Excerpted with permission from "Interfaith Wedding Ceremonies: Samples and Sources."Interfaith marriage is the most hotly debated issue in American Judaism today, and it is worthwhile to learn why, especially if you'd really like to have Jewish representation at your wedding. Following are the very different opinions of three rabbis on the topic of intermarriage."I Refuse to Officiate At Interfaith Marriages"
Rabbi Barry Baron, Houston, TexasMy welcome, and my congregation's, is the same for interfaith couples as for all others: come and join us in belonging, growing, learning, and believing in a God who stands for us, cares about us, calls us to a covenantal relationship, and asks us to work for the perfection of creation. Notwithstanding this welcome, I do refuse to officiate at interfaith marriages, and I am grateful for the opportunity to explain my reason.In Jewish tradition, the marriage ceremony is known as "Kiddushin." The word has two meanings, "betrothal" and "sanctification." In Judaism, marriage is a holy act, or mitzvah, desirable to God and governed by Jewish law. Jewish law was conceived by my rabbinic forebears as encompassing the behavioral norms which God desires of Jews.Rabbinic authority to officiate at marriages derives from rabbinic responsibility to administer Jewish law. The title "rabbi" implies the bearer's allegiance to that law. Jewish law sanctions the marriage of Jews to each other, and, as a rabbi, I feel that I can only officiate at marriages which Jewish law sanctions.
Then why do I welcome interfaith couples who seek to join my synagogue? The answer is that I am seeking to respond to the environment in which I find myself. My world is not the world of my ancestors. I live in an open society in which all kinds of people meet, date, live with and marry one another. In the United States, individuals of many races, religions, and ethnicities are marrying each other in record numbers. Boundaries between groups are more permeable than ever before. My Judaism, and my Jewish community, need to respond creatively to this reality, not only so that they can survive, but also so that modern Jews with contemporary sensibilities can find meaning in their tradition and can use its teachings to make a difference in their world.My love for Judaism stops me from officiating at interfaith marriages even as it leads me to reach out and embrace interfaith couples. There are many other rabbis in the United States who substantially share my views on these issues. Our stance does not please everyone. Many people have told me that I cannot expect interfaith couples to feel welcome after marriage if I send them away at the point of marriage. I cannot answer this assertion directly. I can only say that the force of tradition which leads me that way is the same force for deeper spirituality and meaning in my life and the lives of others, including many who are in interfaith marriages."I Officiate When Couples State Their Intention to Raise Children as Jews."
Rabbi Emily Korzenik, Stamford, ConnecticutJewish intermarriage is currently estimated at 52 percent, and Jews are now only 2 percent of the national population, with a very low birthrate. These figures are much discussed, studied, and lamented, but all too little is being done to address the matter constructively. We can respond wisely, warmly, and effectively to intermarriage and the children born of those marriages.The Jews survived miraculously as a people because we have been capable at once of distinctiveness and assimilation. Lately, however, in general the leaders of the Jewish community have been exclusive when we should be inclusive. Too often we have been rejecting, although rejection is always bruising and almost always futile. Indeed, rabbis do not claim that their refusal to participate in wedding ceremonies is preventive. They are acting from conviction and/or according to the rules. The rabbinic guidelines for all denominations state that rabbis should not officiate at intermarriages. The Reform and Reconstructionist rabbinic organizations do not discipline those who digress. In any case, the majority of rabbis feel that participation at the weddings of interfaith couples would suggest approval and be contrary to their understanding that Jewish ceremonies are to be performed only for Jews.But rabbis must be receptive from the beginning. We cannot turn people away, then "grudgingly" accept the couple after the fact, and expect that there will be no scars, no residue of resentment.
Granting that our attitudes are born of millennia of persecution and fear for our survival, these rejecting attitudes are neither gracious nor productive. In his most recent study of intermarriage, sociologist Egon Mayer presents statistics indicating that it makes no difference whether or not rabbis officiate at interfaith weddings. It is not simply that more rabbis should perform wedding ceremonies. The rabbis must give time and effort to create bonds and establish expectations.Since intermarriage most often takes place between a Jew and a nominal, uncommitted Christian, these marriages should be regarded as opportunities. Indeed, it is not uncommon that the non-Jew becomes the catalyst whereby the Jewish partner begins to define, study, and vitalize his or her Jewish heritage.One thing is sure: when a caring Jew and an uncommitted nominal Christian marry, there is a real likelihood that a sturdy Jewish family will emerge. Why should we not make every effort to encourage and assure that eventuality?