Friday, September 1, 2006 | return to: editorial


We need a more tolerant response to interfaith

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It's one of the "third rail" issues in the Jewish world: intermarriage. To some, it means the slow death of the Jewish people. For others, it presents an opportunity to reach out to those on the fringes of Jewish life and rope them back in.

Either way, intermarriage is a reality. That's why we admire those with an eye toward positive responses.

Our story this week about retired judges from Walnut Creek's Conservative Congregation B'nai Shalom officiating at civil weddings is a perfect example.

Though Conservative rabbis such as B'nai Shalom's Gordon Freeman are unable to officiate at interfaith weddings, that hasn't stopped Freeman from seeking solutions.

As a start, Freeman has enlisted retired judges from among B'nai Shalom congregants to perform interfaith weddings.

They wouldn't be traditional Jewish ceremonies -- no breaking of the glass, for example -- but they would allow the Jewish partner a measure of continuity and Jewish connection.

Interestingly, the Conservative movement has been very proactive in reaching out to interfaith couples. Last year's Tiferet Project (largely overseen by Bay Area rabbis) determined guidelines for Conservative congregations and proved a milestone in interfaith outreach.

As painful as intermarriage is to a sizeable segment of the Jewish community, we can only applaud Freeman's work and similar efforts elsewhere.

What choice do we have?

For all the hand-wringing, for all the initiatives, for all the pronouncements, the Jewish community has been unable to stem the tide of intermarriage.

That is the price we pay for living in a society that allowed Jews to flourish. We are free to come and go as we please, to remain in the Jewish fold or forsake it. A little freedom can be a dangerous thing.

We understand the rationale on the part of liberal Judaism to consecrate interfaith marriages. Proponents claim it is better to encourage those couples to remain in the Jewish tent rather than scare them off with strict prohibitions.

Conversely, we also understand why tradition-minded Jews would abhor the notion of intermarriage. For thousands of years, Jews endured precisely because they resisted prejudice and proselytizing from the non-Jewish world. Why stop now?

But it's of overarching importance that the Jewish community deals with facts as they are. Intermarriage, like it or not, is here to stay. If we want to keep those families in the fold, then positive, creative responses such as Freeman's are essential.


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