My initial reaction last week upon reading the press release/announcement from the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ Task Force on the Challenges of Intermarriage for the Reform Rabbi, was, “It took three years of study of deliberation to come up with THIS?”
The statement’s main point: “While in the past the Reform rabbis focused discussion on how to prevent intermarriage, the CCAR today affirmed that intermarriage is a given and should be approached with the goal of engaging intermarried families in Jewish life and living. Rabbis can and should work to improve the effectiveness of their efforts to encourage intermarried people to embrace Judaism for themselves and their children.”
Haven’t most Reform rabbis been acknowledging that intermarriage is a given and that outreach is critical since 1978, back when Rabbi Alexander Schindler, then head of the movement, gave a speech calling for outreach and official recognition of patrilineal descent (which the CCAR approved in 1983)? By now, even many Conservative rabbis are, at least quietly, adopting more of an outreach approach and shifting their focus away from criticizing intermarriage.
In fairness, there’s more to the statement than this, such as that “debating the question of rabbis officiating at ceremonies of couples who are intermarrying is simply not a productive conversation.” And the statement also throws out of a few bones to the more traditional members of the Reform movement by affirming the “importance of encouraging in-marriage (marriage between Jews) and conversion of non-Jewish spouses.”
Despite my initial snarkiness, as I started writing a speech that I was supposed to deliver Sunday (cancelled, sadly, due to a storm-caused power failure), I actually found myself referencing the CCAR statement. It turned out to be a handy example, a sort of Exhibit A I could use as proof that things really have changed, that liberal Jews have in fact moved beyond the obsession with intermarriage prevention and are instead focusing on how best to engage interfaith families.
I also felt more respectful after reading an editorial from this week in The Jerusalem Post, which used the statement as a jumping-off point to discuss not just Reform, but Conservative and Orthodoxy’s evolving responses to intermarriage. “Even Orthodoxy will have to formulate some sort of response besides a total rejection of intermarried couples,” it noted, adding that “unlike in the past, the decision of a Jew to marry a non-Jew does not necessarily signal a rejection of Judaism” and that “all three streams of Judaism have an important contribution to make” vis a vis intermarriage. I’ve never considered the JPost especially forward-thinking on intermarriage, so this editorial seems significant.
Even if three years seems like a long time to reach such a no-brainer of a conclusion (one that I nonetheless agree with), hats off to the CCAR for keeping the issue on the agenda and making it official.