Over the past few years, the Conservative movement’s rigid stance on intermarriage has gradually softened. While rabbis are still forbidden from officiating at interfaith weddings, many Conservative synagogues now allow the non-Jewish spouse to take part in life-cycle events like a bar or bat mitzvah, or serve in leadership roles. The reasoning is that with more congregants personally touched by intermarriage – either involved in one or the parents of children who have intermarried – more should be done to include interfaith couples in synagogue life. This, according to Julie Wiener in the (New York) Jewish Week, is what led the Jewish Theological Seminary to host a first-of-its-kind workshop “sensitizing students to issues of intermarriage and changing demographics.”
Run by Rabbi Charles Simon of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the workshop was an opportunity for rabbinical, cantorial and education students to discuss what they can do to best respond to the reality of intermarriage in the Jewish community. For instance, how can they “balance boundaries and tradition with the need to be more inclusive?” One way, said Rabbi Simon, is to look at what is tradition – like “where non-Jews can stand or if they can touch the Torah – and what is Jewish law. He urged students to not “get stuck thinking that Jewish law prohibits things it doesn’t prohibit.”
These questions about how to mix tradition with modernity are probably some of the most important questions in the Jewish community today. Since there are no easy answers, hopefully this workshop will be replicated and we will continue to see the Conservative movement engage in deeper discussions on intermarriage. But wherever these conversations might lead, it is a clear indication that the Conservative Movement continues to take positive steps toward creating a Jewish community that welcomes and embraces all those in our midst.