Photograph of a long wall, at least three times as tall as the people walking next to it, trailing as far as the eye can see, with Jerusalem on one side and the Palestinian town of Abu Dis on the other.

Marking the Boundaries

Maverick Rabbi Breaks Ranks Over Intermarriage” shouts a Times of Israel title. “The Problem With Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Intermarriage Proposal,” teases the op-ed in the Forward. “On Marriage and Covenant” comes forth from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Yet again, the Conservative movement thrashes about, trying to figure out what to do about…well, any number of things. Continue reading

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The Forward Falls Behind…Again

Last week, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College announced a policy change, stating that they would no longer refuse admission to qualified rabbinical students who were married to or in long-term domestic relationships with individuals who are not Jewish. (Here’s the press release.) RRC was characterized as the first such institution to make a decision like this; I suppose this is true, since IISHJ, where I am a student, has never had a policy precluding admission of rabbinical students married to or in relationships with non-Jewish partners. So we’ll call RRC the first to rescind the prior, exclusivist policy.

This week, The Forward has run an editorial by its editor-in-chief, Jane Eisner, decrying RRC’s decision. Over in Humanistic Judaism World, we’ve had our fun poking at RRC for thinking itself first, and now at The Forward for getting bent out of shape. But I think it’s a good time to 1) blog again, and 2) actually address some of Eisner’s arguments, since Conservative and Reform clergy have started to make statements in support of Eisner’s missive. (Warning: logical fallacies are laid bare ahead. Also, if you think intermarriage is bad, you’re really not going to like what I have to say.)

Continue reading

Jewish? Want a Saturday wedding? Find a Humanistic Jew.

Rabbi Ruth Adar, the Coffee Shop Rabbi, has a post explaining why it’s so difficult for Jews to get married on a Saturday. She gives three basic reasons:

  • Tradition: weddings are, in part, about tradition, and traditionally this is a sacrifice Jews have made. The tradition reason is a sort of emanation from two other reasons:
  • Shabbat: halakhically, Shabbat and a number of other Jewish holidays are off-limits for weddings, and the special nature of Shabbat and its biblical bases in particular militate toward leaving Shabbat as a day without weddings,etc.; and
  • Rabbis: most rabbis will not officiate on Shabbat, because Shabbat is the preeminent Jewish day of the week, rabbis care deeply about Jewish tradition, and rabbis have erected boundaries to permit their own observance of the holiday.
"Mazel Tov! wedding" by Brian Johnson - originally posted to Flickr as Mazel Tov!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg#/media/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg

“Mazel Tov! wedding” by Brian Johnson – originally posted to Flickr as Mazel Tov!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg#/media/File:Mazel_Tov!_wedding.jpg

So, what can you do if you want a Jewish wedding on a Saturday? You can try to find a Reform (or maybe a Reconstructionist) rabbi who will officiate. You can wait until very late on Saturday night to get married (in Indiana this week, Shabbat on traditional reckoning ends at a little after 9 p.m.). You can have a Jewish officiant who is not an ordained rabbi perform the ceremony, and build Jewish elements in.

Or…

You can find a Humanistic Jewish rabbi or madrikh/madrikha. A madrikh/madrikha is a secular Jewish leader who has completed rigorous coursework and has been ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, but not one who has completed the full rabbinical program; many madrikhim lead or teach in Humanistic Jewish communities, and others lead or teach in other secular Jewish communities. (The Jewish Renewal movement, through its ALEPH Institute, also ordains pararabbinic leaders).

Humanistic Jews are committed to Jewish culture and identity, but we are more flexible when it comes to what can or can’t happen on Shabbat. Why? Because of how we value tradition and the role of the Jewish people in defining, refining, and remaking tradition:

For Humanistic Jews, Shabbat is a time of joy, a celebration of our connections to Judaism and to family, friends, and community. It is an affirmation of our Jewish identity, an expression of solidarity with the Jewish People. It is a chance to relax from the busy week, a space for self-exploration and discovery.

(This is from a fuller discussion of Humanistic Judaism and Shabbat here.)

Jews today routinely share families with non-Jewish members; a Sunday wedding may be difficult for non-Jewish relatives to attend, and connecting with family is one crucial function of weddings.

Humanistic Jewish rabbis and madrikhim will perform marriages between Jews and non-Jews. They will perform same-sex marriages. They will happily co-officiate with other clergy. Traditional Jewish elements can and are worked in in consultation with the marrying couple so that the ceremony reflects that couple’s interaction with and identity within Jewish life.

As a student rabbi, I have done almost all of the above–in one ceremony–though the couple in that case was not a same-sex couple. On a Saturday afternoon, so the couple could celebrate with their non-Jewish friends and family.

To be clear, all of this is a question of relative values, and of how one understands and interacts with Jewish traditions. As a Humanistic Jew, I recognize that all of Jewish tradition is the product of the Jewish people, and that we have the authority to remake it. This is one way that Humanistic Jews remake the tradition in light of the needs and demands of modern times.

And what’s more necessary in our world today than love?

Need a Saturday wedding? There’s a rabbi for that.

Why I Will Simply Accept Intermarriage

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky has an op-ed piece in the USCJ’s most recent issue of Pravda in The Forward, about his refusal to accept intermarriage. Rabbi Kalmanofsky essentially reiterates the Conservative Movement’s basic line on intermarriage: it weakens Judaism out of misplaced compassion.

Let’s tease this apart, because I don’t think you should buy what he’s selling. (Warning: kind of rant-y.)

Continue reading

The sky is falling, or, The Forward looks backward

Prolonging our collective misery, The Forward (kind of late to the game, no?) published an editorial on its website decrying the results of the Pew study.

Among The Forward’s worries?

The survey shows, conclusively, that intermarried families are less connected to Jewish life in myriad ways, have fewer children and are less likely to raise those children as Jews. It may offend liberal sensibilities to say that this is a problem, but this is a problem. It’s a problem for anyone who believes in a distinctive American Judaism that is egalitarian, tolerant and engages with the modern world.

It continues:

The Pew survey shows a remarkable dilution of Jewish identity, where “having a good sense of humor” is more than twice as essential to those surveyed as “observing Jewish law.” Among Jews of no religion — a growing cohort — only 10% said that “being part of a Jewish community” was essential to them.

Where is the good news in these numbers? Jewish identity is being reimagined, and in some select, creative hubs, that is happening in extraordinary and exciting ways. But elsewhere, this identity is being diluted beyond recognition and sustainability.

Okay, look. Intermarriage presents a challenge to Jewish continuity. But decrying the results of intermarriage along with much of the rest of the Jewish establishment, then complaining that the disengagement of intermarried families from Judaism is harmful to Judaism is not exactly a helpful stance to take. To then complain that you don’t recognize where Judaism is going makes you look like a darned fuddy-duddy–especially if you worry that egalitarianism and social action will suffer from the reduction of Jewish engagement and, specifically, population (which is really what The Forward is concerned about–that fewer Jews that practice what The Forward’s editorial board appears willing to call Judaism.)

Over at Failed Messiah, there’s commentary on the existential crisis of the Conservative Movement at its 100th anniversary. The author notes that young Jews are “less tribal.” I think that’s exactly right. And that’s an important insight into what’s wrong with The Forward’s response to the Pew survey, which is among the less rational responses I’ve showcased on this blog. (I’ve been selective. I know there’s a lot of hair-pulling going on out there.)

If you want younger, less tribal Jews to remain Jewishly connected, you’re going to have to be less tribal and less critical of intermarriage and its results. Complaining, as The Forward does, that intermarriage results in the dilution of Judaism–in any sense–blames those you want to retain.

Just. Bloody. Stop. It. Already. IT IS NOT HELPING.

Should (non-Orthodox) rabbis perform intermarriages? YES!–because when you refuse to do the wedding, guess who’s never going to come back? And because you can’t talk about egalitarianism and acceptance and then refuse to engage in the corresponding behavior. Even modern Orthodox rabbis like Joseph Telushkin have come to recognize the problems with the swat-away of couples who seek intermarriage (though I imagine he’s not in the business of performing such ceremonies).

And your pulpit talks, dear rabbis, should not decry intermarriage. There are intermarried families in your pews. Don’t shame those who come to you–they won’t be back. (This is among the reasons that those of us associated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism are expressly NOT against intermarriage–and also because we recognize that the Jewish people have grown over time through marriages between Jews and non-Jews. As a rabbinical student, I was asked about this during the admissions process. Guess what my answer was?)

When you shame those who are intermarried or considering it, you sound like The Forward. And The Forward is now looking backward.