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Public Commentaries on Intermarriage

More than 6,000 people have read or viewed Call & Responsa 2: Should a Rabbi Perform an Intermarriage? More than 200 have responded to the commentary of via emails, votes in an online poll or comments on our website. Some comments cite Jewish law and tradition. Others relate personal stories

More than 6,000 people have read or viewed " Call & Responsa 2: Should a Rabbi Perform an Intermarriage?" More than 200 have responded to the commentary of via emails, votes in an online poll or comments on our website. Some comments cite Jewish law and tradition. Others relate personal stories. Many comments can be found at the bottom of the original articles in the Talkback section. Read a sampling of comments below.


Yitzchak Dees, Director of Education at Lev Chadash, Milan, Italy:

There can be no question that when our brothers and sisters choose to marry someone who is not Jewish, they are still members of the family who need all the love and support we can give. On the other hand, we cannot ignore all our “other” brothers and sisters who are struggling to find Jewish partners and who make personal sacrifices to do so. What if rabbinic participation at interfaith marriages pulls the rug out from under those who are trying to stay within the tribe which then leads them to give up and start dating non-Jews? If this is the case, then interfaith officiation might be doing more harm than good!

Another way of framing this discussion is to ask what kinds of rabbis do we want and/or need; those who model openness and flexibility or those who model commitment and perseverance? To the extent that rabbis who officiate at interfaith marriages are perceived as merely “giving in to the inevitable,” they are not trailblazers in a brave new world, but instead “sell outs” who don’t have the backbone to stand up for what is right. And to the extent that rabbis who ignore interfaith couples are perceived as cowards, they are unqualified to lead the Jewish people through the challenges of living in a free society. In short, we need rabbinic leadership that simultaneously shows compassion, but also stands strong. Is such a combination possible?

To be sure, there are no simple nor “one size fits all” answers, but here is a suggestion. I think that we need different people to serve in different roles. In each community (be it a synagogue, town or region) there should be at least one person (rabbi, cantor, etc.) who can serve the needs of those wish to marry outside of the tribe. However, the bulk of the community rabbis and leaders should focus their attention on encouraging marriage within the tribe. In this way, interfaith couples are not forsaken, but those who are still trying to marry a Jew are strongly supported and encouraged. Back to top

Larry Levy, Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Yes, yes, yes. If you do not want to do it in the sanctuary, then at least in a hotel. But do it. This should not even merit discussion. Back to top

Leslie Fox:

I agree with Rabbi Buchdahl based on personal experience. I think she frames it well when she says that each couple be judged separately on their commitment – and, I guess, the rabbi’s "gut feeling" about their willingness to have a Jewish home and raise Jewish children – EVEN if the non-Jewish partner is not ready to convert YET. That is precisely what happened in my life.

In 1964 I met a young man – not Jewish. Born into a Catholic family – but he was not a "believer," and in fact disliked Catholicism – its rites and beliefs.

We became engaged in January 1965. I was a student nurse at that time at Lenox Hill Hospital. We had discussions about Judaism and he knew it was important to me. That I "wanted more" than the minimal "gastronomic" Judaism which was my home environment.

The Jewish chaplain at the hospital, Rabbi Ronald Sobel, of Temple Emanuel on Fifth Avenue, said he would not officiate at our wedding…but that perhaps the senior rabbi, Rabbi Nathan Perelman, might. I was not a member of that (or ANY!) congregation – my family had never been "joiners" ("Too Jewish!!") – but *I* used to go to Saturday morning services to hear Rabbi Perelman’s sermons. They were wonderful.

We made an appointment to see Rabbi Perelman. I told him "my story" – that I wanted "more." that my parents were "cardiac" Jews ("in the heart"!) and "gastronomic" Jews (in the stomach!!). He asked my fiancé about his background and beliefs. How did he feel about raising any children as Jews? “I have no problem with that,” he said. Rabbi Perelman agreed to officiate at our wedding in June of that year (1966).

It was a small wedding – with a plastic flowered chuppah and sparklers on the wedding cake! I was 20. I had never been to a wedding before (no less a Jewish wedding).

It was a wonderful ceremony – and it meant SO much to us that he BELIEVED in us enough to officiate. Yes, it was "Jewish-style" – no Shevah Brachot – but I didn’t know that. To me and my husband – it was a Jewish wedding.

We paid him all of $50! That was his fee.

Years passed…after 32 years, my husband converted to Judaism.

We have three adult children – and one of them is a cantor (HUC-JIR SSM graduate).

That’s our story. That is why I think that ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS rabbis should perform intermarriages. The rabbi needs to be the judge of whether or not the couple is serious about wanting to create a Jewish home and raise Jewish children – even if the non-Jewish partner has not converted.

My husband and I have always remembered our meeting with Rabbi Perelman and how grateful we have continued to be that he believed in us. Back to top

Maxine Myers

I think a rabbi should perform an intermarriage under certain circumstances, but should meet with and counsel both parties as to their commitment to having a Jewish home, and raising their children, if any, Jewish (but with a tolerant attitude toward the non-Jewish partner’s family of origin). Back to top

Edmund C. Case, interfaithfamily.com

While this discussion is happening, I think readers might want to know that for several years InterfaithFamily has offered a free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service, www.interfaithfamily.com/findarabbi. Our referral list has grown to 750 rabbis, and we respond to over 2,000 requests for referrals a year. Clearly there is a demand for officiation for interfaith couples, and fortunately growing numbers of rabbis are deciding to officiate. Back to top

Elaine Langer, Allentown, PA
I cannot agree with the premise of rabbis performing intermarriages unless the rabbi develops a close relationship with the couple requesting his/her participation and can determine whether there is a heartfelt commitment to making a Jewish home, raising Jewish children, and involving themselves in the Jewish community, e.g., joining and attending a synagogue, Jewishly educating their children, celebrating Shabbat and other Jewish holidays (besides Chanukah), making Jewish friends, contributing to Federation, etc., and whose motives don’t consist of merely making the Jewish parents happy and maintaining the “comfort level” of the Jewish partner, if the non-Jewish partner doesn’t object.
This is actually a fairly high bar, because many, if not most in-married families don’t even come close to meeting these “criteria." As a teacher in a (Conservative) synagogue’s religious school for the past 20 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the attitudes of the parents toward their connection to the Jewish community and their commitment to their children’s Jewish education.
During the past five years or so, unlike the prior 15, I also have had a surprising number of children from intermarried homes in my class every year, surprising because one would expect these families to join the Reform synagogue, where they have been more warmly welcomed, and because it’s possible that a Reform rabbi might have performed their wedding ceremony. However, these families are, in general, no more or less involved in synagogue life and home observance than in-married families.
But I do know several families that started out as intermarried families committed to living a Jewish life and raising Jewish families, whose children identify very strongly as Jews and where the non-Jewish spouse eventually converted after 10, 20, or even 25 years of marriage. The reasons for this were as varied as not feeling able to convert while the non-Jewish spouse’s parents were still living, or because the non-Jewish spouse needed to “feel Jewish” before actually converting (walked-the-walk before talking-the-talk?).
I always felt that these families should be welcomed and celebrated because they were (and are) a wonderful example of how intermarriage is a tremendous opportunity for the Jewish people, instead of a disaster. However, as the parent-in-law of two women and one man who converted to Judaism a year before their marriages to my sons and daughter, and as an observer of the marriages of many of my Jewishly committed friends’ children, as well as the examples described above where there has been a conversion before marriage or a “delayed” conversion, I have observed that the determining factor in almost all of these cases was that the Jewish partner was very up-front very early in the “dating cycle” about his/her desire to create a Jewish home and to raise Jewish children, and the non-Jewish partner was willing, sometimes eager, to attend courses, support and be part of that goal, and to consider conversion, even if it didn’t occur before marriage.
So, ultimately, I think that conversion before marriage is preferable, but if the rabbi can determine the sincerity of a “mixed” couple in their desire to create a Jewish family, and they’re truly interested in studying Judaism with him before marriage and making what he determines to be sincere commitments to a Jewish future, then s/he should perform the intermarriage.
I think our ultimate goal should be to foster strongly committed Jewish families, both in-married and intermarried, in whatever ways we can, because with the high divorce rate these days, there are no “guarantees” of Jewish continuity no matter who performs the ceremony! Back to top

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