Rabbi Barry Baron, Houston, Texas My 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.
Rabbi Emily Korzenik, Stamford, Connecticut Jewish 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?
The Jewish community, its leaders, and institutions must respond affirmatively. As a rabbi, I have chosen to spend time and energy counseling interfaith couples. When such couples state their intention to raise any future children as Jews, I am willing to officiate at their wedding ceremony.
Rabbi Charles Familant, San Francisco, California Rabbis who perform intermarriages in this country are still very much in the minority, and they have no standard requirements. Some rabbis require attendance of classes in Judaism prior to the wedding. Others want assurances that the children will be raised as Jews. Still other require premarital counseling. Premarital counseling is my sole requirement, whether or not both parties are Jewish. My chief concern is that, as responsible adults, a couple is capable of resolving issues in a manner which enhances the marriage. At some point in the process, I deal with the questions which inevitably arise: How is it that I came to perform intermarriage ceremonies when other rabbis say they cannot? Some contend that opposition to intermarriage is one of the mainstays against assimilation. However, when people turn to me for assistance, they have almost always already made a decision. To decline their request does not prevent their marriage but, in the case of the Jewish partners, denies them the opportunity to reconnect with their Jewish roots, often after years of estrangement. In the case of the non-Jewish partners, opposition to intermarriage leaves the impression that rabbis and Judaism are discriminatory and devoid of compassion, thus destroying any incentive for further learning. Jews marrying non-Jews often become more keenly aware of their Jewish identity than might have been the case if they had married Jews. They request books on Judaism and attend workshops on Jewish practice. It is not a foregone conclusion that intermarriage necessarily leads to the loss of Jewish identity, either of the Jewish partner or of the offspring. Discussions on intermarriage tend to overlook the fact that the partners have an enormous amount in common. Some, after years of dating people from their own religious and cultural backgrounds, have discovered in their chosen mate a far deeper bond, in comparison with which cultural and religious similarities seem quite minor. As a species, we are becoming increasingly aware of our common bonds and interdependence, which transcend national, cultural, and religious concerns. Recognition of this fact is a necessary condition for our human survival. Intermarriage, as an aspect of this larger phenomenon, should therefore not be construed as an unavoidable evil but as a potential good, even if it does not contribute to the survival of Judaism as we know it today. The integration of different religious traditions may result in the emergence of new forms of religious expression. Whatever becomes of Judaism in the future, those aspects that have enduring value may well leave their indelible stamp on any newly emerging forms.
Moreover, if Jews--especially Jewish leadership--adopt an attitude toward this growing trend which recognizes the legitimacy, rights, and motivations of intermarrying couples, then many from this fast and growing population may find a place within the Jewish community. It will require a revamping of our institutions and a greatly changed Judaism. Judaism has changed often throughout its long history in response to the shifting currents in the world. That has been both its challenge and its key to survival. Once again it has the opportunity to meet such a challenge.