Yesterday, the largest body of American rabbis inched closer to acknowledging that they cannot stop interfaith marriages from happening. The Associated Press headline reads: “U.S. Reform rabbis suggest welcoming interfaith couples.” It is astonishing, in a way, to think that such a timid suggestion could still be news in 2010. Instead of wailing and gnashing their teeth before the tidal wave of interfaith families, Reform rabbis now propose to make the best of the situation by putting their efforts into outreach to interfaith families.
I am all for anything that makes Jewish communities more welcoming. I want interfaith children to have the opportunity to experience authentic Judaism, and become knowledgeable and passionate about their Jewish roots. Rabbis engaging with interfaith families is good for the Jews, and good for interfaith children. Especially if the alternative is ignorant children, or negative and bitter feelings about Judaism.
Unfortunately, the task force from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (representing over 2000 Reform rabbis), releasing their report at an annual convention in San Francisco, did not suggest overturning the Reform movement’s formal opposition to rabbis performing interfaith marriages, according to the Associated Press (the report is not yet up online). Instead, they continued to maintain that it is up to each rabbi to decide whether or not to perform such ceremonies. Instead, they proposed creating special rituals to bless interfaith couples.
Okay, I’m sorry, but there is so much irony in welcoming an interfaith family by offering them a separate but unequal ceremony. I suspect my gay and lesbian friends can relate here. I try not to get exasperated about the fact that there are rabbis who will perform gay or lesbian marriages but not interfaith marriages. There’s enough pain to go around here.
And yes, I am someone who has never forgotten that our family rabbi refused to perform my marriage. I realize I was a generation ahead of the trend, since I’m only “half-Jewish by blood,” and my husband is Jewish only in spirit. Some will say we had chutzpah to even ask a rabbi to perform such a union. Others will wonder why we wanted to even be members of this club. If our rabbi had offered us a “special blessing” that was not a legal marriage, as the panel now suggests, would we have had any interest in such a thing? Or would we have gone ahead, as we did, and found a rabbi and minister willing to co-officiate? It is clear to me that we would have done the latter.
And, having experienced the beauty, the affirmation, the resonance of a completely balanced and inclusive ceremony, we went on to seek out this balance for our children, by joining an interfaith families community.