I was delighted to read my colleague Rabbi Marmur’s comments in an article in the Canadian Jewish News (October 26, 2006) regarding his change in position on patrilineal descent. I have supported the notion of patrilineal descent since it became a cause celebre of the Reform movement 25 years ago. Perhaps where its leaders erred was in linking it to an increase in interfaith marriage. Instead, patrilineal descent could have and should have emerged out of the Reform movement’s commitment to equality—across the board. If men and women are equal, then Jewish identity and descent should be egalitarian.
As you know, a lot of time has passed since the Reform movement’s initial decision. What is certainly clear is that while the intermarriage rate may have stabilized in the United States but it is certainly increasing in Canada. And the total number of intermarried families is increasing as a result. The Jewish future depends on how well we welcome them into our community. That’s why our work at the Jewish Outreach Institute is about making sure that as many of those families as possible raise Jewish children and that the community is open and supportive to those families raising Jewish children. That is precisely why we have developed The Mothers Circle as one of our signature programs—designed for women of other religious backgrounds raising their children as Jews. Lowering the barrier for “who is a Jew?” makes that even more possible. As I am fond of saying, “interfaith marriage is not the end of Jewish continuity. Not raising Jewish children is the end of Jewish continuity.”