For the Jewish people to endure, we need different approaches. In our diversity, we can find strength.
It’s why I’d be loath to critique the Conservative position as recently expressed by some of their greatest modern leaders (“The Conservative movement can, and should, welcome the intermarried”).
They counsel that “rabbinic officiation at weddings is and should remain restricted to a marriage between two Jews.” They soften the blow as best they can, calling on rabbis to form “deep and loving relationships with all couples, and to create a rabbinic relationship that is broader and deeper than simply the moment of officiation.”
I respect the Conservative position. I truly admire the Conservative adherence to tradition and Jewish law. But I’m glad the Reform movement is more open.
The Reform movement discourages interfaith marriage, but it does not ban it. Some Reform rabbis choose to perform interfaith marriages with certain conditions, like a commitment to raise children Jewish or membership in a synagogue for some time.
It’s a reality that no matter how lovely their approach, the Conservative movement will alienate some interfaith partners who are not comfortable with hearing that conversion is required for marriage. It’s hard to feel accepted by a synagogue after rejection was part of your life-cycle moment.
That rejection can lay the groundwork for an uncertain relationship with Judaism, particularly in those first years of marriage. But those first years can be an important time. Marriage and having children can be a catalyst for finding out who you are, religiously. Both sides of the equation, Jew and non-Jew, may be grappling while young adults with what religion means for them.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, 33, recently alluded to the experience on his Facebook page: “I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
Interfaith partners, usually coming from Christian culture, can face heart-wrenching emotional issues. Did you grow up with a Christmas tree? Now, is your lifelong symbol of family and love viewed as a religious overstep by your partner?
Or maybe you’ve had a growing love for Judaism in your heart, but didn’t really appreciate the benefits of enjoying Judaism as a family until you had children?
On the other hand, a Jewish partner may be detached from Judaism religiously, but drawn to Jewish culture, feeling a sense of love and family among us.
Then, there are still others who will never convert, but will pick up the kids from synagogue, attend events and be among the shul’s biggest supporters.
All of this emotional complexity demands a variety of approaches. It’s wonderful that Judaism offers Orthodox, Conservative and Reform strains, among others.
People are complicated. One approach does not fit all.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.
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