Rabbis Shift To Say 'I Do' to Intermarriage

No Regrets for Those Who Agree To Officiate at Weddings

Interfaith Ceremony: Chelsea Clinton married Marc Mezvinsky in 2010 in Rhinebeck, New York.
Getty Images
Interfaith Ceremony: Chelsea Clinton married Marc Mezvinsky in 2010 in Rhinebeck, New York.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 03, 2014, issue of February 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When Rabbi Daniel Zemel started his career, back in the past century, the last thing he thought he’d ever do was perform intermarriages.

But as the years passed, Zemel, who leads Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in Washington, found that maintaining his strict rule on this issue became ever more difficult.

“It got harder and harder to say no,” he recalled in an interview with the Forward, as he encountered situations and realities that increasingly challenged his beliefs and the teachings of his mentors. Eventually, in January 2009, Zemel wrote a lengthy letter to his community, explaining that his deliberations were over. He would no longer turn down requests to conduct interfaith weddings for members of the congregation.

“I wanted my Judaism to make sense to me, and I wanted to help create [a] Judaism that makes sense to Americans,” he said, reflecting now on the decision he made five years ago.

Many Reform rabbis, and a few Conservative ones, have gone through a similar process in recent years. And for each, crossing the Rubicon was a result of intense personal wrestling.

Reform rabbis in particular receive no clear guidance on this issue from their denominational leaders. The decision of whether to officiate interfaith marriages is left to the clergy themselves and to their understanding of Jewish theology, of the right path for American Judaism and primarily of the needs of their own community. For some, like Zemel, coming out in support of marriage of Jewish and non-Jewish couples took the form of a letter to the community. Others took to the pulpit during prime-time High Holy Days sermons to explain their move.

“After long and deliberate consideration, I have reached this decision: Going forward, when a Jew and a non-Jew in our community here at Temple Israel come to me and state that both partners are willing to commit to a Jewish future, Jewish education for their children and the creation of a Jewish home, I will officiate happily at their chuppah,” Rabbi John Rosove stated in his 2012 Rosh Hashanah sermon at Los Angeles’s Temple Israel of Hollywood.

“I was extremely nervous before this sermon,” Rosove recalled, but his congregants’ response left no room for doubt that his move struck the right chord with the community. “People stood up in the middle of the Rosh Hashanah sermon and started applauding and shouting,” he said. For weeks afterward, congregants attending services or dropping off their children at the nursery school stopped Rosove to express their support for his decision.

It was an issue Rosove had been struggling with for nearly 15 years, ever since he attended the wedding of a family friend who married a non-Jew. “It was a relationship of love,” he said.


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!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • 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.