Equal Standing for Intermarried Families in the Jewish Community

Throughout the course of Jewish history, we have had to rethink and reinterpret the laws passed down from generation to generation. What was accepted 100 years ago – or even 10 years ago – might not make as much sense today. In our efforts to keep Judaism relevant, a majority of Jews have decided to select which laws and mitzvot (commandments) they will follow in their Jewish journey. Writing in the Huffington Post, Paul Golin, JOI associate executive director, calls this a “selective covenant.” In other words, most of us “can and do pick-and-choose which mitzvot are relevant to our lives… even if that means reinventing some of the rituals as we go.”

To illustrate his point, Golin points out the accommodations made to allow women to become rabbis, or synagogue-goers to drive to shul. That’s why he takes issue with those who would use Jewish law as an excuse to prefer in-married over intermarried Jews, and points out that “the preference for one type of family over another inevitably must lead to a lesser welcoming for intermarried families.” It’s like we are living by the code described in the George Orwell novel Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

An equal welcome for all Jews should be our goal. In-marriage is no longer a relevant mitzvah for many in our community, and openly saying on behalf of the entire community that our preference is in-marriage sends a message of intolerance. He writes:

The harder our leadership tacitly or explicitly “prefers” one type of Jew over the other, the less ethical our community seems. This extends not just to the explicit preference of in-married over intermarried, but tacitly to rich over poor, married over single, white over other races, hetero over homosexual, and so on. I’m not saying that no boundaries should exist in Jewish ritual practice, just that the choice of a non-Jewish spouse, in and of itself, is no longer a decision that should be considered communally punishable.

As we sit on the cusp of a New Year, we need to “let go of the fear” over intermarriage. Instead, Golin writes, we should “begin genuinely welcoming as equal all who would select Judaism for themselves or their children.”

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