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Why I Perform Interfaith Marriages

How I Decided to Become an Officiant of Intercultural Marriage Ceremonies

Dear friends:
Many rabbis do not perform interfaith/intercultural marriage ceremonies. I do, and I want to share a little of the story of why I participate in these important rituals.

First let me offer some personal reflections on the question of performing intercultural marriages. (They differ from interfaith ceremonies, which I do not do, wherein the couple is so different in outlook and belief that a harmonious home life is nearly impossible.)

Intercultural means that the couple shares beliefs, values and ideals, and come from different cultures. I am grateful to Rabbi Miriam Jerris on her clarity on this distinction.

I frequently perform intercultural ceremonies and often co-officiate in churches. These are by far my favorite and most transcendent spiritual wedding experiences. (My spiritual calling is interreligious dialogue/healing.) I work closely with the couple and the other clergy to create a ceremony that is welcoming, balanced and honoring of both/multiple traditions.

My view on this matter was changed years ago (from my original ambivalence) for several reasons:
1) The amount of pain that intercultural couples feel when they are turned away harshly by rabbis at such a vulnerable and heart-opening time. This often plants life-long seeds of rejection of Jewish affiliation that truly did not exist prior to such contacts.

A side note here: I respect that not all rabbis want to do these ceremonies. I would just ask for kindness and compassion in saying no.

The message I want to send these couples is "We want you. You are welcome here." And not only when they have had children. A great irony to me is that many rabbis who will not perform intercultural weddings will do all they can to grab up intercultural families once they have something we want: progeny.

2) A Holocaust survivor and bubeh [grandma] of a bride who sat me down after a church ceremony years ago and poured out her heart and story to tell me that my presence in that setting was the first healing she had felt in her views of interreligious relations since being imprisoned at Auschwitz 50 years earlier. Over and over again she said it was my rabbinic willingness that opened that healing. I have never forgotten that moment, and I always want Jewish relatives to feel recognized and validated in these ceremonies. Making peace between one's fellows is often my experience of these ceremonies.

3) The possibility that such ceremonies hold as models for a world of peace and harmony with diversity. We Jews are a world people and a strong people. Based on our history, we as Jews have always sought social freedom and equality for ourselves and others. Now we have it. Intermarriage is a reality and we each must make these choices about how we approach these couples.

The vision of Isaiah of a house for all people, a world of harmony with diversity is my inspiration for this vision.

4) The widespread availability in much of the Jewish community for support of intercultural families - books, web sites, organizations etc. This is important because with the unique gifts/challenges faced by intercultural couples, knowing that they have places to turn is vital in ensuring shalom bayit/peace in the home, and a happy, successful marriage.

These are just a few of the things I think about. I must also say that I do approach each couple on a case by case basis. I do not ask for commitments of conversion, but I do ask for commitments to study. I do not demand that they raise their children in one tradition, but I do support them in finding places their kids can go for an education.

I am not claiming that this path is for everyone - clergy or couples - but I can say that my experience has been amazing, and deeply spiritual.

If approached lovingly and wisely, I believe these couples have much to bring to Jewish life and to the world.