What limits—if any—must rabbis place on involving interfaith families in Jewish rituals? Should Hebrew schools permit parents to enroll their children if the children are simultaneously enrolled at a Christian Sunday school? These are some of the difficult questions that JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin decided to grapple with when they were invited to serve as guest editors for the latest edition of the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ (CCAR) Reform Jewish Quarterly. The CCAR Journal was dedicated entirely to issues related to intermarriage. Kerry and Paul contributed an introduction about JOI’s “big tent” approach to an inclusive Jewish community, and then pulled together some of the most important voices on the issue, from both inside and outside the Reform Movement, to write about their own beliefs and very personal experiences.
Two of the articles, Interfaith Marriage: A View of the North American Reform Rabbinate (a moderated roundtable discussion of Reform rabbis to questions about intermarriage) and Outreach and the Intermarried: The Unfinished Revolution, by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, are available to read online on the CCAR website.
Rabbi Yoffie explains in his essay that although great strides have been made to welcome and embrace intermarried families in Reform congregations, there is still much work to be done. One of the terminological suggestions that he makes, something we at JOI are advocates of, is that Jewish families with non-Jewish members should be called just that: “Jewish families”; “interfaith families” does not accurately represent a family that has chosen Judaism and is raising Jewish children, even if one of the members is of another religious background.
He also makes the important point that outreach is not simply a practical response to a practical problem: it is theologically and philosophically driven. And what about some of the more delicate issues? While he admits that it’s always hard to say no, he is staunch in his support of a 1995 resolution that parents should not be permitted to enroll their children in Hebrew school if the children are simultaneously enrolled in a Christian Sunday school.
Does this rule burn bridges or draw important boundaries? What about a rabbi officiating at an interfaith wedding? These are the issues rabbis continue to grapple with, as reported on in a recent article in the Washington Jewish Week and elsewhere. We believe the new edition of the CCAR Journal is an important contribution to that discussion, and we look forward to feedback from the Reform rabbis who subscribe and from the community at large.
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