QUESTION: A couple, in which the husband is Jewish and wifeis Christian, has been happily married for twenty-five years. Their children have been raised as Jews and the oldest among them is now a member of the congregation. The family has participated in the life of the congregation in every way, including a term of service by the husband on the Board of the Congregation. The rabbi is a friend of the couple. The couple was originally married by a judge. Now they have asked the rabbi to participate in the anniversary celebration by performing a service of rededication, before a party at home, after twenty-five years. Should the rabbi participate or should he decline on the grounds that he does not officiate at mixed marriages? (J. F., Miami, FL)
ANSWER: There is, of course, nothing inthe traditional literature which deals with this subject. For a full discussion of mixed marriage and the halakhic basis for not officiating, let me refer you to the resolutions of the C.C.A.R. and W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa (#148 ff). There is also no discussion in any literature about a ceremony of rededication. Nothing akin to it seems to have been used in the past. As the couple has participated actively in the congregation throughout their married life, this might be an appropriate time to suggest the conversion of the non-Jewish spouse, especially as her entire family is Jewish. Under these circumstances, no formal period of study would be necessary; conversion would indicate official acceptance into the Jewish community. Following that, a marriage ceremony, with appropriate modifications, could take place.
If thenon-Jewish spouse does not wish to convert, a simple prayer of rededication, rather than a service, would be appropriate; the rabbi may participate in the private setting. We make this decision on the principle that lehat-hilah, we can not officiate in a mixed marriage, but bediavad, we will accept the couple, work with them and help them lead a Jewish life. The occasion should have no overtones of a marriage ceremony and should stress the couple's participation in Jewish life and in the congregation. Everything should be done in a way which would stress that there has been no change in the rabbi's policy on mixed marriage, nor should it have the appearance of representing any change.