I am sure you have heard the saying "Its hard to be a Jew", it is even harder to be a rabbi. Trying to balance our loyalty to tradition while at the same time maintaining a modern sense of what is right and wrong causes lots of internal conflicts. Internal ones are often the most challenging.
Not long ago, a young man I had been helping to overcome a difficult past and build a brighter future came to me asking me to officiate at his wedding to a woman who was not Jewish. Part of me wanted very much to share this special moment with him, though the other part of me did not want to betray my duty, which is to preservbe the Jewish past and create a promising Jewish future.
Whether or not to officiate at an intermarriage has become the hot button issue in the Conservative movement. Though it remains prohibited, under pain of expulsion from the movement, it is now a subject of debate and discussion. Emails are now being exchanged as to the pros and cons of changing the status quo.
There are several issues involved. The big question is "Is it good for the Jews?" Does officiating at intermarriages enhance our Jewish faith by making the Jewish people stronger? Does not officiating push away the Jewish partner as well as the non-Jewish one who may want to be involved?
Are we telling people by our presence that it makes no difference who you marry? Statistics are not helpful in solving this dilemma, the Pew study suggests that who officiates makes no difference in future affiliation, other studies say that it does make a difference.
Many see the rising rates of intermarriage as a a rising tide, with no foreseeable way to stem the tide. This attitude is sort of " just make our peace with it." I would like to point out that that is not necessarily the case.
There are still many Jews young and old that make great efforts and even great sacrifices to find a Jewish partner. Why should the Conservative movement betray these efforts? I am surprised that the rate of intermarriage among Conservative affiliated Jews is only 39%, this in a society that views the blending and mixing of groups and cultures as an ideal. Perhaps the fact that some rabbis will not officiate is sending a good message to be sending.
There is however one thing the statistics agree on i.e. the overwhelming majority of grandchildren of intermarried couples do not consider themselves Jewish.
Judaism however affirms that not only the individual is important the group is important as well. Our faith and our people represent something unique, i.e. a covenant with God that has been embodied by a particular people and has been passed on generation to generation since remote antiquity. Within this culture lie the deepest lessons that are the foundations of morality and humanity for Western civilization.
There are also those who consider endogamy akin to racism. For Jews as a tiny but important minority it is not about devaluing others. It is about continuing the unique culture, beliefs and heritage of Judaism and the Jewish people.
What are we to do? We all know many intermarried couples who have beautiful marriages and wonderful families. If one partner is not Jewish they should be warmly welcomed into our synagogues. If they want to join the Jewish journey by converting to Judaism that should be encouraged. If they choose not to we must make sure that the faith and identity of the none Jewish partner is fully acknowledged and respected.
As this is an issue within the Conservative movement I would respectfully ask my Conservative friends and colleagues to consider this step carefully. For the past several generations the Conservative movement has attempted to make Judaism easier , more pleasant and more in tune with societal values.
Ask yourself has this generated more loyalty, stronger faith, more observance of Mitzvot, more study of Torah? The movement now is close to an all time low in numbers and as a percentage of the American Jewish community and faces Today Conservative Judaism faces a troubled future. If the lessons and practices of Judaism are essentially the same set of values that characterize secular society, what does Jewish practice and identity add?