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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Others of us, however, would say that our mandate as rabbis in the contemporary world involves serving the needs of Jews and Jewish life in some ways that the tradition never envisaged. If so, then officiation at a marriage where only one partner is a Jew can become possible.

It Can Be a Mitzvah to Officiate

But even if one can, should one officiate? I believe--and this language will drive some of my more traditional colleagues crazy--that it is a mitzvah, a religiously mandated act, to do so under the proper circumstances. I base this position on several premises. The first is that a deeply rooted, mutually nurturing love relationship is a gift of God, deserving of acknowledgment and blessing. The second is that all marriages are mixed marriages.

Any two human beings who pair up will have some areas in which they are a perfect fit and others where, having grown up in different circumstances--whether economic, political, cultural, interpersonal, geographical, or religious--their assumptions and internal maps will differ in ways that challenge them to find common approaches with which both partners can live.

Any viable relationship must look these differences in the face and figure out how to deal constructively with them. I see this as a major agenda in premarital counseling. Religion, you will have noted, is simply one of these areas, and one which, like the others, can usually be addressed in ways that will strengthen the relationship. When a couple approaches a rabbi to officiate at their marriage, they are already making a statement about where they think viable common ground can be found. (I exclude here the "we don't care, and it will keep my mother from having a heart attack" argument, which is not very frequent and which does not, in my view, justify rabbinic officiation.)

Very often in my experience, non-Jewish partners who, for any of a number of very good reasons, do not see themselves converting to Judaism, at least in the foreseeable future, can be very comfortable about supporting the Jewish partner's religious identity, living in a home that identifies with a welcoming Jewish community, and bringing up Jewish children. Such a couple, in my opinion, represents a positive contribution to the Jewish future, and I am glad to assist them with a ceremony that carries the resonances of Jewish tradition while making those changes in wording that permit it to reflect the couple's situation with integrity.

Thus, I would not use the traditional formula "according to the laws of Moses and Israel" for such a couple, as traditional Jewish law does not accord with this ceremony. On the other hand, to affirm, as I do, that the commitment is "according to Divine and human law" spreads a more universal and, I believe, accurate umbrella over the proceedings. Nearly three decades of experience have taught me to rejoice in the opportunity to offer blessings over such a relationship and the future it promises.

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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.