Rabbi Talk About Intermarriage by Gary Tobin and Katherine Simon (Review)

The intermarriage rate among Jews has climbed to more than 50 percent, triggering two antithetical reactions.

One: This is equivalent to a Holocaust. Judaism is doomed.

Two: This provides Jews with an opportunity to acquire more adherents, compensating us for our losses.

Needless to say, those who articulate the first reaction are mostly among the orthodox, although they can also be found among some other groups.

What do rabbis, as keepers of the faith, have to say about congregants who want to marry out of the faith? And even more important, what do they do?
To find out, Gary Tobin and Katherine Simon undertook a major research project, employing surveys and interviews with rabbis from around the country, as well as a review of the available literature on the subject, including sermons.

The authors’ detailed accounts of how rabbis today deal on a professional level with Jews who wish to intermarry are what give the book its texture and its fascination for laypeople as well as clergy, for Christians as well as Jews.

Almost all of these spiritual leaders pleas with the couple to sit down for a discussion of this complicated matter. But from that point on, the rabbis’ responses are varied, as they are earnest and eloquent.

Some will officiate at a mixed marriage. Some adamantly refuse. Some will attend the ceremony if it is under civil auspices. Some will refer the couple to colleagues who will officiate, and some will not.

Officiators also fall into many categories. Some stipulate that the non-Jew should eventually convert. Some will require promises that offspring be raised Jewish. Some will officiate only for members of their own congregations, or will require the couple to affiliate. Some will officiate in a church, and there are a few who will do it on Shabbat.

Also diverse are rabbis’ policies with respect to the non-Jewish spouse and children. Some will permit the non-Jew to ascend the bima for parts of the religious service; others won’t. Some will not offer bar or bat mitzvah to offspring.

Conversion policies vary widely also. The prospective convert must take a course in Judaism. In addition, some rabbis insist on a mikveh for a woman and circumcision for a man- although in the latter case, some require only a “partial circumcision” (that is, the withdrawal of a symbolic drop of blood).

Tobin and Simon tilt toward the view that intermarriage, which has so greatly alarmed many Jews, opens up opportunity for Jewish proselytizing, since many converts become devoted Jews.

Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn is that, given the diversity of responses from the rabbis surveyed and interviewed for this book, those who want a rabbinic presence at their marriage to a gentile will find a way.

Rabbi Samuel Silver is the spiritual leader of Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor in Del Ray Beach, Fla. and the author of seven books including Mixed Marriage Between Jew and Christian. A pioneer in the field of intermarriage, he was the first recipient of DI-IFR’s Father Dan Montalbano Award for promoting interfaith understanding.

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