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  • 2 Jan 2019 6:52 PM | Robin Podolsky (Administrator)

    At the end of the secular year, Christmakah (or Hanumas) celebrations have become, if not the new norm, at least common in the U.S.  While it is undoubtedly pleasant to celebrate festive occasions on an interfaith basis of good will, intermarriages – where neither of the parties convert, and accounting for more than half of American Jewish marriages now -- have become the elephant in the room in rabbinic circles. The underlying fear, of course, is Jewish assimilation. Will the children and grandchildren of intermarriage be Jewish? Who will fill the pews at our Temples and synagogues? How do you pass on a hybrid, “interfaith” religion? Or no religion at all, let them decide for themselves when they are older?

    Are American rabbis permitted to marry couples where conversion to Judaism has not – or not yet – taken place? For many Reform rabbis, and for trans-denominational rabbis as well, the decision is an individual one. Some rabbis ask for certain conditions: that the non-Jewish spouse must commit to bringing up any children of the marriage in a Jewish home where Jewish values and learning are valued. In other words, “Give us your children. Teach them, at least, to be Jewish.”

    Many rabbis optimistically believe that, with repeated contact with Shabbat candlelighting, with the joyous festivals, the Jewish way of life with its value of community and tikkun olam, and with a growing understanding of the whys and hows of the Jewish moral code, non-Jewish partners will eventually choose to convert. By that time, they will be well immersed and, today, well accepted in the Jewish community.

    For conservative rabbis, however, the choices available are very different. Until recently, they have not been permitted to officiate, let alone attend, intermarriages. However, now, in a move facing the reality of so many modern Jewish marriages, the Conservative movement has decided to allow their affiliated rabbis to attend intermarriage ceremonies. Not to officiate, mind you – perhaps that decision will follow – but for now, they will at least be able to attend the simcha.

    In a recent article in the Forward (“Conservative Movement Gives Rabbi Green Light to Attend Intermarriages,” 0ct. 22, 2018), writer Ari Feldman commented: “It is a long-awaited, welcoming gesture. Until now, conservative rabbis could not even hover in the back row if they wished to remain in the conservative movement.”

    So maybe the elephant is already out of the room. Perhaps now that we can talk about it together, we can find some useful solutions. In the meantime, Happy 2019!

    ©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

  • 9 Nov 2018 2:16 PM | Robin Podolsky (Administrator)

    A decade ago (2008), Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky offered his own thoughtful and enduring article, written from a conservative point of view, on the subject of conversion — which he considered a preferable and potentially transformative alternative to intermarriage. “At a given moment,” he wrote, “a non-Jew is transformed from ‘outsider’ to ‘one of us.’ What changed that person?” What is the transformative moment?


    Kalmanofsky suggested that the prospective convert may have passed through one or more “doors” [inserted numbers mine}:

    1. “What doorway did s/he pass through, so that the s/he now counts in the minyan?

    2. Was it a religious doorway?

    3. An ethnic one?

    4. An intellectual affirmation.

    5. A faith act?

    6. A mark on the body?

    7. An orientation of the spirit?

    8. Does conversion depend on one’s self-definition?

    9.   Or upon decisions by others, like rabbinic courts?

    10. Or perhaps upon the informal willingness of Jews to recognize someone as family?”

    Those of us who are born Jews may also reflect on the multiple

    stages we pass through during the pathways of our lives?

    Do we find enriching moments — our own transformative doorways — along the

    way? Do we continue to grow spiritually? Or do we take the fact of Jewish birth our

    spiritual citizenship — for granted?

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