SAN DIEGO ‹ Rabbi Deborah Bravo of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in
Short Hills, N.J., went through plenty of placement interviews
after her 1998 ordination as a Reform rabbi. Everywhere, she
got the same question: not about her attitude toward
homosexuality, not whether she wore a kippah and tallit, but
whether she would officiate at an intermarriage.
"It has become the litmus test for placement," Bravo said
in San Diego at this month's annual convention of the Central
Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement's
Rabbi Jerome Davidson of Temple Beth-El in Great Neck,
N.Y., a member of the conference's ad-hoc committee on
intermarriage, hoped to introduce a resolution at the
convention calling on the group to condone rabbis performing
intermarriages, as long as the non-Jewish partner doesn't
practice another faith and the couple is open to leading a
Jewish life. That's the standard required by most Reform
rabbis that perform mixed marriages.
Knowing it was still too controversial to pass easily,
however, Davidson and his colleagues put off a resolution
until the conference's next convention, next March.
Even then, it will be a tough sell. Still, the issue
undeniably is heating up.
Unlike their Orthodox and Conservative colleagues, who are
not permitted to perform intermarriages, Reform rabbis are
discouraged, but not forbidden, from doing so. A 1973
conference resolution declares the group's opposition to
members taking part in any ceremony that solemnizes a mixed
marriage, but the resolution doesn't bind rabbis to that
Consequently, Reform rabbis ‹ as well as Reconstructionist,
Humanist and unaffiliated rabbis ‹ must decide on an
individual basis whether they will perform intermarriages.
Many say it's one of their most difficult decisions.
Rabbi Marcus Burstein of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls
Church says that the question of intermarriage has long
worried Reform rabbis.
"It's one of the most difficult questions a rabbi has to
answer when meeting with Jews in the community," said
Burstein, who attended the conference in California.
"No" is not a popular answer in today's Reform
congregations, Reform rabbis say. Though there aren't hard
numbers, it's estimated that about half say yes.
Rabbi Mindy Portnoy of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C.,
who also was at the conference, backs the Reform movement's
policy of allowing rabbis to make decisions individually
regarding mixed marriages.
Portnoy, who herself does not officiate at mixed marriages,
understands that congregations risk alienating members by
refusing to perform the service, but views refusal as her
"It has nothing to do with me as a person, it's my role as
a rabbi," said Portnoy. "Everyone draws a different line at
what they are comfortable with."
Local rabbis who attended the CCAR convention reported
varying levels of debate on intermarriage.
Rabbi Shoshana Nyer of Fairfax's Temple B'nai Shalom saw
intermarriage come up at only one session. But Burstein found
intermarriage "very notable, with panels and presenters."
Portnoy, like Nyer, found that mixed marriages took a
backseat to other subjects, such as the new Reform prayer
book, Mishkan T'Filah.
Yet, with the number of mixed marriages exploding in recent
years, she believes it is an issue that will have a great
impact on all of Judaism.
"It's not just an issue for the Reform movement, but an
issue for everybody," Portnoy said.
Burstein sees the dilemma growing more intense before it is
"I think it's going to get more vocal and more challenging.
Many of our congregants are marrying non-Jews and want rabbis
to perform those ceremonies," he said.
Sue Fishkoff writes for JTA News and Features; Adam Levin
is a WJW intern.