Saturday, July 7, 2012

Marriage - Interfaith, Same - Gender, What's the Deal?

Dear Tanta Golda,

I’ve been curious what the three main streams of Judaism have to say about interfaith marriage, and for that matter, what their stands are on same-sex marriage? And what about same-sex interfaith marriages while we’re at it?
Ardently Ambiguous

Dearest Ambiguous,
Very timely questions you ask!  What makes it timely? Well darling when I began looking into this I found out that just one month ago, May 31st, the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards - which sets halachic policy for the Conservative movement - voted unanimously to provide the roughly 1,600 Conservative rabbis with guidelines on performing same sex marriages. According to my sources, this move constitutes an official sanction of same-sex marriage by the movement! 
In 2000 the Central Conference of American Rabbis - which speaks for the Reform movement - adopted a resolution which stated “the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual.” The Reform movement today sees the biblical injunctions against same-gender* couples and homosexuality in general, as being inconsistent with its long tradition of justice and compassion.  *This is the preferred term

The Orthodox movement however, still adheres to the traditional views of homosexuality expressed in the Torah. That is: no, never, no way. There is a nascent movement within the community to modernize this view, along with other egalitarian ideals, such as the ordination of female rabbis, but unfortunately as Tanta Golda sees it, same gender marriage has a long road to travel within the Orthodox movement.

Now, for your other question: interfaith marriage. Believe it or not, interfaith marriage has garnered far less acceptance across all streams of Judaism than same-gender marriage! Maybe you’re not surprised, but I was. (So, ‘no’ to the question of same-gender interfaith marriages.) As a Reform Jew Tanta Golda reads a lot about how the movement encourages reaching out to interfaith couples - but apparently this is after their marriage is a fait-au-complete.

Let me elucidate. The basic premise is that interfaith marriage “denies the distinctiveness of Jewish marriage, it weakens the fabric of family relationship and the survival potential of the Jewish community.” And this is from Mark Washofsky who wrote the definitive guide to contemporary Reform practice! This was re-affirmed institutionally at the 1973 meeting of the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis).
The Orthodox have called interfaith marriage the “second silent holocaust”. No mincing of words here! They point to numerous sources to support their stance.

The Conservative movement ‘discourages intermarriage’, meaning their rabbis won’t perform any, but that they don’t shun those interfaith couples who wish to be members. They hope that eventually through acceptance of the interfaith couple, they will choose to raise their children as Jews, and the non-Jewish spouse will move closer to Judaism and eventually choose to convert.

The Reform movement holds similar views as above. You will find some Reform rabbis who will perform Jewish marriage ceremonies for interfaith couples, but they are in the minority.

Now perhaps you think the fears of the dilution of Judaism is unfounded, let me share some statistics gathered by the National Jewish Population Study of 2000-2001:
The intermarriage rate before 1970 was 13%. Between 1970-1979 it jumped to 28%. By 2001 it had reached 47%. That is, nearly half of marriages of Jews were to non-Jewish spouses. Half the couples in interfaith marriages  do not expose their children to any kind of (Jewish) religious instruction. 
Tanta Golda understands that these numbers are troublesome. But we live in an integrated society. Our social and business contacts are no longer limited solely to other Jews. You love who you love: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, gay or straight. Who can say that this is not God’s will? Tanta Golda for one, would not presume to know.