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Why Conservative Rabbis Should Say “No” to Officiating at Intermarriages

March 17 2017

Performing a marriage between a Jew and a Gentile can result in a rabbi’s expulsion from the Conservative movement’s rabbinic organization, but the denomination’s clergy are becoming increasingly unsatisfied with this policy. Proponents of a more accepting position toward intermarriage can now cite a study suggesting that interfaith couples married by a rabbi are more likely to attend synagogue or observe Jewish rituals than are those married by some other officiant. Elliot Cosgrove responds:

First, the study does not account for pre-existing differences among the couples studied. . . . Second, and at risk of stating the obvious, Conservative rabbis should not jump to officiate intermarriages because doing so is against Jewish law. Of course, Jewish law can, and oftentimes should, change. I do not begrudge a young Jew for falling in love with a non-Jew. But just because a rabbi understands it does not mean he or she must be expected to bless it. Just as every individual has every right to choose his or her spouse, Jewish law has the right to limit what it can and cannot accommodate. Not every choice Jews make deserves to be validated by Jewish law.

Third, and perhaps most substantively, I don’t think Conservative rabbis should rush too quickly to perform intermarriages for the simple reason that as a parent, as a rabbi, and as a shaper of Jewish community and identity, I unapologetically want young Jews to marry other Jews. Rabbinic officiation at intermarriages signals an implicit and explicit leveling of the field, sending the message that all choices are equal, a message that I do not think wise given the undisputed place in-marriage has as the single most important determinant in ensuring Jewish continuity.

Read more at Jewish Week

More about: American Jewry, Conservative Judaism, Intermarriage, Judaism

A New Book Tries, and Fails, to Understand the West Bank’s Jews

Aug. 22 2017

In City on a Hilltop, Sara Yael Hirschhorn seeks to explain Israel’s settler movement, rejecting the common misconception that its members are fanatics uniformly motivated by religious zeal and ferocious nationalism. Nonetheless, writes Evelyn Gordon, Hirschhorn fails to look past her own political assumptions:

[R]eaders emerge from [the book] with no clear understanding of what drives the settlement movement. This isn’t surprising, since Hirschhorn admits in her conclusion that she herself has no such understanding: “After discussions with dozens of Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories, I still struggled to understand how they saw themselves and their role within the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

Consequently, she’s produced an entire book about settlers that virtually ignores the twin beliefs at the heart of their enterprise: Israel has a right to be in the territories, whether based on religious and historical ties, international law, or both, and Israel has a need to be there, whether for religious and historical reasons, security ones, or both.

This glaring omission seems to stem largely from her inability to take such beliefs seriously. In one noteworthy example, she writes, “While their religio-historical claims to the Gush Etzion area are highly contentious, many settler activists over the past 50 years have asserted Biblical ties to the region.” But what exactly is contentious about that assertion? No serious person would deny that many significant events in the Bible took place in what is now called the West Bank. . . . One could argue that this doesn’t justify Jews living there today, but if you can’t acknowledge that this area is Judaism’s religious and historical heartland, and that many Jews consequently believe that giving it up would tear the heart out of the Jewish state, you can’t understand a major driver of the settlement movement.

Similarly, Hirschhorn pays scant attention to the security arguments for retaining the West Bank, and none at all to Israel’s strong claim to the area under international law. . . . The result is that while most of her settlers don’t come off as fanatics, they often do come off as simpletons—people who became “colonialist occupiers” for no apparent reason, without ever really thinking about it.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Settlements, West Bank