Sign In Forgot Password

Wedding Officiation: Do I Or Don't I? I Do.

06/23/2017 12:03:43 PM

Jun23

Rabbi Fred Greene

I write to share some recent reflections relating to a question that I received in every single encounter during my interview process: Will you officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew?

At the time, I described feeling like I was standing at a crossroad. In my previous 16 years as a rabbi, I had committed to never reject or condemn couples who chose to intermarry, but I felt unable to officiate where one person was not Jewish. My approach had been based on deep respect for boundaries and authenticity.

While I still believe in boundaries, my position has shifted. Part of the power and relevance of Reform Judaism is that our boundaries can shift when we encounter new perspectives to help us serve our community better.

Let me explain further:

I had previously argued that demographics should not influence my decision about officiation, but times have changed. According to the 2013 Pew Study, "A Portrait of American Jews," 72% of non-Orthodox American Jews today marry someone who is not Jewish. (When the Orthodox community is included, the number gets closer to half rather than three-quarters.) In the past, I have officiated at only one or two weddings each year. I have been sad not to share in the simchah of my congregants and their children at their weddings. How difficult it was for me, personally, to watch other rabbis, judges, or pastors officiate at the weddings of individuals with whom I have grown and built relationships!

In the Boulder area, the statistics reach the average or even surpass it. (The 2007 Metro Denver/Boulder Jewish Community Study reported that 70% of respondents under 35 are intermarried and 71% of marriages between 1997 and 2007 in Metro Denver/Boulder were intermarriages.) Thus, demographics of my Jewish community matter.

Another new perspective emerged while I was engaged in a continuing education program. The facilitator was an insightful Orthodox rabbi who helped me to see that not only did I try my best to take care of all my congregants - Jewish or not - but that I was their rabbi, too!The majority of these folk were not engaged in the faith traditions in which they were raised. What an opportunity - for these members of the community who had grown up outside Judaism - for me to be "their rabbi."

As I stood at this crossroad, I read a colleague's sermon about striving to be more welcoming to interfaith couples in congregations. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman framed a question that touched my core. After Jacob tricked his elderly father, Isaac, and received a blessing that was supposed to go to Esau, Esau returns to his father and says: "Halo atzalta li bracha?Have you not reserved a blessing for me?" The text makes us feel for Esau. When Esau asks his father, "Have you no blessing for me?" we hear his heartfelt pain. Could it be that some of the couples I have encountered over the years, no matter how hard I tried to share blessings, felt like asking me: "Have you no blessing for me?"

I could share much more. But let me move to the core of this message....

I am moved to officiate at Jewish weddings, even when one of the individuals under the chuppah is not Jewish. 

With that said, I still believe in boundaries and the value of authenticity. So we have to ask: What does it mean to officiate at a Jewish wedding when one of the partners is not a Jew?

I will officiate when the individual who is not Jewish is not actively engaged in another faith tradition. I will officiate when the couple is able to make a commitment to raise any future children as Jews. I will officiate if the couple is willing to join our congregation (or another congregation). And I will officiate if the couple will commit to Jewish learning experiences to gain a solid foundation of what making Jewish choices as a family looks like.

We are a busy and dynamic community, and I am committed to serving and supporting our members and strengthening this congregation. Therefore, I offer my support and help for members of Har HaShem and their adult children whenever they marry and create a Jewish home. For those times when I am unable to officiate, I will always be glad to support, counsel, and guide couples as they seek officiation with someone else.

I have discussed this at length with our Ritual Committee and the members of our Board of Trustees, and have their unequivocal support. Holli Berman, our longtime cantorial soloist, and I are on the same page.

So...if you or your child is planning a wedding and his/her/their beloved is not Jewish, but they would like a Jewish wedding and would like to talk about a Jewish home and future, I would be delighted to hear from them to explore how I can guide and support them on their Jewish journeys.

Every couple is unique and every situation has its own merits. I cannot guarantee that I will always be able to say, "yes." Nor can I guarantee that every couple will embrace me as their desired officiant. But I enter into this new space feeling confident that I am doing my part to engage in God's work here on Earth. I promise to seek out the integrity of our faith, to respond to the spiritual needs of this community, and endeavor to secure and strengthen our Jewish future. I'll do my best to delicately balance these sometimes competing needs.

I welcome your comments and welcome these couples into our sweet, sacred, inclusive Jewish community.

With warm wishes and shalom.

Wed, January 16 2019 10 Sh'vat 5779