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Intermarriage: The Elephant in the Room By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

2 Jan 2019 6:52 PM | Robin Podolsky

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.

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