Conservative Rabbis can attend intermarriages, leaders now say

On Thursday, the Rabbinical Assembly reserved a four-decade ban that prevented Conservative rabbis from attending interfaith weddings. 

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Rabbis of the conservative movement can now attend interfaith weddings.

The move by the Rabbinical Assembly, the conservative movement’s leadership arm, reverses a four-decade ban preventing Conservative clergyman from participating in any manner in intermarriage ceremonies.

The Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CLJS) began reviewing the policy in June. It issued its revised standards last Thursday.

The standards reiterate that conservative clergy can only officiate at weddings where both parties are Jewish. It defines officiating as “signing documents or verbal participation of any kind.” However, the standards now state, “Attendance as a guest at a wedding where only one party is Jewish is not included in this Standard of Religious Practice.”

The pressure to make the change comes as over 70 percent of non-Orthodox Jews in the United States marry outside the faith, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study.

In a nod to this reality, the Rabbinical Assembly, in a statement released Friday said that while the ban on officiating is still in force, it “does not preclude our welcoming and reaching out to intermarried couples and families, as we believe it is also important to create positive rabbinic relationships with both the Jewish and non-Jewish member of such a couple.”

Growing trend

The reversal is part of a general trend in the conservative movement.

In March, 2017, conservative synagogues voted to allow non-Jews to become members. In October, leading conservative rabbis released an open letter calling for the embrace of interfaith couples.

“We affirm the traditional practice of reserving rabbinic officiation to two Jews,” the letter stated. “[Leaders] are equally adamant that our clergy and communities go out of their way to create multiple opportunities for deep and caring relationships between the couple and the rabbi, the couple and the community, all in the context of welcome and love that extends well before the moment of the wedding and well beyond it too.”

In Israel, Conservative or Masorti (“traditional”) rabbis, as they are called, have been expelled or opted to leave the movement to conduct intermarriages. Conservative rabbis also have complained of emotional distress caused to loved ones due to the prohibition, which prevents them from attending interfaith weddings of relatives.