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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.



2 Comments

  1. Paul, I really think you hit the nail on the head here vis a vis the facts on the ground within the Conservative Movement. Many adherents to Conservative Judaism, particularly in the younger generation, no longer really buy into the halachic definition of “Jewish” as a determining factor in determining who is a Jew. Since the Conservative movement is largely driven by its membership, it is only a matter of time before it changes the definition and moves closer to the Reform definition and changes its policies on intermarriage.

    Except within Orthodoxy and among traditional secular Israelis, this radical redefinition has indeed taken place. I would argue this is a bad thing for the Jewish people, but we’ve already hashed this out on other blog posts.

    Comment by marc — March 24, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

  2. Thanks for your comment. Working within the constrictions of what you agree are facts on the ground in the non-Orthodox community, we’re trying our best to turn this into a good thing for the Jewish people. But we’ve already hashed this out on other blog posts. ;)

    Comment by Paul Golin — March 24, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

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