Encouraging a Jewish Choice
Many sociologists of religion have written about the challenges traditional religions face in a society that values autonomy as highly as ours does. In North America, most people would consider the idea of being bound to external standards, rules, or commitments that don’t seem to fit easily into daily life or provide any added tangible value to be anathema.
In past generations, marriage between people of two different religions was rare. People felt bound by religious norms and mores, and also by social expectation. Inmarriage must continue to be a high priority for Conservative Jews. Today, as never before, there must be compelling reasons for inmarriage that will inspire a Jew to consciously select a Jewish spouse. Although we must continue to promote inmarriage aggressively, our efforts are not always successful. Even with the best education, a positive home life, and exposure to the richness of Judaism, some people will intermarry.
In the past, when an intermarriage occurred the couple often was shunned by the Jewish community. Fortunately, we have learned the folly of this strategy. One of our primary goals is to raise Jewish families, so we simply cannot ignore Jews who have chosen to marry a spouse who is not Jewish. Nor can we ignore the spouse.
The first step we can take is welcoming the intermarried. That should come from both individual congregants and the congregation itself. Within the bounds of halakhah and good public policy, we must create an ambience in which the intermarried will feel comfortable and accepted. This is the goal of keruv.
But that alone will not conserve Judaism nor create Jewish families. We must do more. Confronting head-on the challenging reality of intermarriage in a society in which the value of autonomy is so strong, United Synagogue has initiated an endeavor to transform our movement’s attitude from keruv to edud. Edud – which means inspire and encourage – seeks to motivate Jews to create Jewish families and raise Jewish children. Keruv, of course, is essential. Welcoming the intermarried family and helping them feel comfortable is an important first step. It is, indeed, the prerequisite for anything else that we want to do to engage them. But it must not be our end-goal.
Edud encourages congregations to passionately and compassionately inspire non- Jews within an intermarriage to convert. But even if the spouse does not convert, we must dedicate ourselves to helping the parents raise their children as Jews. Edud is not a responsibility that rests solely on the congregation or on the Conservative movement. Indeed, any person can play an integral role in edud.
Each of us can make an impact by engaging with two-religion families. Your support and warmth will help determine the bonds the families form as they create new friendships in a Jewish environment. People without strong connections to Jewish living may feel uneasy or ambivalent about associating with the Jewish community or Jewish religious life. Your gestures can offer support. You can bring a hallah or a bottle of wine to help them celebrate Shabbat. You can strengthen their connections to Jewish life by inviting them to join you for a synagogue program. You can include them in your social circle.
When I speak to Jews by choice, I often ask them about the factors that encouraged their conversion. Almost invariably, they have pointed to the caring Jew who consistently and sensitively continued to raise the issue of conversion with them. Edud is unlike other approaches to outreach to intermarrieds in that it seeks to guide and inspire rather than merely to discuss. We have an important point of view that we must impart, tactfully but passionately. It is not sufficient for parents and spouses to encourage conversion. Friends and associates often can have an even greater impact. By finding times when it is appropriate to raise the issue of conversion on a consistent basis, we may be able to influence the non- Jewish spouse to consider conversion. For certain, if we do not raise the issue we forfeit our ability to affect the outcome.
Many people choose Judaism because they have experienced the beauty and richness of Jewish life. Invite an intermarried family to spend Shabbat or a Jewish holiday with you. Inspire them with the warmth of Jewish living. You can contribute to the edud initiative by helping to create Jewish memories for those who may have never been exposed to the joyful celebrations of the Jewish calendar.
Edud is neither a program nor a project. It is an opportunity to transform our culture, to become a community that not only welcomes unaffiliated, uncommitted, or intermarried families but also encourages and supports their growth and commitment to Jewish living through personal and direct outreach.