Usually articles that come out supporting outreach toward intermarried families (or interfaith couples planning on marriage) are written by representatives of the Reconstructionist, Reform, and more increasingly Conservative movements. That’s why we took note of a recent article on the website Jewishinstlouis.org by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, an Orthodox rabbi.
In the article, he argues that in this day and age, reacting to intermarriage as we have in the past – by mourning the loss of a Jew – is outdated and in fact does the Jewish community a disservice. He writes:
The floodgates of the rivers of Jews leaving the faith that we imagine we are opening by not censuring intermarriages are, in this generation, a miasma. Such attitudes will not stop anyone from intermarrying, only from ultimately cultivating a meaningful and perhaps more observant and informed Jewish life.
Rabbi Shafner makes many of the same arguments that motivate our work at JOI, concluding as we do that how we welcome and engage intermarried families will shape the future of the Jewish community. He points out the irony of an interfaith couple contacting a synagogue or a rabbi regarding their upcoming nuptials, only to find that “it is precisely at this moment that the door is closed.” What is the sense in creating barriers for a family that clearly wants to make Judaism a part of their lives?
Promoting in-marriage for the sake of “Jewish continuity”, he writes, is simply a prejudicial reason to oppose intermarriage. Intermarried families can – and do – engage in the Jewish community and raise Jewish children. They do so because the family finds value and meaning in Judaism. And so will their children. Promoting that mindset will benefit the Jewish people much more than strict opposition to intermarriage. “If we stressed meaningful Jewish lives instead of ‘Jewish continuity,’” Rabbi Shafner writes, “we would not have to worry about Jewish continuity.”