In the 1970s, The Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling had a secret list of rabbis who were willing to perform intermarriages — one had to call the Center and personally request the list. Each rabbi listed specific conditions: only in private in their office, or only for immediate family, or in public but only as sole officiant, and so on. The Center did not even put “intermarriage” in its name! The American Reform rabbinic association of this era passed a resolution (1973 – still on the books if ignored) opposing “participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.”
In the year 2000, the American Jewish Committee asked several questions about intermarriage in its annual survey of American Jewish opinion. Evidently the results were a problem, for those questions do not seem to have been asked again. And The results appear garbled on the AJC website (the only data for which that is so):
Reading carefully, we find that 80% agreed that intermarriage is inevitable, and 68% disagreed with pushing conversion as the best response. When half of respondents were asked whether rabbis should officiate at intermarriages, 57% said they should even if “a gentile clergyman is involved,” and another 16% said they should if there is no co-officiant. Only 22% said rabbis should refuse to officiate. Witness the vast gulf even then between Jewish public opinion and Rabbinical Assembly policy, and imagine what these numbers would look like today.
Between 1970 and 2000, there were a few brave rabbis who were willing to respond to what ordinary Jews wanted, to celebrate love, to meet and serve couples where they were, and to keep Jewish doors open. The two (Reform-ordained) Humanistic rabbis I trained under and worked with, Sherwin Wine in metro Detroit and Daniel Friedman in metro Chicago, each officiated at more than 3,500 weddings, most of which were intermarriages. Yet they were mocked and vilified for the same courage to challenge convention in the name of inclusion that is now being celebrated. One couple married in 1985 recalls being told to have Rabbi Friedman to marry them, since “he’ll marry you to an orangutan.”
So when the Conservative Movement grapples publicly with whether or not their rabbis should maybe consider a way to possibly be less than fully rejectionist, the arguments for inclusion are what we have been saying and living for 40 years. We who have celebrated interfaith and intercultural families for a generation are pleased to have company, but like the woman in a board meeting whose ideas are overlooked until repeated by a man, we are not amazed. Better late than never, and better now than later, and still better to recognize that you are late to the party.
Today the Reform Movement trumpets its “audacious hospitality”, the Conservative Movement will accept non-Jews as members (with limited privileges), and intermarriage-friendly rabbis are easily found online at InterfaithFamily.com. The one piece missing in most of this dialogue is, “we’re sorry, we were wrong.” For the thousands of couples, families, and children pushed away by Jewish communal shortsightedness over the past decades, some teshuva (repentance) might also be helpful.