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Reform Rabbis Shift to Acceptance on Intermarriage

(RNS) In a major shift, Reform rabbis have publicly acknowledged intermarriage as a “given” that calls for increased outreach and understanding, rather than a threat to Jewish identity that must be resisted at all costs.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis from around the world, embraced the change during its annual convention in San Francisco.
Traditionally, the Reform movement — the largest and most liberal slice of mainstream Judaism — has wavered on whether to sanction weddings between Jews and non-Jews; Conservative and Orthodox clergy will not officially perform such ceremonies.
Yet 25 years of demographic studies have documented a growing trend toward intermarriage, with as many as half of American Jews now marrying outside their faith. With Jews making up less than 3 percent of the U.S.
population, and less than 1 percent around the world, Jewish leaders have long warned that mixed marriages weaken Jewish identity and threaten long-term survival.
The traditional view of Judaism as an ethnicity, passed down through the mother, also fuels this conflict, including heated debates about whether “half-Jews” meet requirements for enrollment in religious schools, Israeli citizenship, and other faith-based endeavors.
“When a Jew marries a Jew, there is a greater likelihood of Jewish continuity,” admitted CCAR President Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, in her group’s announcement on Monday (March 8). “But in the case of intermarriage, the opportunity for Jewish continuity is significant, especially if there is effective rabbinic leadership.”
The Reform rabbis’ last statement on this issue, in 1973, had reiterated its 1909 stance that “mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged.” Rabbis were encouraged to provide conversion opportunities for non-Jewish spouses and educational opportunities for their children.
After a task force spent three years studying the issue, the CCAR maintained that Reform rabbis may still opt not to officiate at interfaith weddings as “a deeply personal matter of conscience.”
But now that the group’s attitude about intermarriage has officially changed, Dreyfus expressed hope that clergy will make greater efforts to welcome interfaith families into religious activities and life-cycle events like bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies for their children.
“Ignoring intermarriage won’t make it go away,” she said. “We want to embrace it as an opportunity.”
The new position is not a formal policy or resolution, but rather a semi-official “recognition” of changing times based on the task force’s 10-page report.
“In the past, there was a great focus on how to prevent intermarriage,” the report said. “Today we are more likely to focus on how to deal with intermarriage as a given in our society with the goal of positive Jewish engagement of the family.”
For the Jewish Outreach Institute, an New York-based organization that works to include interfaith families in Jewish life, the official announcement confirms what’s been going on for years at the grassroots level.
“We’re very excited by it,” said Paul Golin, the group’s associate executive director. “As an intermarried person myself, I’m now curious to see what kind of programming comes out of it.”
He added, “There’s lots of details to work out, but the first step is acknowledging that attitudes have changed, and it’s great that this is finally happening.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

  • nnmns

    I understand Jews wanting to preserve their “racial identity” but really what’s the advantage to the world? And how does it differ from white supremacists wanting to preserve “the white race”? I’m not saying it doesn’t, but I would like to be convinced. And I’m not asking how Jews differ from white supremacists; I much prefer the average Jew to the average white supremacist. I’m asking how the philosophical foundation of preserving the “Jewish race” differs from that for preserving the “white race”. (And I dare say both are severely compromised already so I’d hope to see something beyond saying the one is still possible and the other isn’t.)
    Oh, and religion doesn’t impress me.

  • pagansister

    It seems that the Rabbis are coming to grips with reality…intermarriage. Unlike some religions that fail to come to the 21st century!

  • Scott R.

    Because if we don’t preserve our identity, we will disappear – and that will make the white supremacists quite happy. And I say this as a man who is married to a non Jewish woman – though it was understood before we married that our children would be raised Jewish (made easier by the fact that my wife had/has no use for the Xianity she was born into).

  • nnmns

    “You” wouldn’t disappear any more than I will or ps will or Hernrietta or cknuck. Your genes would persist if you have children. Your memory will persist if you do memorable things. And there would no doubt still be pure-blood Jews marrying others some place so that would persist.
    And your religion will persist as long as it can compete in the marketplace of ideas. But that’s a different thing than persistence of “purity of the Jewish race”.
    And in fact if y’all don’t marry “white” women that would probably make the white supremacists happy.

  • Nicole Neroulias

    Thanks for reading my Religion News Service story. I’ve also blogged about this on Beliefnet’s new religion news blog, Belief Beat. Check it out at .

  • Nicole Neroulias

    Thanks for reading my Religion News Service story. I’ve also blogged about this on Beliefnet’s new religion news blog, Belief Beat. Check it out at

  • cknuck

    What on earth is an “half-Jew”? So there are certain Jewish perks that one does not qualify for if they are only “half-Jew.” Sounds so deep last century post slavery south.

  • Nina

    Any idiot knows that intermarriage is not good for the Jewish community. The Reform Movement is becoming a joke. Only Jewish can give birth to and raise Jewish children. Sorry Scott but your children are gentiles. It’s impossible for a non-Jewish women to raise Jewish children. It’s Halacha law.

  • Your Name

    I meant to write that only Jewish women can give birth to and raise Jewish children.

  • cknuck

    My son is part Italian, part Irish, part Native American, part Spanish and part African American he looks like he is Italian or a white Spanish person but because of the part that is African American he is considered African American. Can African America blood be that powerful? Must be cool, huh?

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    This question — what defines Judaism? — is important but confusing to me. Is it a religion? A cultural heritage? A history? Or a bloodline? Of these, the last seems the least tenable. There may have been good historic reasons why identity as a Jew depended on the birth mother being Jewish, but suppose the next generation of Jews-by-birth-mother were all to abandon and ignore the faith, the language, the history, and the culture. In that scenario, would anyone say that Judaism still exists simply because some people have “Jewish blood”? If the faith, the language, the history and the culture are gone, what is left? A hope that the messiah will be born to some atheist or practicing Christian or Muslim who, unbeknownst to him, happens to be descended from David’s line? If that turns out to be the case, then Judaism will have degenerated into just one more messianic cult, like Christianity began.
    I reject that notion. What counts, what determines survival, is exactly the things not related to bloodline: the language, the faith, the culture, the history. If these things are preserved, Judaism survives, even if none of its adherents can claim Jew-by-birth-mother status. If these things are lost, Judaism becomes extinct, even if many can claim Jew-by-birth-mother status. Intermarriage is a threat to all religions; the threat to Judaism as a faith is much greater, but only because it is a much smaller group than other faiths.
    As a person who regards religion as an impediment to spiritual consciousness and awareness of God (as well as an instigator of war and violence), I think a civilized society should not care so much about preserving religion as a faith but should care much more about preserving the cultures and languages and historical heritages that contribute to the colorful diversity of the human experience.

  • cknuck

    Intermarriage occurs all throughout biblical history, there was even a time when Jews did not speak their native tongue. I don’t think that God honors the whole racial purity thing other things are way more important like culture, tradition history and hospitality.

  • Heretic_for_Christ

    I agree. The whole notion of striving for “racial purity” is pointless and actually harmful in terms of risk of genetic disorders. What defines a group is its culture, traditions, language, values, beliefs, and shared history.

  • pagansister

    Has there ever been a pure race? In the past, and still countries have invaded countries and either through marriage or rape have fathered children. No one is actually one race. As to religion? It is taught to the young ones, and throughout history some have stayed in the faith they were raised in and some have left. In the past families arranged marriages in order to keep the faith going. Some countries still do the arranged marriages…India being one. I think that the Jews have had (still have in some sects?) “match makers”, another way to keep the faith going. Intermarriage of races and religions isn’t going to stop.

  • srodek na odchudzanie

    This www is very immpressive, you are good writer, waiting for more info

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