Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Early on in my rabbinate, I decided I would officiate at weddings for interfaith couples if they agreed to have a Jewish family and raise Jewish children. I honestly hadn’t given the issue much thought and believed this was a typical position of many of my fellow Reform rabbinical colleagues. I remember one conversation in which the couple did not agree to these parameters and I refused to officiate at their wedding. They couldn’t understand why. The truth is, I remember stumbling over my words and doing a terrible job of explaining my position. Even if I could have found the right words, it was still the wrong response. No matter how eloquently I might have said “no,” my refusal felt like a slap in their faces. It was a rejection, pure and simple. I was showing this couple that they weren’t a valued part of our temple community.
I hear rabbis lamenting that couples don’t appreciate the role of the rabbi at a wedding. These colleagues are surprised that some couples scoff at officiation fees, which are generally very small compared to other wedding expenses or are happy to ask a friend to officiate instead of hiring a rabbi who is trained in premarital counseling and experienced in Jewish ritual. Wedding couples are typically caught up in their own dreams and desires planning an event they will remember the rest of their lives. They aren’t focused on the officiant.
A colleague once told me that our job, as rabbis, is to serve Jews, not Judaism. This advice guides me. I’m not the gatekeeper for Judaism. My priority is not preserving Judaism for its own sake, but helping people find meaning and joy within Judaism in order that they may thrive as human beings.
Now, years later, my default is to find a way to say “yes.” I realize the value in listening to people’s stories and responding in a way that supports them on their journeys. My goal is not to take them on a journey that I have preordained or that anyone else has charted for them. I do my best work as a rabbi when I respond personally to each couple, helping them, supporting them, and finding a way to say yes so they know they are valued, welcomed and loved.