Conservative Rabbis Set To Debate Opening the Door to Intermarrieds

Proposal Is Part of Larger Movement To Welcome Non-Jews Into Shul Life

thinkstock

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published December 02, 2013, issue of December 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Other proposals include allowing “aufrufs,” or premarital blessings, for intermarried couples, and allowing clergy to officiate at funerals of non-Jewish community members. Both of these are already standard practice at some Conservative synagogues. The document also suggests allowing non-Jews to join the synagogue as full members and to sit on synagogue boards.

“I’m not trying to push rabbis or synagogues or the movement into a place they don’t want to go,” said Olitzky, who attends a Conservative synagogue and has two sons who are Conservative rabbis. “Instead I’m saying to them, if you are going to welcome intermarried families into your institutions, and into your movement, this is what you have to [do to] deliver on the promises you’re going to make.”

Rules about what non-Jews can do within the synagogue vary among Conservative congregations. Few, if any, allow a non-Jew to be called to the Torah; most would allow a non-Jew to read English blessings, like a prayer for peace. The lines in between these extremes are unclear.

Among Olitzky and Simon’s proposals, the one that would allow rabbis to participate in an intermarriage could prove to be the most controversial. Simon himself told the Forward that he has never attended an intermarriage. Conservative rabbis are currently barred by the Rabbinical Assembly from officiating at, participating in, or even attending intermarriages, on pain of expulsion from the rabbinate.

Conservative leaders seem unlikely to lift the officiating ban anytime soon. “I think that’s going further than most of my colleagues are willing to go at the moment,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at the American Jewish University and a member of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which rules on matters of religious law for the movement.

“My guess is they’re going to get a lot of pushback,” Dorff said of Olitzky and Simon.

Rabbinical Assembly head Rabbi Julie Schonfeld told the Forward in an email that Conservative rabbis “do not and would not” participate in intermarriages, but she made clear that the ban on attending intermarriages is up for debate.

“Rabbis are torn between our desire to be present for people we love and care about on such an important day and a question as to whether this is the right place for us to be or the right way for us to demonstrate that caring,” Schonfeld said. “At the present time, there is not a decision to lift the ban, but it will undoubtedly continue to be discussed.”

While the CJLS may not be ready for Simon and Olitzky’s proposals on weddings, the group appears to be moving incrementally in their direction.

In a October 15 vote, the group approved a new ruling that allows non-Jews to open the ark during synagogue services. CJLS rules require just six of the group’s 25 voting members to vote in favor of a ruling for it to be adopted, so the ruling on opening the ark passed despite no votes from 12 rabbis and yes votes from just eight.

The ruling, written by Rabbi David Booth, argues that there is no discussion in medieval rabbinical literature of the question of whether non-Jews can open the ark, and thus no ban. Booth argues that the symbolism of opening the ark allows for a non-Jew to take the role, and that it can serve to honor non-Jewish family members and invite non-Jews to become Jewish. Booth concludes that local rabbis should have the option of allowing non-Jews to open the ark during a service.

Many on the committee disagreed with the position. “There’s a distinction between recognizing someone who is not Jewish who is having a spiritual expression on behalf of themselves… as opposed to having them do something that makes them a representative of the community in ritual,” said Rabbi Joshua Heller, who voted against the opinion. “For me, having someone open the ark, they are acting on behalf of the community… For me, that is a dividing line.”

According to Heller, the CJLS vote took place after the release of the Pew report, though the process of considering the question started long before. Heller said that the issues raised by Pew were part of the conversation.

“There’s a movement-wide recognition that this is an issue we have to grapple with,” Heller said.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.