Inmarriage

A leading Conservative rabbi argues for the importance of encouraging inmarriage.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

The prophet Jeremiah lived at a time when the core values and principles he cherished were threatened. The Jewish life his ancestors knew was disintegrating before his eyes. Blinded by bloodshed, all his fellow Jews could see was eternal exile in Babylonia. A natural response would have been to give up in despair. Many did.

Jeremiah himself, however, did something surprisingly bold. Demonstrating his unwillingness to accept the inevitability of a future based on prevailing conditions, he purchased land in his beloved Israel. Most of his neighbors would have considered it foolish, or worse, to acquire land in a war zone. They could not envision a time when Jewish life would, once again, blossom according to God's promise. Indeed, Jeremiah's land would not be toiled by his family during his lifetime.

jewish marriageJeremiah’s action was founded on a vision. He acknowledged what was--yet he refused to accept it as the foundation for building a future. He resolved to change the present by making a passionate commitment to the future. It is imperative that we emulate Jeremiah's model.

The most recent study of the American Jewish Committee revealing a growing acceptance by American Jews of intermarriage should be no surprise. After all, most of us have relatives or close Jewish friends who have married non‑Jews. Previously negative responses in many cases have been modified not by a change in position but by despair in facing the "tidal wave."

Can it be that the 57% of those surveyed who stated that they would approve of rabbinic co‑officiation at intermarriages with Gentile clergy really believe that this will create a meaningful Jewish experience? Do the 70% who want their rabbis to officiate at intermarriages truly believe that such rabbinic involvement is an appropriate Jewish value based upon their commitment to Jewish living? Can it be that the 56% who were either "neutral" or "positive" aboutthe marriage between a Jew and a Gentile really believe that such a marriage is ideal for creating a Jewish family?

What we are witnessing is a natural reaction to the experience of the present. Jewish leaders‑‑indeed all who are committed to a Jewish renaissance‑‑know that intermarriage is not the ideal. Like Jeremiah, we must make a bold commitment, through our actions, to the future we desire.

Although every Jewish institution must play a role in a Jewish renaissance, it is the synagogue that may be best poised to disseminate the message of inmarriage. Although the words are difficult to articulate in the current climate, we must make a commitment to the future by educating all Jews to the importance of marrying within the faith. We must find sensitive and appropriate language to convince Jews that their lives will be enriched when two Jews‑‑by birth or by choice‑‑join to create a home shaped by Jewish values. This message will not be absorbed without a conscious campaign to express it; not once or twice‑‑but until it is learned.

We know that experiential programs for teenagers and young adults create stronger bonds of Jewish living. Thus, the Conservative Movement has made a commitment to invigorate its already successful programs. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's new campaign to aggressively reach out to unaffiliated Conservative Jewish youth will cost more than $100,000 a year. Our initiative to strengthen Jewish identity through an expanded KOACH [the College Department of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which sponsors study groups, Israel trips, social events and lectures] and yeshiva program for those in college and beyond have also required new allocations of funds that total, minimally, an additional $150,000 a year.

Words are not sufficient. Our commitment to the future, like Jeremiah’s, requires action. We must find the means to reach out to Jews who are not connected to the community and bring them in. With all the talk about keruv outreach], if we are serious about outreach, we must find the resources to combat anonymity and strengthen Jewish ties. We must restructure synagogue and other communal agendas to make it a priority for each involved Jew to link with others who are less involved and welcome them into the wider Jewish community.

People influence people. Those who really care about inmarriage must resolve to articulate this value loudly and clearly. Whether the message is immediately accepted or not, it has import in the creation of the communal attitude toward intermarriage. Those who reject our message before marriage may be open to hear it later. And those who will not accept this message may nevertheless permit their spouse to raise Jewish children. Passionately reaffirming the boundaries of Jewish identity does not imply the rejection of the intermarried as a person; but neither does acceptance of the intermarried require us to abandon our Jewish values.

The Jewish community is in crisis. We must either accept the data and change our own value system, thereby signaling our surrender, or we must make a renewed effort to strengthen Jewish identity. Now is the time to make our commitment to the future.

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Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein

Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein is the Executive Vice‑President of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America.