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When Conversion Creates an Intermarriage

There are rabbis who are not prepared to officiate at interfaith weddings. This is not news to most people in the Jewish community. But what about rabbis who are not prepared to help a potential convert actually convert to Judaism because the spouse/partner of the potential convert is of another background and may not plan to convert? Did you know about this subset of rabbis?

In the minds of these rabbis, such an action would be creating an intermarriage—since one partner would now be Jewish and the other would remain tied to another background. Therefore, this would be tantamount to officiating at an intermarriage, since it would essentially be creating one. Rather than welcoming yet another person with open arms in the Jewish community, we have somehow figured out yet another way to place an obstacle in front of a person, limiting our own growth and expansion as a community. This seems counter-intuitive to me.

We at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) want to open the doors to those who want to cast their lot with the Jewish people, and we want to find a way to lower the barriers to do so. If you want to help, or would like our help in lowering the barriers in your community, let me know. We are always looking for program partners in our effort to expand the tent.



4 Comments

  1. This is a very narrow understanding of the rabbi’s choice. There are in fact meaningful reasons that a rabbi comes to this decision. Just as we want others to understand OUR perspective it is wiser and kinder to seek to understand the perspectives of others — especially those with whom we do not agree.

    You are speaking as a Reform rabbi from a Reform perspective. Yet the Jewish community is made up of Jews of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities and genders. If we are interested in embracing all Jews — which is my desire — then we need to understand and be open to them. The rabbis who have come to the ethical decision that this is not something they can do are not “unwelcoming” they simply have a different view of their responsibility as a rabbi. Why condemn them? Better we should be like Abraham and open our tent on all sides to welcome all perspectives, all views and all people.

    Comment by Dawn Kepler — May 9, 2014 @ 11:29 am

  2. While I agree with the premise that we must be welcoming and allow conversions of this sort, I offer a word of caution, as we
    recently had this situation in our congregation.

    A lovely woman had been studying Judaism for a while and approached us to convert from Christianity. She went through the process and following her conversion announced the good news to her family. Her non-Jewish spouse knew of her plans, but was unsupportive and would not accompany her to temple for services or events. Her parents and siblings “shunned” her.

    At some point she had to make a choice between her new religion or her family. It’s three years later now - she no longer practices Judaism.

    When this situation is presented to us, we must make sure the conversion applicant has supportive family and friends. While she/he might wish to embrace our teachings and our Jewish way of life, if they lack support, it probably won’t work.

    Comment by Janie Meyers — May 9, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  3. I proceed carefully with all who approach me about conversion, and if the person is married or in a committed relationship, or if they havechildren, that is one element to explore, whether the partner is Jewish or not. Conversion involves a transition of identity which can be a strain on established relationships.

    I am less concerned about “creating an intermarriage” than I am interested in helping that individual explore why Judaism, and why now. I would be extremely wary of proceeding with a conversion that might undermine a marriage. At the same time I would not be willing to participate in a conversion that was ONLY done to please a spouse or family.

    Every inquirer is more than an individual. They are part of a family and friendship matrix that WILL be affected by conversion to Judiasm. It is my responsibility as a rabbi to ascertain that the conversion is likely to be good for this person and good for the Jewish People. If in my judgment there is reason for concern, then I must speak up about it. I should certainly not take that inquirer before a beit din until and unless I believe all matters of concern are resolved. If at the outset I don’t see myself EVER getting to that point with the inquirer, then I should turn them away and not waste their time.

    Comment by Rabbi Ruth Adar — May 9, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

  4. Dawn,
    I was not specifically telling anyone what to do. I was identifying a barrier that is not otherwise being discussed, in the hopes that it would spark conversation, and perhaps push people’s boundaries. I want people to examine their boundaries because I want to foster change, and don’t believe that the way to foster change is to simply accept everyone’s current beliefs as unchangeable and irrefutable. This has nothing to do with where I was ordained, in which synagogue I worship, nor with which rabbinic organization I am affiliated.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry M Olitzky — May 9, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

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