NEW YORK — Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman said he is asked to perform interfaith marriages “all the time. In some cases it would be helpful to the community and the couple if I were able to agree to do so.”
But Maltzman, of Kol Shalom in Rockville, won’t agree to because his Conservative movement bars its rabbis from officiating at — or even attending — a wedding between a Jew and non-Jew.
Maltzman thinks the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s rabbis’ association, should “rethink” its standards around interfaith weddings. Until it does, he supports the RA’s actions against Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, who was expelled from the association for performing interfaith weddings.
An ordained Conservative rabbi for 44 years, Rosenbloom was expelled last month by unanimous vote, with abstentions, after a hearing of the RA’s Executive Council.
“I don’t have animus toward the RA,” Rosenbloom said Friday. “It’s a futile policy, a policy that will eventually be overturned because the trend of history is against it. I have no bitterness … I don’t feel shunned or like an outcast.”
Rosenbloom, 72, is the retired rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun, a 158-year-old synagogue near Philadelphia. He officiated at his first intermarriage, between his stepdaughter and her fiancé, shortly after retiring in the summer of 2014. Since then, he has performed four additional intermarriages and has plans to conduct two more.
The RA wouldn’t comment on Rosenbloom’s expulsion, but its executive vice president, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, said the movement is constantly discussing how to approach the growing number of marriages involving Jews and non-Jews. Still, she said, the Conservative movement’s fealty to Halacha, or Jewish law, mandates a ban on performing intermarriages.
Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis are allowed to perform intermarriages, while Orthodox rabbis, also citing Jewish law, do not.
“We are a halachic movement and Judaism envisions the marriage ceremony as taking place between two Jewish people,” Schonfeld said.
By performing mixed marriages, Rosenbloom feels like he’s simply acknowledging reality. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jews found that the intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews since 2005 rose to 71 percent. And a recent study from Brandeis University found that interfaith couples married only by a rabbi are significantly more likely to raise their children Jewish than those married by no rabbi or clergy of different faiths.
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah Congregation in Gaithersburg called the Brandeis study “important but not definitive” and said that further study is needed. He added that he supports the decision to expel Rosenbloom since Rosenbloom clearly violated the rules, but he declined to give his opinion on whether he agrees with the overarching policy.
“The Conservative movement has an approach to Judaism that says that it evolves over time,” he said. “I don’t know what a different policy would look like but certainly we are always asking ourselves these questions.”
For Rosenbloom’s first intermarried couple, the synagogue has felt more welcoming because of their Jewish wedding, which included traditional elements like a chuppah, or wedding canopy, and the breaking of a glass.
“It’s always been my feeling that rather than push away people of other religions, it makes sense to pull them into our Jewish community,” said Stefanie Fox, Rosenbloom’s stepdaughter, 32. “My husband is a big part of my Jewish life now. I almost feel like we’ve increased our Jewish community in the world today.”
Expulsion from the RA, a 1,700-member body that places rabbis in congregations and sets their professional standards, is a relatively rare event. The last expulsion, according to Schonfeld, occurred a year and a half ago, though she could not say why. Because Rosenbloom is retired, the expulsion will have little practical effect on him.
But Rosenbloom isn’t the only rabbi breaking from the movement over intermarriage. Maltzman, of Kol Shalom, said that he has heard “through the grapevine” that there are Conservative rabbis who quietly perform interfaith marriages.
Rabbi Adina Lewittes decided to leave the RA three years ago so she could perform interfaith weddings. Lewittes said she is hearing from an increasing number of Conservative rabbis who agree with her stance privately.
“I’m very intent in using my opportunity with the couple to convey to them we celebrate them but we also have expectations that they will continue to be engaged with Judaism and the Jewish people,” said Lewittes, rabbi of Sha’ar Communities, a network of small Jewish communities in New Jersey.
Many Conservative synagogues, while not performing intermarriages, do celebrate the couple ceremonially before and after the wedding, through pre-wedding rituals and by welcoming them as congregants afterward.
Rabbi Jonah Layman said that his congregation, Shaare Tefila Congregation in Olney, welcomes interfaith couples after their wedding and that “outreach to interfaith couples is an imperative for all non-Orthodox synagogues across the country.”
Layman, a past president of the Washington-Baltimore region of the RA, declined to comment on the Rosenbloom case but said, “The decision about officiating at interfaith weddings is a polarizing one for the Conservative movement, and I trust that the expulsion of Rabbi Rosenbloom will initiate a very serious discussion.”
Staff Writer George Altshuler contributed to this story.
—JTA News and Features
By refusing to accept or perform interfaith marriages we run the risk of driving mixed couples away from Judaism. It is as though we are saying, “We refuse to accept your non-Jewish partner.” It is important that we welcome all couples whether or not one of them isn’t Jewish.
Sorry, Nancy. People who have intermarried have already made a statement that they do not value their Jewish heritage. By accepting this, we as a people are saying that it is acceptable to intermarry and that it is OK to dilute the Jewish people. It simply is not. Marrying a Jewish spouse has to be the most fundamental tenet of all to insuring the continuity of the Jewish people. Otherwise we will not know who is and isn’t Jewish.
Most who intermarry have no knowledge of their own heritage. How will they be able to teach their children about the history, tradition, laws and customs of their own people. Since America is a Christian country, Christian culture permeates everything and it takes at least some knowledge of our own Jewish culture to teach the importance of the difference between the two.
If a man or woman halachically converts because their soul draws them to Judaism, we must accept them fully. But, to “convert” just to assuage their guilt, or to placate the guilt of their parents, we must stand up and resist this.
Accepting this will be detrimental to the Jewish people.