In a major shift, Reform rabbis have publicly acknowledged intermarriage as a "given" that calls for increased outreach and understanding, rather than a threat to Jewish identity that must be resisted at all costs.
But now that the group's attitude about intermarriage has officially changed, Dreyfus expressed hope that clergy will make greater efforts to welcome interfaith families into religious activities and life-cycle events like bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies for their children.
"Ignoring intermarriage won't make it go away," she said. "We want to embrace it as an opportunity."
The new position is not a formal policy or resolution, but rather a semi-official "recognition" of changing times based on the task force's 10-page report.
"In the past, there was a great focus on how to prevent intermarriage," the report said. "Today we are more likely to focus on how to deal with intermarriage as a given in our society with the goal of positive Jewish engagement of the family."
We have to do better, so these couples do not end up raising Unitarians with a Jewish parent as opposed to raising Jewish kids with an all-but-a-Jewish parent.
“When I was in rabbinical school, we were taught there was only one way to respond” to intermarriage, Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs and a JTS graduate, told the group of students. “And that was not to respond at all, but to walk away and say ‘I’m sorry we’re losing another person.’ ”
Speaker after speaker at the workshop urged students not to walk away but to reach out, not only to intermarried Jews and their partners but to longtime congregants whose children have intermarried and who are fearful of being judged....Today there is talk of allowing rabbis to attend interfaith weddings of friends and family members. The question will come before the Rabbinical Assembly when it meets later this year.
And in January the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards ruled that the non-Jewish spouses of congregants can be buried alongside their Jewish partners in Jewish cemeteries -- provided they are in a section set aside for this purpose; that gentile clergy do not officiate at the funeral; and that no non-Jewish markers appear on the graves.
In the ruling, approved by a vote of 10 (three law committee members abstained, and one voted against) is the statement, “Our relations to non-Jews are very different than in the past. Many of us have non-Jews in our families. All of us know non-Jews who are strongly connected to the Jewish community although they have chosen not to convert and retain their status as non-Jews.
“In regard to the question of interfaith marriages, we must be sensitive to their feelings and make them feel welcome in our communities. In addition, non-Jewish spouses and children who are involved in our synagogues, while not Jewish, are nevertheless part of our community.”
Today, a number of Conservative synagogues allow non-Jewish family members on the bimah during b’nai mitzvah and baby-naming ceremonies, although some require them to stand on a separate step or make sure to clarify that they are not saying a blessing over the Torah.
At one session, a male rabbinical student burst out, “If we’re going to be so welcoming, why not just do the intermarriage? Yet I don’t want to. This feels like a slippery slope.”
A female rabbinical student next to him retorted, “It’s a slippery slope either way. If you don’t slip down one side, you slip down the other side.”
“I want to be welcoming, but I have this ‘but,’ and I don’t know what to do with the ‘but,’” the male student replied.
Intermarried Jews have always been able to join Conservative synagogues, of course, but strict regulations barred them from assuming leadership roles and prevented their gentile partners from participating in lifecycle ceremonies, appearing on the bima or even being listed as a family member on synagogue mailings.
Of all these policies, the lifecycle events seem the most alienating, many at the workshop noted.
Finally, people are grappling with these issues in a real way, instead of pretending it doesn't exist. And, even as Orthodox apologists continue to hammer home the "unchanged since Sinai" line ad infinitum, the J Post points out that they, too, have begun to start adapting to the intermarriage facts on the ground:
Even Orthodoxy has responded to the challenge of intermarriage. The haredi Eternal Jewish Family project actively encourages the non-Jewish spouse of a mixed marriage to convert to Judaism if he or she is willing to embrace an Orthodox lifestyle. This marks a departure from a more stringent position in Orthodoxy that rejects the possibility of conversion for the spouse of someone who has chosen to marry outside the faith.
Now, I of course neither need nor expect Orthodoxy to give sanction to mixed marriages. What I do hope to see one day is an increased willingness to acknowledge the humanity, decency, and commitment of all members of Jewishly-identified families-- Orthodox or not, halachic or not. In the meantime, I'll stick to putting the liberal movements' feet to the fire.
Of course, I have a personal stake in this issue, but for me what's really important is that Judaism, particularly American Judaism, finally stop shooting itself in the foot by turning away committed Jews and Jewish-friendly spouses. Seeing the liberal movements finally starting to get it is a welcome change.