Shalom. Sorry for the missed week. I’m retired. Actually, I was on my bike in NC all week, trying to avoid both the constant rain and the transgender bathroom situation, and couldn’t focus on the weighty issue of intermarriage and whether rabbis like me should officiate. I won’t repeat the arguments pro and con – look back at my wordpress site (itusedtobewednesday.wordpress.com) for those – but now is the time to answer the question, where do I fall on this issue? And what about retired people taking new positions?
Pragmatically, while it is not clear that performing intermarriages makes much difference in the level of affiliation of those couples – even though some of you have written to me with great stories about how it worked out well – there is little doubt that the Conservative movement would be better off at least in the short run if our rabbis said “yes” and removed the negativity that couples (and their families) must feel about our movement when we say “no.” My sampling in recent weeks found a unanimity on this issue – in favor of officiating – among Beth El congregants. Those sampled didn’t even hesitate to say we should say “yes.”
That being said, the arguments against performing intermarriages are not easily dismissed. They go against Jewish tradition. Doing intermarriages removes possibly the only significant remaining “wall” between Conservative and Reform Judaism – practically speaking, there isn’t that much difference between the two as prayer services are becoming more similar and rates of Shabbat and Kashrut allegiance are not all that different overall.
Two more negatives that people brought up have even more weight: One, what message does changing give to those who did convert to Judaism at the time of their marriage? They went through a lot of study and even more soul-searching in the process of conversion, and now we would be saying it wasn’t that important? And, second, a decision like this is bound to be divisive. While most congregants seem fine with the change, some would not be. A rabbi up north announced this year that he was going to officiate at intermarriages, for all the reasons we have offered, his Board approved that, and then “all hell” broke loose in the membership; seeing that, he felt it necessary to reverse course.
My decision is not to change my practice. If I ever did, it would be because the movement allowed it and on the condition that there be mandatory study of Judaism for the couple and that any children born to them would be raised Jewish. I would not be surprised to see the movement making this change, in my lifetime. I am not sure if I would be disappointed, given that the arguments for officiating are valid too and the pain that would be removed and the doors that would be potentially opened are worthy of consideration.
Finally, what is the responsibility of rabbis/ professionals once they retire and can do/say pretty much whatever they please? That responsibility weighs in my decision. We need, I believe, to remain true to the principles and practices that guided our working careers. If we had doubts about them, then we should have acted while we were working and accepted the consequences. To wait to change our practices till we can’t get in trouble, or to write a “tell all” book about the people we “had” to work with (think politics), is just not responsible. That is my opinion, which is probably a minority view.
Best to you, and Shabbat Shalom. Bill Rudolph