New Rabbinic Officiation Study:
National Survey of Interfaith Couples Explores
Clergy Participation in Interfaith Marriages
More than six hundred interfaith
couple households, in which one of the marriage partners
was of Jewish origin, responded to a nationally representative
Where the family of origin of the Jewish partner was
affiliated with either a Conservative synagogue or Reform
temple, the majority expressed a desire to have their
marriage solemnized by a rabbi or cantor. This is consistent
with the 1991 JOI Survey which showed that the majority
of Conservative or Reform families preferred to have
a rabbi officiate at the intermarriage of their own
children, if there was a commitment to raise ensuing
children as Jews.
Among couples who were married by a rabbi or a cantor
(i.e. Jewish clergy) exclusively, sixty three percent
(63%) are raising their children as Jews. Among couples
whose marriages were not solemnized by any Jewish clergy
or by Jewish clergy exclusively fewer an 25% were raising
their children as Jews.
Sixty percent (60%) of those whose family held
membership in a temple or synagogue at the time of their
marriage indicated that they would have liked the rabbi
or cantor of their family's congregation to solemnize
their marriage. Of this group, sixty percent
(60%) were either refused or refrained from asking for
Jewish officiation because they expected to be refused.
Of that sixty percent who were refused rabbinic officiation,
more than half (51%) were married by either Christian
clergy or by a judge or justice of peace.
Over-all, forty percent (40%) of those whose
families were members of a temple or synagogue at the
time of marriage had their weddings officiated by a
rabbi or cantor. This contrasts with just 20%
of those whose families were not members of a temple
or synagogue. By contrast, of those whose families did
not belong to a temple or synagogue at the time of marriage
27% were married by Christian clergy.
Of those who asked their rabbi or cantor to officiate
and the clergy agreed to do so or referred the couple
to some other Jewish clergy, 83% of the couples were
married by a rabbi or cantor. Of those who asked their
family's rabbi or cantor but were refused. or did not
ask because they expected to be refused, 40% were nevertheless
married by another rabbi or cantor.
How did the Rabbi or Cantor
Influence the Couple?
The present survey asked respondents to indicate:
"How has the participation of the Rabbi or Cantor at
your wedding influenced your feelings about Jewish life?"
A statistical summary of their responses follows.
1 Belongs to Synagogue or Temple or
Plans to Join According to Who Officiated at the
2 Raising or Planning to Raise Children|
Jewish According to Who Officiated the Marriage
Judging from the perspective of those who have had direct
experience with it, Jewish clergy seem to have a beneficial
effect on the couple's feelings about Jewish life, in
about half the cases. The other half report no effect
at all. To what extent the reported "positive influence"
has had any bearing on the couple's Jewishness after the
wedding remains an open question.
Jewish Affiliation and Childrearing
The study also looked at two important and concrete
expressions of Jewish involvement: whether the couples
were affiliated or were planning to affiliate with a
synagogue or temple affiliation, and whether they were
raising or planning to raise their children Jewish.
Table 1 indicates that
those whose marriages were solemnized by Jewish clergy
exclusively were far more likely to belong or have plans
to belong to a synagogue or temple than those whose
marriage were solemnized in some other ceremony. Table
2 further underscores this apparent association,
indicating that intermarried couples whose marriages
were solemnized exclusively by Jewish clergy are far
more likely than others to be raising their children
These findings suggest a high degree of statistical
association between the likelihood of raising Jewish
children and whether or not an intermarried couple's
marriage was solemnized by a rabbi or cantor.
Although none of the findings suggest a direct causal
relationship between the participation of Jewish clergy
in the solemnizing of intermarriages and the subsequent
Jewish behaviors of the families in question, they suggest,
at the very least that intermarried families who are
most likely to behave in conformity of Jewish norms
are the most likely to have been also married by a rabbi
Such an association is hardly surprising. After all,
who but couples who are interested in leading some kind
of a Jewish life would seek to be married by a rabbi
or cantor? Those who have no interest in Jewish affiliation
or in raising Jewish children would also be the least
likely to want to have their marriages solemnized by