An article posted today in the JTA by Ben Harris, titled “R.A. to Reconsider Ban on Intermarried Speakers,” goes right to the heart of what we see as one of the biggest challenges in helping Jews on the periphery feel comfortable in Judaism – the notion of excluding someone simply because they have chosen to intermarry.
According to Harris, the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative Rabbis, is having trouble keeping a balance between politically left and right wing speakers for their upcoming convention. The reason, says Harris, is simple - the R.A. won’t allow speakers who are intermarried.
“The policy is we will only invite speakers who are either single, or, if they are married, are not intermarried,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, the R.A.’s executive vice president.
This position by the R.A. seems a bit askew, considering the Conservative movement is in the process of moving more aggressively toward welcoming interfaith families and their children. In our own work, through the Call Synagogue Home project, for example, which includes numerous Conservative rabbis and synagogues, we are moving lightyears ahead in this arena. Penalizing people because they have married in or out of the faith seems somewhat inconsistent with this spirit of welcoming.
Due to their status of intermarriage, United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean were considered for speakers, but dropped. The silver lining, though, is that the policy seems antiquated to many in the R.A., and some have been pushing for a more tolerant and flexible approach to couples of intermarriage.
A recently established outreach committee is examining best practices on welcoming intermarried couples within the movement’s synagogues. And Rabbi Jeremy Wohlberg, the R.A.’s incoming president, told JTA that the organization will reconsider the speaker policy.
We think this is a step in the right direction. Putting aside the subject of intermarriage, this policy of exclusion will only help to turn people away from Judaism. This is like the old joke of the guy who swam halfway across the English Channel, but then got tired and swam back. Outreach to those who are intermarried has come far over the years, and if we want to make sure everyone feels welcome within the Jewish community, we can’t make them feel unwanted – they’ll just turn around and swim back.