Skip To Content
Forward 50 2017

Amichai Lau-Lavie

The Intermarriage Innovator Asking The Tough Questions

Should a rabbi be permitted to marry a Jew and a non-Jew? This year, that question roiled the Conservative movement as it struggled to balance its embrace of modernity with the strictures of Jewish law and tradition. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie put a face, and a proposal, to that challenge.

Ever since he founded an experimental Jewish prayer community in Manhattan in 2013, Lau-Lavie, 48, has served as a spiritual leader often asked to officiate at interfaith weddings. But once he was ordained a Conservative rabbi in 2016, he was required to say no. Unsatisfied, he embarked on a yearlong research project to develop a framework within Jewish law to permit intermarriage under certain conditions.

In his proposal, which he unveiled in June and titled “Joy,” Lau-Lavie said that he would ask prospective couples to devote at least six months before the wedding to study Jewish values and demonstrate a commitment to community. “What should make a difference is not what is in your blood or on your documents,” he told the Forward’s Jane Eisner. “It’s did you show up? Are you a part of this?”

Not surprisingly, these ideas prompted a robust dialogue on the Forward’s pages and beyond. Around the same time, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, an influential Manhattan synagogue with ties to the Conservative movement, concluded its own yearlong review by deciding that its rabbis could perform intermarriages if the couple pledges to raise a Jewish family.

For Lau-Lavie, the consequences have been both joyous and difficult. He resigned in August from the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis, knowing that he would be asked to leave anyhow. He recently told the Forward that he is getting more requests to officiate at weddings than ever before, and about 60% are from interfaith couples. He plans to create public programs for these couples in the next year.

Meanwhile, the debate within the Conservative movement continues, as its rabbis try to reconcile the fluid identities of contemporary life with their commitment to maintaining Jewish tradition. The deep and complicated questions Lau-Lavie raised won’t be answered anytime soon.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.