CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

148. Rabbi Officiating at Mixed Marriages

(Vol. XXIX, 1919, pp. 75-76)

On October 30, 1918, I received the following letter:

I have been asked by a Jewish gentleman of my congregation to unite him in wedlock with a Gentile. Is it compatible with Judaism for a rabbi to perform such a marriage when the Gentile does not accept the Jewish religion? And is it in keeping with his position and dignity as rabbi to perform such a marriage when the Gentile does not accept the Jewish faith? Secondly, can a rabbi consistently perform such a marriage in the capacity of a layman without lending it the religious sanction as a rabbi?

To this I replied: "Unless the person whom a Jew or Jewess is to marry adopts in some form the Jewish religion--after having learned its tenets in order to know what the steps taken by him or her mean, no rabbi who wants to be true to the tradition of Judaism can perform the marriage ceremony, as may be learned from Dr. Mielziner's book, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce, pp. 45-54, and from my Jewish Theology, p. 446, in which the resolutions passed by the Conference of 1909 are referred to. As to the question whether a rabbi can in the capacity of a layman consecrate mixed marriage, let me simply say that neither Judaism nor the State law acknowledges such a marriage as legal."

In a second letter, which stated that the gentleman in question expressed his surprise at the narrowness of Judaism and contemplated going to a Christian minister to be married by him, the writer asked whether there was "no possibility of performing the marriage when the assurance is given that the non-Jew will accept the Jewish faith after the marriage and whether a rabbi can perform the marriage of both non-Jews." To this I answered: "No matter whether said member thinks Judaism is too narrow for him or not, the question is whether religion or he who represents it stands for a certain principle or not. Certainly the Jewish home, which is the object of marriage, must be conducted according to the Jewish principles. A Christian minister cannot consecrate a Jewish home, nor can a Jewish minister consecrate a Christian home; and if man and wife belong to two different religions, it will be a house divided against itself. Without harmony of views in a matter so vital to the future there is no real unity. For those who think that the Jewish home needs no religious consecration the State law provides that they may apply to the civil magistrate to perform the marriage and have the sanction of the State for their union."

K. Kohler

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.