Intermarriages Can Support the Jewish Future

It's important for the non-Jewish spouse to support the Jewish partner's religious identity, live in a Jewish home, and bring up Jewish children.

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The decision by a rabbi about whether to officiate at the wedding of an intermarried couple is a difficult one. Rabbi Kominsky chooses to officiate at intermarriages where he feels that the couples's relationship is supportive of the Jewish future. As he explains in his article, he officiates at marriages where the non-Jewish spouse is willing to support the Jewish partner's religious identity, live in a Jewish home, and bring up Jewish children. Reprinted with permission from Interfaithfamily.com.

It usually starts with a phone call. The voice on the line is very tentative, afraid of being rebuffed or giving offense: "Somebody gave me your name and... umm... do you officiate at interfaith marriages?" 

My reply--"Sometimes. Can you tell me a little about your situation?"--elicits a sigh of relief, followed by a torrent of information, feelings, and concerns. Once we've worked through the preliminaries on the phone--the rabbi will be the only officiant; I don't do weddings on Shabbat; and yes, that includes Saturday at 7:30 in June; the date and place are viable for me--we schedule an appointment so that I can meet face-to-face with both partners and talk.

Does This Relationship Support a Jewish Future?

We meet and have an excellent conversation. After an hour or so of careful questions and answers, and if it becomes clear to me that this is a relationship that will support a Jewish future, one I can say a blessing over, I will agree to do the wedding. Just as we're finishing up, that anxious tone reappears in one of their voices: "Do you mind if I ask you one more question?"

"Not at all."

"We've been turned down by a dozen rabbis all over the state. How come you're willing to do interfaith marriages and they're not?"

It's a fair question, one I've been asked repeatedly over 28 years as a rabbi. Why do I officiate when so many of my colleagues do not? The answer comes in two parts. The first question is, Can I officiate at such a marriage? Only if that question is answered in the positive, does the second question arise, should I?

rabbi officiating jewish weddingRabbi's Relationship to Jewish Law Is Determinative

Whether a rabbi feels that he or she can officiate has to do with halakhah (traditional Jewish law) and the rabbi's relationship to it. Halakhah simply does not recognize the possibility of marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew; there is no such category in Jewish law. You could line up 70 rabbis, perform all the required actions, and pronounce all the required words, and it would still not be a marriage, within the rules of this system. The couple is simply not eligible to marry each other.

Obviously, if one accepts the halakhic definitions, the conversation stops right there. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis, who hold halakhah to be binding, can't officiate. Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis have a more liberal approach to Jewish law, but that does not automatically mean that they believe they can officiate, either. Some would say that a rabbi's authority to officiate at a marriage assumes a Jewish marriage and, following the traditional definition, a Jewish marriage requires two Jews. If so, again, the conversation is over.

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Rabbi Neil Kominsky

Rabbi Neil Kominsky is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley in Lowell, MA. He was educated at Harvard College and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.