Two more Reform rabbis to marry interfaith couples
Rabbi Roger Klein officiates at the 2007 marriage
of Sarah and Ben Weiss, who are both Jewish.
PHOTO/LCD PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY
By MARILYN H. KARFELD Senior Staff Reporter
Published: Friday, February 12, 2010 1:10 AM EST
what they call an effort to be more inclusive, two rabbis at The
Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood have decided that they will now
officiate at weddings of some interfaith couples.
Richard Block and Rabbi Roger Klein say they independently arrived at
their decisions, and their change in stance does not affect the
policies of other clergy at the Reform temple, one of the largest in
the area. The news was announced in a letter Block sent last month to
members of the congregation.
The decision is “by far the hardest
one that rabbis and cantors confront” as they “seek to embrace our
congregants … at pivotal life moments, remain faithful to the
principles of Jewish tradition … and contribute to the future of the
Jewish People,” Block wrote to congregants.
couples is fairly common practice among Reform rabbis in some American
cities. In some congregations, rabbis say their willingness to do so is
a litmus test for hiring. But in Cleveland, the majority of Reform
clergy have declined to marry Jews to non-Jews.
Conference of American Rabbis passed its most recent resolution on the
subject in 1973, stating the group’s opposition to rabbis participating
in interfaith ceremonies, JTA reports. But the resolution does not
forbid them from doing so, in effect leaving the choice up to each
The umbrella organization of Reform rabbis considered
placing a resolution condoning interfaith officiation on the 2006
conference agenda. However, the resolution was dropped, considered too
Orthodox and Conservative rabbis are not
permitted to perform intermarriages; Reconstructionist, Humanist, and
unaffiliated rabbis make their own decisions, JTA said.
was no pivotal moment or precipitating event that led to his change in
position, Block wrote in an e-mail to the CJN. Rather, after a long
period of reflection and discussion with clergy colleagues at The
Temple, the decision reflects his best effort to balance important
considerations, he said.
The rabbis will only officiate at the
weddings of couples “in our congregational family” who are “committed
to raising Jewish children, creating a Jewish home, and participating
in the life of the community,” the letter continued.
the last stipulation means the couple should commit to joining and
maintaining membership in a synagogue. He also will ask interfaith
couples to take an introduction to Judaism course, but he will not
insist that the non-Jewish partner consider conversion.
“I will urge them to do so,” Block says. It’s his experience that a
good number of non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages ultimately
choose to become Jewish.
Rabbi Klein says he has thought about
this issue for a long time. “It became increasingly clear to me that my
refusal to perform marriage ceremonies between a Jew and a non-Jew was
simply not the right thing to do.”
He will ask interfaith
couples to commit themselves to “a strong Jewish future” by joining The
Temple or another synagogue if they live out of town, Klein wrote in an
e-mail to the CJN. Like Block, he wants the engaged couple to enroll in
an introduction to Judaism class.
While he will discuss with
them their commitment to creating a Jewish home and raising Jewish
children, Klein will not “require” the non-Jew to consider conversion.
board of directors at The Temple recognizes that this is a rabbinic
decision alone and did not instigate the change in policy, notes Klein.
Although he and Block had several conversations on the topic, Klein
said he arrived at his decision by first restating his goals as a
rabbi: “To do everything in my power to help create and strengthen
Jewish families and to assure a vigorous, expansive and sturdy Jewish
A blanket refusal to conduct any and all interfaith
marriage ceremonies undermined those objectives, Klein concluded.
Instead, he decided welcoming as many couples as he could was the
Both rabbis say occasionally congregants have
asked them in the past to officiate at interfaith ceremonies. But they
say their decision to do so was not due to congregational pressure.
and Klein will marry interfaith couples at The Temple and at other
venues, but neither will co-officiate with non-Jewish clergy, they say.
feedback from the congregation concerning their decision has been
overwhelmingly positive, the rabbis say. One congregant e-mailed Block
with his strong support of the new policy, saying that this shows the
congregation is “truly inclusive” and recognizes the reality that many
Jews choose to marry outside the faith.
Another congregant wrote Block that “this action will mean the difference between children having God in their lives or not.”
strong support – people expressed their “excitement, gratitude and
pride in being a member of the congregation” – gives Block hope that
his decision will “enable us to draw many couples closer to Judaism and
indicate that about half of Reform rabbis in the U.S. will perform
interfaith weddings, and their ranks are growing every year, JTA
reported in 2006.
Indeed, two rabbis at The Temple-Tifereth
Israel, a leading Reform congregation, have recently decided to marry
interfaith couples, although a brief survey indicates other area Reform
clergy have not changed their stance on the issue.
both sides of the debate say to marry interfaith couples – or not –
will help strengthen Judaism. But a study at Brandeis University’s
Cohen Institute indicates that a rabbi’s position on performing
interfaith marriages plays no role in whether a couple feels welcome in
the Jewish community, JTA said.
An informal CJN survey reveals:
Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, whether or not to officiate at
interfaith weddings is up to the discretion of each clergyperson. Rabbi
Arturo Kalfus and incoming Senior Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who arrives
this summer, will perform interfaith marriages, if certain criteria are
met. Rabbi Joshua Caruso and Cantor Sarah Sager will not.
Alan Lettofsky of Beth Israel-The West Temple has not changed his
practice and will only officiate at marriages between two Jews.
Rabbi Stephen Denker of Temple Emanu El in Orange does not officiate at interfaith weddings, nor does Cantor Laurel Barr.
Estelle Gottman Mills of Congregation Kol Chadash in Solon says she has
officiated at interfaith unions for a number of years. Membership in
the congregation is not required. However, Mills will not co-officiate
with non-Jewish clergy.
Rabbi Matthew Eisenberg of Temple Israel
Ner Tamid in Mayfield Heights has married interfaith couples since he
arrived in Cleveland in 1996. This is the best way to “conserve the
Jewish people and get Jewish grandkids,” he says.
In addition to
raising any children Jewish, the couple must agree to maintain a Jewish
home and not celebrate non-Jewish holidays. “The Christmas tree must
stay at the grandparents’ home,” Eisenberg says. He also will not
co-officiate with non-Jewish clergy.
Rabbi Eric Bram of Suburban
Temple-Kol Ami in Beachwood will officiate at interfaith unions at the
temple or other venues, but the couple (or parent) must join the
synagogue. He does not co-officiate with non-Jewish clergy.