Is Judaism Open or Closed?

Last week Rabbi Heidi Hoover wrote on this blog:

“I believe that intermarriage has become a scapegoat for the American Jewish community. If we have failed to raise Jews who love Judaism and can’t imagine their lives without some kind of Jewish practice, then it doesn’t matter who they marry — their commitment to the practice of Judaism will not be strong. If we have succeeded at raising Jews who love Judaism and can’t imagine their lives without some kind of Jewish practice, then it doesn’t matter who they marry — Jewish practice will be part of their lives and that of their families.”

I think she is 100 percent correct. We are wringing our hands over the wrong issue. Interestingly, yet another survey was released this week on interfaith marriage. This one has a very particular focus. It asked Conservative rabbis, who are prohibited from officiating at interfaith marriages by their movement, if the policy changed, would they be willing to officiate at an interfaith marriage?

The survey, conducted by an organization called Big Tent Judaism, found that nearly 40 percent of the rabbis surveyed would officiate at an interfaith marriage if the Conservative movement changed its policy. I am not surprised by this finding since it backs up conversations I have had with many Conservative rabbis whose views are quickly changing on this issue, and is pretty much in line with the finding that 50 percent of Reform rabbis officiate at interfaith marriages.

READ: Study: 40 Percent of Conservative Rabbis Would Perform Intermarriages If Allowed

The important question, in my mind, is not who will or will not officiate at interfaith marriages, but rather what is the message of the Jewish community? Do we want to send a message that we have an incredible tradition that will enhance people’s lives which we want to share with everyone, or that we are an insular religious group who only wants to associate with our own kind? In other words, do we want to open our gates to all or build our walls up higher?

The Hasidic community is clear on this question. They (with the exception of the more outreach-oriented Chabad Lubavitch sect) have chosen to be an insular group, as have certain sections of Orthodox Jewry. Liberal Jews are still struggling with this question. I understand why. There is a comfort in being with your own kind, in doing things the way they have always been done, in not ask why are we doing it this way. In addition, Jews have encountered threats to our survival from the outside world, so why should we be so open now?

However, like Rabbi Hoover, I believe that instead of worrying about the boundary questions (who is “in” or “out”), we should be focusing on sharing a love of Jewish wisdom and practice. We have to openly question why Jewish tradition teaches certain things and asks us to do certain practices in order to discover if those practices have meaning in our lives now. Do they make us better people? Help us celebrate life’s joys? And give us methods for dealing with life’s challenges?

I believe Judaism does provide answers to all of these questions. If we focus on sharing how and why Judaism can help us flourish in our lives, we will create a love of this great tradition. Who people marry will not matter since the tradition will be passed on regardless.

Simply put, I have faith. I have faith that this tradition, which I love, works to make our lives better. Sharing how and why it works with others will inspire others to practice it too. This is how a tradition remains alive and relevant. Let’s be open and inviting. Lets welcome all who want to experience it. Turn on the “Open” for business signs.

Discover More

Why I Don’t Officiate at Intermarriages

Effective counseling of intermarried couples makes the difference for the Jewish future--not officiating at their weddings.

Why I Do Officiate at Intermarriages

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.

Mourning Non-Jewish Loved Ones: A Reform Perspective

Death and burial issues for interfaith families and Jews by choice.