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Should a Rabbi Perform an Intermarriage?

V. 1, N. 2
Our second episode features Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl of New York’s Central Synagogue in dialogue with Shalom Hartman Institute of North America President Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer discussing intermarriage in contemporary North America. The rabbinic respondents, Vernon Kurtz, Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, and Josh Aaronson, offer commentary that agrees with and challenges Rabbi Buchdahl’s decision to officiate at intermarriages.

  1. Watch Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl of Central Synagogue in New York City discuss intermarriage with Yehuda Kurtzer, President of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
  2. Read responses to Rabbi Buchdahl’s comments from rabbis Vernon Kurtz, Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, and Josh Aaronson.
  3. Read a broad range of responses from rabbis across North America.
  4. Read responses from the public .
  5. Respond Add your comments to the conversation; the most interesting responses will be published on our website.

Rabbi Buchdahl said that she has changed her initial position and now conducts intermarriages if certain conditions can be met.

"If the family really believes that their marriage is the beginning of the creation of a Jewish home, even if one member is not yet ready to convert, I am now almost evangelical about feeling that it is important to be a part of those ceremonies," she said. "Virtually without exception, I know that those couples are much, much more connected to their Judaism and to a rabbi and also to this community because I officiated and met with them."

L: Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL
C: Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, OH
R: Rabbi Joshua Aaronson, Temple Judea, Tarzana, CA

Rabbi Buchdahl said that she requires the couples to meet with her numerous times and to study Jewish learning together.

Asked about criticisms of intermarriage that children of intermarriage ultimately do not grow up Jewish, Rabbi Buchdahl said that previous generations of intermarried families were never truly welcomed into synagogues and Jewish communal life.

"We have not really seen what it looks like to have truly open boundaries in terms of interfaith marriage," she said. "It actually hasn’t been a completely open community to them, and it hasn’t truly been welcoming," she said. "If we were to look at a community today in which the rabbi would take part in the wedding and truly welcome them to the community, I think the numbers of people who would affiliate would be much, much higher."

Rabbinic Responses

Rabbis Vernon Kurtz of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, Illinois, Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi of Hebrew Union College-Institute for Jewish Religion, and Josh Aaronson of Temple Judea of Tarzana, California, offer commentary that challenges and amplifies on Rabbi Buchdahl’s positions.

Vernon Kurtz
North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, Illinois

We Must Promote Jews Marrying Other Jews

The challenge of intermarriage is not going away. However, I don’t believe that the solution is for rabbis to officiate at those marriages. I believe we should push for higher standards even against the current cultural phenomenon. It is my hope that challenging the couple and working towards conversion would help their family create a unified religion. Officiating before conversion and accepting the intermarriage, as Rabbi Buchdahl is doing, is not a solution.

Read On  

Rachel Sabath
Cincinnati, Ohio

Rabbinic Debates and the Necessity of Religious Pluralism

The tension between interpretations and the sense that God is in both of them is what allows for the constant deepening and widening of Jewish life. This capacity to hold multiple and conflicting opinions in our hearts and minds and communities is what another great teacher, Rabbi Prof. Eugene Borowitz, calls "capacious pluralism," the kind of pluralism of rabbinic opinion that allows the Jewish people to continue to live and thrive.

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Josh Aaronson
Temple Judea
Tarzana, California

Shared Destiny, More Than History, Holds Us Together

I fully agree with Rabbi Buchdahl that when we as rabbis can be present for these profound Jewish moments, the Jewish community is strengthened. Seen in this light, we can reframe the premise of Jewish peoplehood in a meaningful way to include not merely those with whom we share a common history, but—and I believe more importantly—to all of those Jews and even non-Jews among us that have chosen to share our common destiny.

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