A Provocative Sermon on Intermarriage

A few weeks ago, JOI’s Paul Golin blogged about an article in New Voices, the student run Jewish magazine. The piece, by Jeremy Gillick, was titled “The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi,” and in it he got to what Paul called the “crux of what we at JOI have been discussing internally recently, the difference between being ‘tolerant’ and being ‘embracing.’”

In the article, Gillick mentioned a controversial sermon by recent Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (the Reform Movement’s rabbinic seminary) graduate Yael Shmilovitz. Originally presented as the HUC-JIR Senior Sermon in October of 2007, the sermon was memorable because Rabbi Shmilovitz said outright: “I am for interfaith marriage. I really am.”

First a little background. HUC-JIR has rabbinic students sign a policy consent form that reads, in part: “…any student currently engaged, married, or partnered/committed to a person who is not Jewish by birth or conversion will not be ordained or vested.” This troubled Rabbi Shmilovitz. She said in her sermon:

If I signed it, would that mean that if I met that special person, and they weren’t Jewish, that they would have to convert in order for me to be ordained? Is that even a worthy motive for conversion to Judaism? If making a Jewish family is at stake, can’t I have one with a non-Jewish spouse? What if my spouse was Jewish, but disinterested? Would that then be OK? As an education student, already at HUC for three years, I was fully aware that some of my classmates were born and raised in families where a Jew and a non-Jew had wed; if I signed, what would that say about these unions? That they are regrettable? If I signed, what would it say about my classmates, the children of those unions? What if by signing this sheet, I was signing away an important spiritual tenet of mine? Which is–it is love that binds a family together, and it will be through love that I will make a Jewish family, a new Jewish family, a unique Jewish family, no matter the obstacles? If I signed, what kind of rabbi would that make me?

We urge you to read the entire sermon because, whether you agree with her thesis or not, it’s quite powerful. Sometimes it takes a radical, provocative statement like “I am for interfaith marriage” to get people talking about an issue that most would rather avoid. What are your thoughts?

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