How Welcoming is the Conservative Movement to Intermarried Families?

I recently had an opinion piece published in the New Jersey Jewish News recommending a new policy on intermarried families for the Conservative movement, in which I wrote:

Traditionally, the Conservative three-step approach has been to (1) promote in-marriage, but if that fails, (2) promote conversion, but if that fails, (3) welcome the intermarried. In practice, step 3 is rarely reached because the messages intended to accomplish steps 1 and 2 work against it. I recommend reversing the order. New step 1: Welcome everybody. If Conservative Judaism is so wonderful, let’s share it. Let’s help more people access it. Let’s explain why we find it so beautiful and meaningful…

I pointed out in the piece that there is positive change happening “on the ground,” though I did not name names and I probably should have, especially in mentioning the work of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC).

However, the amazingly wide spectrum of responses I received from people within the Conservative movement about my op-ed helps explain why the change is coming so incrementally, with no major policy statements yet. It’s because the movement is incredibly divided over the issue.

On the one hand, I heard yasher koach (loosely translated as “congratulations”) from several Conservative rabbis. On the other hand, there were several angry letters to the editor, including one Conservative rabbi who wrote that I was “asking for nothing less than a radical redefinition of Jewish peoplehood in the span of one generation. Any gains for Conservative Judaism would be short-sighted at best. The price is too high. It entails jettisoning classic Conservative norms of tradition, history and halakhah [Jewish law].”

I’ll leave it for others to debate whether the Conservative movement is really halakhic or not (and at least that is a debate taking place within the movement), but I will challenge that rabbi on the first part of his statement. The “radical redefinition of Jewish peoplehood” has already happened. What I’m asking of the Conservative movement is to recognize it and adjust their policies accordingly. We at JOI believe that the Conservative movement can become a welcoming place for intermarried families and we’re thrilled to know of (and work with) the people willing to make it a reality.

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