As a Reform rabbi who has worked with interfaith couples for more than 40 years, yet does not officiate at intermarriages, I wanted to add my perspective to the broad discussion taking place within the Jewish community (Jewish Week, June 16, June 23). The positions, on both sides, are compelling. No one wants to alienate Jewish families and those who come to us for support. Yet for some, certain standards are inviolable, sentiment notwithstanding. What is clear is that a crisis has arrived.
How many Conservative rabbis will resign or be expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly when they decide to officiate at an intermarriage? How many Conservative synagogues will withdraw from the movement when they support their rabbi’s decision? Before the Conservative movement is torn apart, I would recommend a harnessing of all the emotion and energy into a united effort to create a strong educational platform for all interfaith couples. The Reform movement can serve as a guide, as it has directed enormous effort over the past half century to reach out to seekers of Judaism either through conversion (Jews by choice) or by cultivating Jewishly knowledgeable gentiles who actively participate with their Jewish partner and family in creating an authentically Jewish home environment.
I have taught the Introduction to Judaism Program sponsored by the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) since 1976, and have been proud to have guided thousands of non-Jewish seekers into either of these two paths. Our classes were never billed as “conversion courses.” They were always billed as a welcoming, tent-expanding opportunity to teach and to learn, given the extremely challenging family dynamics that surround many interfaith couples.
I believe that when couples are directed to this program, and encounter welcoming and nonjudgmental teachers guiding them through the process, the likelihood of a decision to officially embrace Judaism through conversion will greatly increase.