• Marrying a Non-Jew
• Will a Rabbi Officiate a Mixed-Marriage?
• Children of Intermarriage
fends for the health of the gene pool and the psyche by forbidding incestuous
unions. Off limits pairs include relationships between mother and son, father
and daughter, sister and brother, grandfather and granddaughter, grandmother and
grandson, aunt and nephew. Though the verses see nothing out of place with a
union between an uncle and his niece, American law does. An uncle may not marry
the daughter of his brother or sister, but he may marry the daughter of his
wife’s brother or sister.
Marrying a Non-Jew
Judaism celebrates a couple’s decision to marry as it promises new worlds, new
explorations of Judaism, and holds the potential for continuing generations of
Jews. When a Jew marries a non-Jew these hopes are called into question. Despite
best intentions, a marriage between Jew and non-Jew does not usually result in
an enthusiastically Jewish home.
Reform Judaism wants every Jew to feel welcome – no matter who they married.
Rabbi Schindler, who served as president of the UAHC from 1973-96, said:
I believe that we
must do everything possible to draw the non-Jewish spouse of mixed marriage
into Jewish life…. If non-Jewish partners can be brought more actively into
Jewish communal life, perhaps they themselves will initiate the process of
conversion. At the very least, we will dramatically increase the probability
that the children of such marriages will be reared as Jews.
Nor can we neglect to pay attention to the Jewish partners of such
marriages. Frequently, they have felt the sting of rejection by the Jewish
community, even by their own parents….We must remove the ‘not wanted’ signs
from our hearts. We are opposed to intermarriage, but we cannot reject the
These words began a
revolution in the Reform approach to intermarriage. Outreach programs were born
to introduce non-Jewish spouses to Jewish life. Beginning Judaism classes,
variously titled “A Taste of Judaism” or “Judaism 101” have proliferated. Doors
to conversion have been opened for non-Jewish spouses before and after the
couple marries. New roles for non-Jews have been carved out in the synagogue to
encourage their family’s participation in Jewish life.
A 1973 position statement on intermarriage produced by the Central Conference of
American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s main rabbinic body, described several
disadvantages of a mixed marriage:
• “It is the task of
a rabbi to strengthen Judaism and the Jewish community. Mixed marriage tends
to weaken these ties. It raises doubts about the couple’s will to remain a
Jewish family or to assure that future offspring will be Jewish. Even if
their children are circumcised, named in the synagogue, or some effort is
made to raise them as Jews, this is still not as effective as raising
children in a Jewish household in which both parties actively participate in
Jewish ceremonies. Judaism is a religion of the home and the family, with
emphasis upon the atmosphere of the home and upon the influence of extended
family; therefore, it is important that there be a minimum of confusion
between the couple and their in-laws about the Jewishness of the home.”
• “In times of prejudice and anti-Semitism, families with a mixed marriage
will be subject to greater pressures and have fewer resources through which
they can withstand such pressure.”
A mixed marriage is far
from the optimal hope of the Jewish people. Judaism sees each person, Jew and
non-Jew alike, as having a personal spiritual mission. To marry out of one’s own
faith compromises the full expression of one’s own spiritual traditions.
Rabbi Officiating at a Mixed Marriage
Good intentions are behind a couple’s desire to have a rabbi’s participate in
their marriage ceremony between Jew and non-Jew. They wish to honor their
individual traditions, include all and avoid hurt feelings.
However, a Jewish ceremony is not a simple blessing, it creates a new entity – a
married couple - in the eyes of Jewish law. Central to the ceremony is the
statement Harei at mekudeshet li betaba'at zo kedat Mosheh veyisrael.
Literally: "Behold you are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the
Law of Moses and Israel." This Hebrew nuptial formula, with its mention of
Jewish law, is only of any use to those who are subject to these laws, Jews and
Asking a rabbi to
officiate at a mixed marriage ceremony creates a dilemma for the rabbi as a
leader and role model for his or her congregation. A rabbi is supposed to
support the viability of Judaism. To officiate at this ceremony is contrary to a
rabbi’s role. Furthermore a rabbi, who officiates in a mixed ceremony,
demonstrates to the congregation that intermarriage is not much of a concern.
Although refusing to officiate at a mixed marriage is the official position of
the Central Conference of Aemerican Rabbis (CCAR), in practice there are rabbis
who will perform these marriages. Some rabbis have changed the wording of the
ceremony, so that he or she does not marry the couple, but blesses them instead.
Others incorporate Jewish prayers into the ceremony, but refrain from breaking
the glass or other Jewish marriage rituals.
There are rabbis who will co-officiate at a ceremony alongside pastors, priests
and leaders of other faiths. However many rabbis will not. It is viewed as an
attempt to combine Judaism with another faith and undermine each religion’s
Children of Intermarriage
According to traditional halacha, a child born of a Jewish mother is
a Jew. A father’s religious identity is irrelevant. In 1983, the CCAR took a
groundbreaking step in redefining the tradition to include a “child of one
Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent.” Accepting fathers as
determining a child’s religion has been termed “patrilineal descent.”
A “presumption of Jewish descent” is fully realized when a child, any Jewish
child and not just those of a mixed marriage, formally and publicly identifies
exclusively with Judaism. Being born Jewish is not enough. Entering the
covenant, receiving or choosing a Jewish name, celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah,
a kabbalat Torah (confirmation), a Jewish wedding, studying Torah, and
doing mitzvot are active ways to accept a Jewish identity. For offspring
of a mixed marriage who are beyond the age of Jewish lifecycle events, a public
declaration of Jewish identity or some other undertaking can be discussed with a
Other streams of Judaism, namely Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, have not
adopted this stance. A Jewish mother continues to be the sole determining factor
for being born Jewish.
Reform Judaism encourages intermarried couples to raise their children as Jews.
Children with one Jewish parent are welcomed, in most cases, to attend the
synagogue’s religious school and receive the privileges of membership: bar and
bat mitzvah ceremonies and the like.