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Rabbi Ponet Speaks

Rabbi Ponet Speaks

If you aren’t completely sick of hearing about Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky’s co-officiated wedding, you may want to read Rabbi James Ponet’s piece for Tablet about his decision to officiate at intermarriages.

Now, if all you want are some choice tidbits about Chelsea and Marc (or Marc’s mom, who was featured in the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago), don’t bother. The rabbi, who never did return my phone call or e-mail (sigh), isn’t talking. However, his account of his Jewish journey — from Reform rabbinical school to Chabad shuls to Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute to presiding over what the New York Times has called “the most publicized interfaith wedding in recent American history” — is compelling.

Rabbi Ponet writes that he reversed course on intermarriages about five years ago when he:

began to acknowledge that my legal scruple about officiating or co-officiating at such a wedding was not consistent with my willingness to discount many other traditional norms. The halachah [Jewish law]’s non-recognition of a particular action had never restrained me from praying in an egalitarian minyan where a woman might serve as cantor, for example, or joining in a service at which instruments were played on Shabbat.

I do not fully understand all his reasoning, and I am not sure what I think of his call, later on, for “Judaism to formulate a thoughtful, traditionally connected ceremony through which a Jew may enter into a marriage with a non-Jew, a prescribed way or ways by which a rabbi may officiate or co-officiate at such a wedding.” Haven’t the hundreds (thousands?) of rabbis who already officiate at interfaith weddings already done exactly that and why, if one doesn’t feel bound by Jewish law anyway, does one need a “prescribed way” to go about this?

I also wish the piece shared more of his personal struggle vis a vis intermarriage. One of the comments posted in response to the article mentioned that Rabbi Ponet’s children are intermarried — if this is true, it seems kind of odd not to mention that, given that it must have shaped his outlook at least a little bit. On the other hand, I recognize that just because I like blabbing about my children all the time (and, to a point, reading other people’s blabbing about their personal lives) not everyone feels comfortable doing so.

Not surprisingly, most of the comments posted in response to his piece were unpleasant ones from the triumphalist anti-intermarriage school of Jews who apparently have nothing better to do a day before Rosh HaShanah than critique and condemn the rabbi. (Unlike yours truly, who is squeezing in this blog post in between some very industrious soul searching sessions, Rosh HaShanah menu planning and Jewish Week copy editing.)

Happy New Year to all! And don’t forget to "like" me on Facebook!

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