09 March 2010

Don't Prevent--Promote

Tablet leapt on it.
Haaretz covered it.
JTA picked it up.

That's right ladies and gentlemen: Get your copies now! The Reform Movement's Rabbis Group Thing (the Central Conference of American Rabbis) says we should work with couples where one of 'em is Jewish and one of em isn't!

What next? A press release declaring that "everyone deserves breakfast" or "a smile helps you have a good day?"

I love my colleagues but we're being too nice here. Judaism has such great value and if we really believe it we oughtn't tip-toe around its greatest assets--Torah and Tradition--that call us to establish an open tent, a welcoming approach to greeting others, and a mission-driven rabbinate that sees its purpose in enlightening the world with meaning as people build families and make choices about who they will be.

Woe unto us that the strategic energy organ of the Jewish community--a community that gave us One God, the Sabbath, Honoring Parents, and Thou Shalt Not Kill--insists upon getting exercised about the most obvious strategic decision since NOT requiring poppy seeds on EVERY challah bread? (Kidding, kidding.)

Emancipation--the European kind--came with a price: Freedom to fall in love with whomever you wanted. Fine. That means we better be prepared to help those lovers and their offspring make Jewish choices. Period.

Because the point isn't our racial propagation but rather the continued, Eternal (yes, the E-word, ladies and gents) Covenantal relationship with our God Who demands of us justice and righteousness; food for the hungry and clothing for the naked; and a better, more peaceful world.

We should be "preventing" war.
We should be "preventing" hunger.
We should be "preventing" greed, hatred, and strife.

But "preventing" intermarriage?

Get out of the bedroom.

Get into the public square.

Abraham, who wasn't a Jew when he did it, had the courage to smash the idols of false worship as a youth. That's why God chose him. And he liked that validation of who he was so much that at a very old age, he agreed to be circumcised. At the command of an invisible God he heard. Those spouses we worry about hear God calling while we're wringing our hands worrying about a meaningless ethnic purity. Enough is enough.

Don't prevent--promote.

God is One.



Larry Kaufman said...

I would not have expected you to discuss the text without giving the Rashi. Your colleagues in the CCAR remain bitterly divided on the subject of officiation at interfaith weddings -- and this feel-good resolution was a way to show the world that the issue is not being ignored, but that there are limits to the consensus.

It appears to me, as a lay person, that rabbis who choose to officiate are redefining their role, which used to be to officiate at Jewish marriages and has become, in the eyes of some, to create Jewish households.

Reform Judaism, throughout its history, has thrived through pragmatism, and has from time to time discovered that, in the process of being pragmatic (for which some might read permissive), they have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Let us hope that that does not turn out to be the case, nor that the current leniency does not severely disrupt our ability to engage with klal Yisrael.

Andy Bachman said...

Hi Larry--Thanks for writing. I don't have the same impression that we rabbis in the CCAR are bitterly divided over this issue. In disagreement, perhaps, but I have not yet experienced any rancor. I think the pragmatism is very real and represents an excellent strategy for moving forward. In some cases, it's true that our leaders have thrown out the baby with the bath water. But when I engage mixed couples, I am very clear about all the Klal Yisrael issues--I consider it my obligation to let them know that their choices and my work with them will have consequences in the broader Jewish world and that, should they desire, those results can always be addressed. This comes up especially with regard to children, where more often than not, families are very open to converting children according to halachic ritual even though a mother is not Jewish. It's precisely the decision these families make to build a Jewish home that makes this work so vitally important. And if one of these "so-called" non-Jewish kids grows up, falls in love with an Orthodox person, and has to deal with his or her status in order to be married, as long as it's dealt with sensitively, everything generally turns out okay.

Anonymous said...

hi Andy - well written. I personally disagree with you on some aspects of this issue but I'm sending this link to the Forward's editor and suggest that she contact you so that it can run in the paper. -dnc

Marco Siegel-Acevedo said...

Andy, thanks so much for bringing this up. Two years ago, when Debbie and I were looking for a rabbi to officiate at our wedding, we were turned down by our synagogue. While we had been warned by friends to expect that outcome (especially in a culturally Conservative but officially unaffiliated synagogue), I couldn't help but lose the desire to attend services for a little while. I honestly believe it wasn't simply out of anger or spite: I'd started feeling out of joint and out of the loop. But I was further surprised and put off by how difficult the search for a rabbi became, regardless of what denomination we approached; even friends reluctantly turned us down. We were very up front about the commitment to raising Jewish children (Deb is Jewish), but that didn't seem to matter. In the end, we found our rabbi, had a beautiful wedding, my bitterness faded, and I went back to attending our synagogue. Eventually the decision to convert, spurred by a desire to be a fully invested Jewish father to my kids, settled on me comfortably, naturally and joyfully. The thing is, I understand in principle why we were turned down. What I don't understand is how there was no sense of an initiative, a desire, to engage a committed non-Jewish partner on *some* level--- the sense of being welcome, of being acknowledged as a representative of the universal human soul and psyche (which is something I found immediately appealing about my first encounter with Judaism in that very synagogue) was lost. And that, despite halakhic principle, was unfortunate.

Andy Bachman said...

Your framing is perfectly rendered and all I can say is, welcome home! Shabbat Shalom~Andy

Marco Siegel-Acevedo said...

Indeed, Andy. It's nice to have finally landed. I've found CBE to be challenging/multifaceted/welcoming. All in one thought/breath. ! Shabbat shalom!!