From the Rabbi – On Interfaith Marriage

Excerpted from Rabbi’s Report, Or Shalom, Jan 2016


On My Mind

As I move into a mode of sharing a written monthly report with you, I’d like to offer our board some awareness of what I am thinking about in my role as the spiritual leader of Or Shalom. I’ll offer some thoughts on a single issue each month, not necessarily for the sake of feedback (although I may ask for this) but, rather, so that you are included in the process of my visioning and discernment.

At present, I want to share on the issue of interfaith marriage.

As I reported last month, three couples have approached me asking whether I would participate in or help them to craft ceremonies for their interfaith marriages. Two of these couples are members. While I referred the couple who are not members to Rabbi Dina Hasida Mercy, my inclination is to participate, in some way, in the weddings of our members.

I want you to understand my rabbinic thinking on this.

First, I am aware of Or Shalom’s communal stance that an Or Shalom rabbi not perform an intermarriage. And I am aware that it is my duty to uphold the community’s stance. I am not thinking to perform an intermarriage and I am not thinking to ask the community to reconsider its bottom line.

From an halachic perspective, a Jewish wedding is the marriage of two Jewish people. In accordance with Jewish law, there is nothing I can do, in my role as rabbi (or in any other role), to render the commitment of a Jew and a non-Jew a Jewish marriage. For me, this is an important fact.

No ketuvah document and no set of blessings under a chuppah renders the marriage of a Jew and a non-Jew halachic-ly valid. Such a marriage can be secularly ratified according to Canadian law and it can have the flavor of a Jewish wedding and the feeling of a Jewish wedding and it can contain the rituals of a Jewish wedding, but none of this renders the marriage halachic-ly binding as a “kiddushin.” 

What this means, to me, is that I am free to bless an interfaith couple as their rabbi, as their pastor, in keeping with our community’s commitment to embrace interfaith couples and in keeping with our community’s commitment to ministering to interfaith families equitably – without claiming their marriage to be a Jewish one. Such a marriage is something else, a marriage equally holy, attended by their rabbi, blessed as holy by their rabbi, celebrated by their Jewish communal peers, even as it is not a Jewish wedding.

My participation in offering a blessing at such a union does not make it a Jewish wedding, but my refusal to participate does deny our congregants the blessing of their own rabbi at a critical life moment. It is an act of distancing at a time of vulnerable transition that, pastorally, calls for embrace. Further, my absence, and particularly my absence as an expression of the policies of our congregation could, likely, distance members who are forging new families.

We want to embrace families.

Rabbinic decisions are called “teshuvot” – “answers;” they are answers to specific questions that arise for individuals or communities because of a seeming conflict between Jewish values. The central role of a rabbi, traditionally, is to decide what to do in such circumstances.

As a Jewish Renewal rabbi, and one who is well trained in and deeply cares about halachic process, I weigh the voice of our tradition in balance with the reality on the ground, seeking a solution that is right for the human beings whose flourishing I am called to support in concert with the core values of Judaism.

In this case, what I see is a relatively easy path, upholding Or Shalom’s desire that her rabbis not perform intermarriages while also upholding Or Shalom’s mission to embrace interfaith families.

Further, I see an important opportunity, in this question, for Or Shalom’s demonstration of real spiritual and pastoral inclusion of interfaith couples and families, demonstrating a loving embrace that will draw more families to us without compromising Or Shalom’s communally agreed upon standard of Jewish identity.

I offer this to you as food for thought.

And I hope you will support me as I support our members, Jews and non-Jews alike, from a place of respect and love and from a place that interprets our policy with compassion and honesty.