Conservative Movement upholds intermarriage ban

Movement leaders announce they will maintain ban on interfaith marriages, but will welcome couples who are already intermarried.

JTA and Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Jewish wedding (illustration)
Jewish wedding (illustration)

The Conservative movement will maintain its ban on interfaith marriages but will welcome couples who are already intermarried, according to a new letter signed by the movement’s four leaders.

The letter, published this week and addressed to the movement’s clergy, educators and leaders, follows a summer when a few prominent Conservative rabbis announced that they would begin officiating at intermarriages. It does not represent a change in the movement’s policy.

“We affirm the traditional practice of reserving rabbinic officiation to two Jews,” the letter reads, adding that the movement’s leaders “are equally adamant that our clergy and communities go out of their way to create multiple opportunities for deep and caring relationships between the couple and the rabbi, the couple and the community, all in the context of welcome and love that extends well before the moment of the wedding and well beyond it too.”

The letter was written by Bradley Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, and co-signed by Arnold Eisen, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Julie Schonfeld, CEO of the Conservative Rabbinical Seminary; and Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Since 2000, more than 70 percent of non-Orthodox Jews have married non-Jewish partners, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jewry.

Conservative rabbis are prohibited from officiating at or attending intermarriages, but recently the movement has taken steps to welcome intermarried couples both before and after the wedding. This year, the movement’s synagogues voted to allow non-Jews as members. Several years ago, the Conservative youth movement, United Synagogue Yoth, voted to allow counselors to date non-Jews.

But several of the movement’s rabbis have begun officiating at intermarriages, arguing that the movement has not gone far enough in embracing the spouses of many young Jews. Last December, Seymour Rosenbloom of Philadelphia was expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly Conservative umbrella group for performing intermarriages. In June, the Conservative-ordained clergy at B’nai Jeshurun, an influential New York synagogue, announced that they would begin performing intermarriages. So did Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, who heads the Lab/Shul in New York.

Conservative leaders responded at the time by reaffirming their opposition to intermarriage while pledging to respect and welcome intermarried couples.

“We believe — and the data confirm — that by far the most effective path toward building a Jewish future is to strengthen Jewish identity, beginning with the Jewish family,” read a June statement from the Jewish Theological Seminary. “This is also the path which Torah and tradition command. JTS will in coming months expand our efforts to welcome all families, including those that are interfaith, to explore Judaism together with us.”