skolnik also says that interfaith couples choose to intermarry and “Judaism should not be forced to grant its imprimatur to couples whose free-will choice violates the sanctity of the traditional marriage boundary.” While saying that officiating goes too far, he does acknowledge the Jewish community’s “urgent responsibility to make interfaith couples feel welcomed and loved, even if it means pushing the envelope of comfort in synagogues and communal organizations.” Trends in Conservative movement to date have shown that interfaith couples don’t feel welcomed and loved when rabbis won’t officiate for them.

Rabbi Abigail Treu actually says, “When a rabbi says no, couples just find someone else to do what they were going to do anyway. We just lose the chance to bring Jewish life into that moment, or to share their joy and add to it.” I posted on Facebook comment that said “Just? Really?” It’s distressing to me that the director of the Center for Jewish Living at the JCC Manhattan, someone who lead Introduction to Judaism classes for several years, could so cavalierly dismiss the opportunity that officiating provides for influencing interfaith couples towards future Jewish engagement. Contrast her suggestion that couples don’t want rabbis to officiate anyway to Anita Diamant’s statement in her revised The Jewish Wedding Now that if you want a Jewish wedding “you need a rabbi.” The JCC Manhattan offers great programming for interfaith couples, so I hope I misunderstood Rabbi Treu’s point.

Rabbi Aaron Brusso, who is on the Executive Council of the Rabbinical Assembly, wrote A Letter to Couples of Jewish and Non-Jewish Backgrounds, another distressing dismissal of officiating’s potential for positive influence. Rabbi Brusso says that he respects people’s decisions and that they have done nothing wrong by falling love; but it doesn’t make sense “for the wedding ceremony to view [them] instrumentally as builders of Jewish homes” (a pot-shot at Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s argument that they in fact can be); and when they decided to marry “saving the Jewish people” wasn’t on their list of things to do. He says he’s sorry if they don’t come and talk to him in person – but with comments like that, who would want to? Rabbi Brusso’s main point is that the liturgy of a Jewish wedding doesn’t fit an interfaith couple – when it refers to celebrating the wedding “in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for example – but how many Jewish-Jewish couples have that understanding of the liturgy?

Rabbi Brusso dismisses the Cohen Center research by saying “I could play the demographic numbers game and rationalize that my presence under the chuppah with you and others is a statistical winner for the Jewish people. But the chuppah is not a Vegas table.” Actually, many Jewish engagement programs are offered because of belief they will be statistical winners that result in later engagement. He says the wedding is about who the couple is – disregarding who they will be or might become. Tellingly, Rabbi Brusso explains that he seriously dated a Methodist woman while in college, and once when they saw the movie Europa, Europa together, when he sobbed, “she was appreciative of what I was feeling, but it was clear that it simply did not mean the same thing to her.” Respectfully, that perspective is short-sighted – it forecloses the opportunity for a partner from a different faith tradition to gain that kind of understanding and feeling.

Two voices from the Orthodox world chimed in. Rabbi Yogi Robkin says Worried about Jewish Assimilation? Be A Good Person — For Judaism’s Sake with a story of a rabbi who donated a kidney to a stranger. I wouldn’t argue with his main point, which seems to be that the most important thing is to “reach out and extend a hand to those floating by.” Unfortunately he quotes another Orthodox rabbi, Efrem Goldberg, who says that recognizing patrilineal descent and officiating at weddings of interfaith couples represent “gross distortions of halacha, mesora [tradition] and the will of the Almighty,” attempts “to put a Band-Aid over a deeply infected wound that is gushing blood.”

It’s not surprising that Rabbi Goldberg’s antidote is more adherence to halacha. But it’s disappointing to hear the editors of the New Jersey Jewish News say that
“if the present demographic trends [i.e., intermarriage] continue, Jewish life and peoplehood as we know it may well disappear in the coming decades.” Their proposal: Jews marrying Jews.

This is all rather depressing. To review: Officiating for interfaith couples would mean abandoning Jewish life. Conversion is the answer. Boundaries excluding partners from different faith traditions are necessary for holiness. We shouldn’t be forced to approve voluntary boundary violations. It doesn’t matter anyway, couples will just have a friend officiate. They’re not builders of Jewish homes and they don’t care about the Jewish future. Officiating increases the chance of a Jewish future for them? Well, what matters is who they are now, not what they might become. And anyway, the chuppah’s not “a Vegas table.”

Is it surprising that interfaith couples would not want to participate in a community that sent those kinds of messages?

Fortunately, there’s a more positive perspective.

The Flip-Side: Positive News About Intermarriage

|

Alongside the negative comment about officiation in the Conservative world, there has been some positive commentary and news about officiation and intermarriage.

Leave it to Rabbi Keara Stein, director of InterfaithFamily/Los Angeles, to provide a much-needed perspective on how rabbis asked to officiate are actually helping interfaith couples.

By telling someone we will not marry them, we are not stopping them from marrying someone of another faith background. What we’re stopping them from (and I have heard this time and time again) is engaging in Judaism and being part of the Jewish community.

The couples who are told by rabbis and communities that “We accept you and your partner” and also, “I cannot officiate your wedding, but you can still buy High Holy Day tickets”… often come to me dejected and confused and wondering how to fill their desire for Jewish engagement. During my first meeting… I spend most of the session repairing the hurt and rejection they are feeling.

One such couple… said “We were planning on having a friend do our ceremony, but now we’re excited to have a rabbi.” I hear this refrain over and over from interfaith couples as they are searching for a way to engage Jewishly and are hearing “No, you’re not welcome here” either explicitly or by liberal rabbis who mean well but whose boundaries are so tight that they do not allow them to see the people sitting on the couch in their office.

I hear a lot of people say that interfaith marriage is always bad for Judaism and always leads to disengagement and the decline of Jews. But the truth is, life is not that simple. Families are complicated and most people’s religious experience lives somewhere in that gray area between full observance and secular identity. To flat out deny someone the possibility of Jewish engagement at the beginning of their union ignores the real life experiences of people in our communities.

Naomi Schaefer Riley has an interesting take on the Conservative debate, focusing on the B’nai Jeshurun decision to officiate if the couples promise to raise their children Jewish. Echoing Keara Stein, she says

If there’s one thing that drives intermarried couples around the bend, it’s the fact that the same rabbis who refuse to marry them because one spouse isn’t Jewish will turn around a few years later and push them to send their children to the synagogue preschool. In my interviews [for her book on interfaith couples], this practice is commonly labeled “hypocritical” by those affected by it.

Riley makes the interesting observation that the Catholic church used to require the non-Catholic spouse to promise to raise children Catholic, but decided it couldn’t in good conscience make that request, and changed its policy. She says that Jewish leaders “have no standing to demand that a non-Jewish spouse do anything at all.” Despite that, Riley does think the B’nai Jeshurun policy will lead interfaith couples to have an important discussion before they marry about how they will raise future children.

In my view, one of the most important things Jewish communities can do to engage interfaith couples – after ensuring that they can have a positive experience finding a rabbi to officiate at their wedding – is to foster just those kinds of discussions in groups or meet-ups for interfaith couples. So I was pleased to see, in the midst of all the debate about officiation, an excellent article in the Boston Globe about Honeymoon Israel, an excellent program that fosters those kinds of discussions within the context of a heavily-subsidized trip to Israel. The article quotes Avi Rubel, co-founder, as viewing intermarriage not as a loss – “It’s not a minus one, it’s a plus one.”

Rubel says Honeymoon Israel’s goal is not to convert couples or convince them to raise Jewish children, but “to empower the couples who go on the trip to question those things.” Sixty percent of the couples who take the trip are interfaith, including the author of the article, who writes that a few months after the trip, her group “had settled into a pattern of Friday evening Shabbat dinners with our new friends.” This is very important. It shows what’s possible when interfaith couples are welcomed with positivity and trusted to work out their prospective Jewish engagement with other interfaith couples.

After officiation and discussion groups often come interfaith families with young children – and there’s positive news from PJ Library, one of the most important Jewish engagement programs ever. PJ commissioned an evaluation of its impact on families based on 25,270 responses to a survey, and 45 interviews. They highlight that 28% of the families receiving PJ books and materials are intermarried and that intermarried families report even more favorable influence than in-married families – for example, 89% of intermarried families say PJ has influenced their decision to learn more about Judaism, compared to 67% of in-married families. The evaluation includes selected quotes from respondents; several highlight intermarried families, including one that explains how the books help the parent from a different faith tradition learn about Judaism. It is refreshing to read an evaluation report that says it is “exciting” to see intermarried families reporting enjoyment and use of the books equally or more than the aggregate.

One of the report’s conclusions is that “there is room to grow the program among … intermarried families” and that PJ needs to expand efforts to reach more of the less-connected, less-affiliated families. I very much hope that PJ does that. It’s interesting that PJ’s influence is greater within the home; other studies have found that interfaith families are more comfortable engaging in Jewish life at home with their family than in more public, organized settings. The report notes that PJ traditionally has reached families through organized institutions such as synagogues, Federations, or JCC’s; that’s not where interfaith families tend to be. The report notes that interfaith families tend to have a lower level of Jewish engagement than in-married families; their scale of Jewish engagement awards points for having children in several Jewish education sessions, belonging to or participating in a synagogue, donating to a Jewish charity, having mostly Jewish friends, and feeling it very important to be part of a Jewish community; again, these are factors favoring Jewish engagement in public settings.

The report also contains a seed of explanation as to why interfaith families are less engaged. While some families want to see more diversity in the types of families represented in the books – with one quote from a respondent explicitly saying “more cultural books… more related towards interfaith-style families would be amazing” – other families do not want this type of diversity, with one quote saying “We value traditional values and have had to screen some of the books out as not appropriate for our children.” It’s very clear to me that the continuing negative attitudes many Jews express about intermarriage are related to interfaith families’ lesser Jewish engagement, in both public setttings and at home. But I applaud PJ Library’s efforts which over time can lead to a change in that dynamic.

After young interfaith families often come b’nai mitvah, and the Arizona Jewish Post has a very sweet story about two families’ wonderful experiences at Temple Emanu-El in Tucson. One family had a father and son bar mitzvah – the father’s mother was not Jewish, he was raised Jewish but didn’t have a bar mitzvah, he and his son converted before the bar mitzvahs “to confirm their identity.” The father’s wife/boy’s mother is not Jewish but experienced Judaism to be welcoming; the father says without her support, he wouldn’t have been able to do it. The other family included a Jewish mother from the FSU, married to a man named Bernstein who had a Jewish father but was raised Catholic; the father says, “I’m still Catholic, but I love being a member of Temple Emanu-El. I’m Jewish culturally and by identity. That works.” The son says, “The tradition was in my family, but it got lost. There was this connection with Judaism that was renewed when I had my bar mitzvah.” One more proof of what’s possible and positive when interfaith families are embraced.

That intermarriage is an inexorable worldwide phenomenon is again confirmed in a fascinating episode on interfaith marriage on the BBC radio show All Things Considered. The four panelists include Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who has been one of the most progressive rabbis on interfaith family issues in the UK, a Christian woman married to a Jew who started an interfaith family network, an imam and a minister. Among other things, Rabbi Romain said that 50% of UK Jews are now intermarrying, and that more UK Reform and Liberal rabbis are starting to officiate at weddings for interfaith couples – as recently as two years ago, as far as I know only two Reform rabbis were willing to do so. The minister made a great point about people from other than Christian traditions celebrating Christmas – for them it can celebrate peace and good will to all, not Jesus’ divinity.

Finally, the new rabbi at Montreal’s Dorshei Emet, reportedly one of the few if not the only Reconstructionist congregations where interfaith weddings are not done, comes with experience officiating for interfaith couples and “makes the case that such marriages can be beneficial to the Jewish community, even when no commitment to later conversion is made by the non-Jewish partner.” And Keren McGinity persuasively presents the need for Jewish professionals to study intermarriage.