The Forward has a regular segment called Rabbi Roundtable where a group of Rabbis give their opinions on a topic. Yesterday’s topic was “Is Intermarriage a Problem or Opportunity”
Susan Katz Miller at On Being Both had a great response to the piece. She pointed out the sample of mostly Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis which isn’t the reality of the American Jewish landscape. She also points out the problematic use of the word “Intermarriage” and the words problem or opportunity.
The article and the questions asked being flawed doesn’t mean that the opinions shared aren’t the opinions that exist for those asked.
I think when people give their opinions on interfaith relationships and marriage they forget that they’re talking about people. It’s harder to say a lot of these things when you remember that interfaith marriage is more than just construct.
If I were new to an interfaith relationship and read that, I don’t think I would engage with Judaism. So many times the “acceptance” is conditional. We can accept the ones who exist, but we have to stop them in the future. We need a path to conversion for them.
Take Asher Lopatin who is Orthodox from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School:
“Intermarriage is a great challenge to both the integrity of Judaism and the continuity of Jewry in America. With intermarriage outside the Orthodox Community exceeding 70%, we need a new approach. Expressing our fear and screaming “oy vey” just isn’t working. Instead, we need to find ways to bring intermarried families into Jewish communal life. We need to make conversion to Judaism more accessible to both the non-Jewish partner and the children, and in general, we need to show the beautiful, meaningful, and welcoming side of Judaism. Orthodoxy must remain against intermarriage, but we must be loving and welcoming to intermarrieds.”
Those two concepts are at war with each other, how are you going to welcome a group who you are against? One calls interfaith marriage “a sin.” Another points to it as a thing “we must work harder to combat.” Even referring to it as a path to conversion is problematic, conversion is a deeply personal decision and not one to be made because of a marriage. Even though many had welcoming opinions, the overwhelming statements show clergy against interfaith marriage. Reading that makes it harder for interfaith families to engage with Judaism.
Most interesting to me though is that in the same roundtable, there seems to have been more than two answers. There’s a graphic in the article with four answers. “Intermarriage” is a problem, it’s an opportunity, it’s inevitable and we should stop obsessing over it.
“If we are concerned about the long-term sustainability of Judaism and of the Jewish community, the most important thing we can do is to build vibrant Jewish communities filled with meaningful prayer and serious learning, deep and loving relationships among individuals, and a commitment to live our Judaism in pubic through acting on our ethical and legal obligations to create a more just world. Such communities naturally inspire their members to build Jewish homes, whether with partners or without. The focus on in-marriage as the ultimate goal distracts us from the real work of creating the Jewish community and the Judaism that we and future generations will be proud to sustain.”
Is the best use of time and resources fighting against interfaith families? Or will creating communities where people can engage in Judaism so it becomes a priority a better use of time? Even if in this passage she hopes that people loving Judaism early will help people build Jewish homes with Jewish partners, she’s not focusing on preventing interfaith marriage through shame. The lack of engagement isn’t just because of interfaith relationships. It’s easy to blame interfaith marriage, but that doesn’t acknowledge how the exclusionary practices haven’t engaged people who want to engage with Judaism. Creating Jewish communities that people are proud of will go further in sustaining Judaism than stopping interfaith marriages.