Life Cycles-Intermarriage Letter
Dear Jeremy and Deborah,
I’m delighted that you have found each other and have decided to marry. Jeremy, our families have grown up together. I’ve known you since you were Ivan’s baby sitter and have enjoyed watching you grow into a caring and sensitive young man. That Deborah has embraced you as her beloved and that she has fit so easily into your warm and loving family tells me that she is a woman of fine quality. You’ve asked me to marry you and I am touched that you have asked me to sanctify that which you both so treasure.
All that being said, you know we have a problem. I’m a rabbi, you want a Jewish wedding and Deborah comes from a highly eclectic spiritual path, none of which includes Judaism. It is she, however, who has asked for my presence because she wants a ceremony that comes from a religious tradition that acknowledges God as the one who makes marriages. You’ve both told me that conversion is not a consideration right now. Still, you both have agreed to take the eighteen week Introduction to Judaism class at the University of Judaism, will talk with me weekly about the class and in conjunction to reading Steinberg’s Basic Judaism and Diament’s wedding book. In addition, you have assured me that yours will be a Jewish home with Jewish children. There will be no other religious expression besides Judaism.
That you want a Jewish wedding reflects Jeremy’s claim with his people and Deborah’s openness to Judaism. Our meetings have been wonderful for me, because you both show such enthusiasm and respect for Judaism. Your questions even deepen my own connection to the tradition. You want aufruf, mikveh, bedeken, ketubah, huppah, circling, and continued study with me after the wedding. You say that you need time to determine your claim, Deborah. I understand this. Conversion should never be done expediently and your wedding is less than six months away.
Yet very few rabbis will officiate at such a union. You pointed out, Jeremy, that the rabbis’ position has not caused an abundance of couples to flock to them for Jewish marriages. Sadly true. So I look at you two, myself, the tradition, the phenomenon of over half of our people intermarrying and wonder what to do.
The reason why rabbis are loathe to perform intermarriages is simple. You stand under a huppah, the ancient symbol representing the husband’s house and say the legal formula, “You are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel.” I am not saying these words, you are. And if one of y ou is not bound by these laws, how can there be a contract? The huppah is open on four sides , yet it stands on firm ground bounded by a sheltering canopy. It is a fragile frame, yet a frame nevertheless. Jewish tradition is a dialectic between individual uniqueness and a historical pattern called ritual.
I want you to have a Jewish wedding because every wedding begins a new world and both of you stand for the highest values in this tradition. I believe in the frame and I believe it will enrich your married life together. You’ve already begun lighting candles Friday night and have written your own meditation for the blessing.
After wrestling with this question, I realize what underlies my wish to say yes is fear and desire. I fear that if I say no you will feel rejected and hurt, see Judaism as insular and unyielding and I will have lost the chance to give you a taste of what I have found to be the gentle and steady bedrock of my life, Judaism. I have told myself by performing a Jewish wedding I sacrifice tradition in the hope I gain the future. Something, however, tells me this is not so.
A Jewish wedding is your choice. I suggest you ask yourselves why. If it is to offer a spiritual presence, a beautiful pageantry, and the comfort of tradition, then I cannot be your rabbi. If, however, it is because you both want to start your married life together with a particular trajectory, be claimed by and claim this people, then Deborah, I ask you to join us by choosing to become a Jew. If you make the decision now, it will save you from decisions later. When the children are born, will you participate as a full member with your child in naming ceremonies and Bar/Bat Mitzvah or will you only witness but not share in their inclusion into the Jewish people?
This letter is an open door to both of you. Let’s do a lot of talking.
What makes this letter interesting is that I indeed did marry the above couple three years ago. I wrote the assigned letter intending to agree to marry them and obviously surprised myself. I feel a little sad and regretful that I did marry them, although they still light candles! I’ve always had ambivalence about the decision, before and after. I shared my feelings with them beforehand but once I said yes, I did it with apparent whole heart. Now I’m thinking I should send them the letter and see if Deborah would consider conversion before conception. What do you think?