CCAR RESPONSA

"Blessing" a Mixed Marriage

5754.10

She'elah

I have been asked to give a "blessing" to a couple following their civil intermarriage. Would you advise me to do so? (Rabbi Mark J. Mahler, Pittsburgh, PA)

Teshuvah

When rabbis officiate at marriages they are not engaged in the dispensation of their own blessings. Any berachah they pronounce are prayers that God might issue a blessing.

Yet, in the day-to-day parlance of our people, "giving a blessing" has a less precise meaning. It means also "to approve", as in the phrase, "I give my blessing to that kind of arrangement".

Therefore a rabbi who officiates at mixed marriages is not asked merely to pronounce a blessing. By officiating, rabbinic approval (however hesitant it might be) is implied. On the other hand, a person like yourself, who does not so officiate, can certainly give no approval and hence no "blessing" in either a religious or popular sense. In fact, to say so would constitute an oxymoron.

But having said all of this, we recognize that there is also a legitimate desire which underlies the very question that has been asked of you: to have the rabbi -- even the one who refuses to perform the ceremony -- participate in some fashion. If s/he cannot do so by participating in the marriage ceremony itself, then perhaps there is some other way in which the rabbi can show that the people who have engaged in this act are not excluded from the community. We believe that Reform rabbis have no hesitation in supporting that desire. We do want to draw them in, even if we did not officiate.

One member of our committee recounts his own practice: "After having explained to the couple that I personally could not, as a representative of the community, agree to officiate, I tell them that I have no prejudice against the non-Jewish partner as a human being. I therefore counsel them -- seeing that they are definitely committed to proceeding with the marriage -- to have a civil marriage and afterwards, if they so choose they may come to me privately, and I will pray for their personal welfare in their relationship. In this way I show my respect for them as human beings and my desire to remain close to them without transgressing my traditional role as representative of the community. I do not reject them as human beings, and I invite them to stay close to the synagogue.

"Thus I do not give them a "blessing", and I make that perfectly clear, A number of those to whom I make this suggestion choose to come to me afterwards and ask me to pray for their welfare. Many others do not. But I make the offer and that is as far as I would go."

We transmit this to you for your consideration.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.