I listened with interest to the video interview of Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl by Yehuda Kurtzer, where she explained how she has come around to the practice of performing marriages between Jews and non-Jews whom she has been educating Jewishly. She is willing to officiate even without proper conversion. I find many problems with this approach. Foremost of which is, I do not see how a rabbi can participate in what is termed kiddushin, an act of sanctification, by performing such a marriage ceremony. The rituals of kiddushin as an act of sanctification have always been defined as a ceremony between two Jews. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 68b; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 4:15)
The issue as presented by the video is actually rabbinic officiation at intermarriages. While evidence seems to show that more rabbis, especially those in the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, are officiating at intermarriages, I do not believe this augurs well for the Jewish future.
The only study that has been published on intermarriage and rabbinic officiation was done in 1989 by Professor Egon Mayer of Brooklyn College for the American Jewish Committee. Mayer, in his conclusion, states that: “Analysis of data presented in this report suggests that rabbinic officiation at mixed marriages has relatively little, if any, connection to the expressed Jewishness in the family lives of non-Jews married to Jews. Similarly, rabbinic refusal to officiate at mixed marriages seems to have relatively little, if any, connection with large-scale alienation from Jewish attachments.”
While 25 years later, some would disagree with this conclusion, I believe the caution that Prof. Mayer presents us with is significant. Rabbis officiating at intermarriages – that is a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew – may assuage the feelings of either the bride or the groom or their Jewish parents. However, it does not create Jewish families.
It seems to me that we must promote Jews marrying other Jews. If a Jew is interested in a non-Jewish mate, we should push for conversion. Statistical analysis shows that conversionary marriage has a higher incidence of Jewish identity for the couple and their children than non-conversionary marriage. If that does not work, I encourage couples to be married civilly in the hope that one day they may be interested in conversion, to stay in touch with me and work towards creating a Jewish family. They can always have a Jewish religious ceremony.
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. In the long run it merely accepts the current situation. Judaism, being counter-cultural, cannot afford this acceptance. All of us, of whatever movement and affiliation, must work to promote a strong Jewish future by creating vital and vibrant Jewish families.