CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

149. Rabbi Officiating at a Mixed Marriage

(Vol. XCII, 1982, pp. 213-215)

QUESTION: Would there be any halachic justification for a rabbi officiating at an intermarriage? (What reasons halachic and non-halachic, for refusal can be cited? (Mr. R. B. I., New York, New York)

ANSWER: It is clear from the committee's earlier responsum on "Reform Judaism and Mixed Marriage" that there can be no halachic basis for a mixed marriage. That responsum (CCAR Yearbook, 1980) presents a long and detailed history of mixed marriage and the halachic arguments. The last resolution of the Conference, passed in Atlanta in 1973 (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 83, p. 97), clearly states the position of the Conference:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 "that mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged," now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition. In order to keep open every channel to Judaism and K'lal Yisrael for those who have already entered into mixed marriage the CCAR calls upon its members:

1. to assist fully in educating children of such mixed marriage as Jews;

2. to provide the opportunity for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse; and

3. to encourage a creative and consistent cultivation of involvements in the Jewish community and synagogue.

The position of the Halacha and its development through the ages is outlined in the earlier responsum. However, as this question is interested in the contemporary arguments which might be useful in a discussion of this matter, let us suggest the following:

1. The rabbi, as Mesader Kiddushin, acts in a legal capacity not only for the State but also for Judaism. Judaism has always held that only two Jews can be married to each other through a religious ceremony performed by a rabbi. This would not preclude a civil ceremony nor a ceremony performed by the couples themselves (as permitted in Pennsylvania). Such ceremonies can, and frequently do, contain prayers but they are obviously not Kiddushin, nor could they be even if performed by a rabbi, as Kiddushin between a Jew and a non-Jew would be a contradiction in terms.

2. A Jewish ceremony performed for one individual who is Jewish and another who is non-Jewish violates the conscience of the rabbi and infringes upon the rights of the non-Jewish party and his/her religious affiliation. Furthermore, even if he/she would agree to such a ceremony he/she could not in good conscience say, "Be consecrated unto me as my wife/husband according to the laws of Moses and Israel," as he/she has not accepted these laws.

3. 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.

After a mixed marriage, the couple certainly may agree to raise their children as Jews. A Reform congregation would encourage such an agreement, permit these children to attend the religious school, and encourage the Jewish partner to join the congregation. Most Reform Jews would consider the children Jewish as long as they affiliate in some fashion and do not accept another religion. Yet we also realize that their Judaism might well be diluted through the problems of a religiously mixed home.

4. The agreement to officiate at intermarriages would be a clear signal to others in the community, especially children, that this is a matter of indifference or less than paramount concern to the rabbi.

5. Religious considerations in marriage do not seem paramount to young couples, but they are necessarily of primary importance to the rabbi. The young couple should be prepared to make a decision on their religious future at this point, or, if they are not prepared to do so, should remain on neutral ground until such a decision can be properly made.

6. The statement by a rabbi that he will not marry a young couple in which one party is Jewish and the other non-Jewish is not a rejection of that couple. The request made of the rabbi to marry them is improper and betrays insensitivity to the rabbi's feelings and integrity. To the extent that identity is expressed through choice and commitment, it is the out-marrying Jewish individual who is doing the "rejecting." This should be explained as gently as possible to the family.

7. The anger of parents and grandparents sometimes displayed when the rabbi refuses to officiate at a mixed marriage is misdirected when turned toward the rabbi in the synagogue. The problems lie with the couple, not with Judaism, its institutions, or its leaders. This needs to be made clear to them.

8. Many couples nowadays want to be fair to both religions and both sets of parents; therefore, they ask that a rabbi and priest/minister participate in the ceremony, or that there be two separate religious ceremonies reflecting the two religious traditions. Such an effort must be rejected, for it demonstrates religious indifference or syncretism.

9. A mixed marriage conducted by a rabbi may have the semblance of a Jewish wedding but it cannot be Kiddush in by definition and will not be accepted as Kiddushin by most Jews, be they Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform.

10. In times of family tension and difficulty, everything which leads to further division within the family will make the marriage more unstable. Common religious bonds will enable the couple to face adversity better than divided religious allegiances.

11. In times of prejudice and anti-Semitism, families with a mixed marriage will be subject to greater pressures and will have fewer resources through which they can withstand such pressure.

12. Rabbis officiating at mixed marriages create a further and very basic division in the Jewish community, both in the United States and in Israel.

13. At the present time, the American Jewish community gains approximately 10,000 converts a year, mainly from non-Jews who contemplate marriage to Jewish partners. Some of these conversions would probably occur under any circumstances, but a large number would not. Through officiating at mixed marriages we will lose that large number of converts. At present, the number of converts to Judaism roughly balances those who are lost to us through mixed marriage and indifference.

14. Later conversions of the non-Jewish partner is possible and should be encouraged. But experience has taught us that early family patterns generally continue. Tensions which may later develop in the family make such a religious change even more difficult and unlikely.

15. It is clear that mixed marriages will continue and that the percentage will rise and fall depending upon circumstances beyond our control. That is a risk of living in an open society. Some non-Jewish partners will convert, others will not. Some children will be raised as Jews, others will not. But we have never depended upon numbers alone. It is far more important to have a strong commitment from a smaller group than a vague commitment from a large number who are at the very periphery.

For all the foregoing reasons we reaffirm the position taken by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, "that mixed marriage is contrary to Jewish tradition and should be discouraged; it now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes mixed marriage."

Walter Jacob, Chairman

Leonard S. Kravitz

Isaac Neumna

Harry A. Roth

Rav A. Soloff

Bernard Zlotowitz

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.