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A Message from Dorshei Emet President Jodi Lackman and Rabbi Boris on the new Interfaith Marriage Policy

January 20, 2017

22, Tevet, 5777


From Dorshei Emet President Jodi Lackman:

I am delighted to announce that the performance of interfaith marriages in our synagogue will now be permitted following the unanimous adoption by the Board of Directors on Jan. 11, 2017 of the following resolution:

Be it resolved that the performance of interfaith marriage be permitted in the synagogue on the same conditions as those required for couples where both parties are Jewish, with the following additional conditions: (i) the non-Jewish partner is supportive of the Jewish partner's participation in Jewish life and community, committed to raising a Jewish family (if the couple have children) and is not a fundamentalist practitioner of another religion, i.e. will not push their own religion on the Jewish partner (the specifics of this condition will be determined through meetings and conversations with the rabbi), (ii) there is no co-officiating clergy, other than another rabbi and (iii) the wedding ceremony contains only Jewish elements.

The process culminating in the adoption of this resolution is described below. As a starting point, it is interesting to note that the survey of the members which was conducted in the context of the rabbi search asked "How important is it to that our next rabbi ... perform inter-faith marriage ceremonies?" Out of 215 respondents, 26.87% answered "extremely important", 23.88% answered "very important" and 23.38% answered "somewhat important" (for a total of 74.13% of respondents attributing importance to the performance of interfaith marriage).

The performance of marriage is a ritual practice and thus covered by Article 10, Section 6, paragraph (g) of the synagogue's by-laws which state that "The Ritual Practices [Minhag] Committee ... shall be responsible for the review and recommendation of ritual practices in the Synagogue, for the consideration of the Board." The Minhag committee first met to discuss interfaith marriage on August 17, 2016 at which meeting it was decided to convene a town hall meeting on October 30, 2016 to discuss the issue with the members at large. At the October 30, 2016 meeting which was attended by approximately 80 people, no one spoke up against the performance of interfaith marriage in the synagogue and a comment was even made inviting any such opposition. Rabbi Boris met with a small number of members who were ambivalent but who seemed more comfortable with the issue once he explained to them the conditions set out in the resolution.  A comment section was also set up on the synagogue website inviting comments on the issue.  Only three comments were opposed to the performance of interfaith marriage in the synagogue, and two of these were submitted anonymously.

The Minhag committee met again on December 20, 2016 to discuss the data collected and to receive a teaching from Rabbi Boris about Jacob's blessing of his grandsons Ephraim and Menashe (the sons of Joseph and his non-Jewish wife). The results of a recent U.S. study showing that interfaith couples who were married by a rabbi were more likely to raise children who identified as Jewish were also discussed at that meeting. That study by the Cohen Center,Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage, found that "85% of intermarried couples who had only Jewish clergy officiate at their wedding are raising their children Jewish, compared to 94% of in-married couples who have Jewish clergy officiate, and 23% of intermarried couples who have other officiants. Moreover, 34% of intermarried couples with sole Jewish clergy officiants are synagogue members, compared to 41% of in-married couples, and 7% of intermarrieds with other officiants."

At the December 20, 2016 meeting, the Minhag committee was unanimous in its recommendation that the performance of interfaith marriage be permitted in the synagogue on the conditions set out in the resolution. To read Rabbi Boris' detailed reasons and comments, please see below, or find his letter on the Dorshei Emet website here.

I am very proud of the respectful and thoughtful manner in which all of the discussions leading up to this decision have proceeded. Thank you and yasher koach!

Jodi Lackman

President

 

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To the Dorshei Emet Community,

With the passing of the resolution from the Dorshei Emet board last week, we will now allow interfaith marriage ceremonies to be held in our synagogue space.  I welcome this decision with both excitement and a sensitivity to how we move forward.  As we examine our values and vision for our future, I believe this decision will not only help us be more inclusive and welcoming, but will also strengthen our resolve to connect more with our traditions and to learn from each other's unique life stories.  

Interfaith marriage has been a topic on many people's minds the past few years.  This decision is for many a long awaited outcome, and for others, a challenging reality of a quickly changing Jewish world.  While this decision is not without controversy, I believe we have taken an important step forward.

In my interactions with congregants since I arrived at Dorshei Emet over seven months ago, it was clear that the large majority of people whom I met with were directly affected by this issue.  Many were in an interfaith partnership themselves, others had children or family members who were in interfaith relationships.  Sadly, I also spoke with people who felt unwelcome or even insulted by the policy of our and other synagogues; they felt that any notion of "welcoming" interfaith couples was seen as hypocritical if we did not also accept and support their marriage.  While we should pride ourselves on the diversity and welcoming nature of our community, this policy has clearly been a difficult one for both many long term members and for those who are simply exploring what we have to offer.

There is a very real demographic shift in the Jewish community, and we need to accept that as part of a more open and diverse society, Jews now feel more comfortable dating and marrying people who do not share a similar background.  Many people, especially younger Jews, feel that finding the "right person," a person with similar values, a similar world view, and goals for life is often more important than simply a shared heritage.  For Jews, whether devoted and proud, or officially ambivalent, they see these as the core values that are important for a good marriage, and they see faith, tradition and heritage as something that they can explore with their partner, and grow together as a couple and as a family.  When these couples step into a synagogue or a rabbi's office, they want their choice to be acknowledged, they want their love to be supported, and they want their desire to connect with the Jewish community to be strengthened.  If a couple wants a Jewish wedding, then they are clearly expressing at least the spark of a desire to hold on to Jewish traditions and connect with Jewish community.  

When a couple comes into my office, it is my goal to welcome them and support them in their partnership, to learn about their unique stories and to explore their connection with Jewish life.   I have met with Jews who have strong Jewish identities and are excited to create a Jewish home, and others who are ambivalent or even show negative attitudes towards Jewish life.  Neither of these views are necessarily a determining factor in the strength of a partnership or the success of a marriage. We need to accept that being Jewish does not necessarily mean that a couple will be committed to creating a Jewish home, raising Jewish children, or participating in any way in Jewish community.  Yet in my experience, when I have met with interfaith couples, the non-Jewish partner is usually supportive, and often excited to support their Jewish partner, to be active in Jewish community and to create a Jewish home.  If the couple has taken the important first step into a synagogue to meet with a rabbi, then they have shown their commitment.  If they want a Jewish wedding, and they want a rabbi, we should at least be able to begin a conversation instead of turning them away.

With fresh eyes, and a curiosity and openness to learning about Judaism, these non-Jewish partners are often the spark that helps the Jewish family and the Jewish community grow.  While some do choose to convert, many value their own identity, their unique background and traditions, and are not ready, or do not find it necessary to convert for marriage.  While they may have met and fallen in love with someone Jewish, they want to connect with Jewish community by experiencing Jewish community, by growing and learning along with the Jewish partner, not by rushing a conversion before the right time.  If we expect and desire commitment to Jewish life, we need to first acknowledge and value their commitment to their Jewish partner.  We need to allow the non-Jewish partner space and time to grow Jewishly, or to learn how Judaism fits into their own understanding of faith and life--along with their partner--and support them in their journey to explore and become part of the Jewish community in their own time.  I know from experience that if we can do this, we will have stronger Jewish families and as a consequence, a stronger Jewish community.

The reality is that refusing to marry interfaith couples is an untenable policy to hold onto if we want to remain inclusive and relevant to our members and to the wider Jewish community that we hope to attract.  The Reconstructionist movement openly supports interfaith marriages, and nearly every Reconstructionist synagogue in the world allows interfaith marriage, as does the Reform movement and Renewal communities, even if not all individual rabbis choose to officiate.  

We do not simply make this change to go along with the changes in society or to "lower the bar" of participation in Jewish life.  Nor does it need to be seen as "watering down" Jewish identity or community, or causing the destruction of Jewish continuity.  This has been proven through the experience of so many other communities to simply not be the case.  If anything, supporting interfaith marriage, when done right, should not be seen as destructive.  In fact, when confronted with the reality of our changing world, it can even be seen as a blessing.

To say it even more clearly: as a liberal, open and diverse community, we can no longer continue to hold the position of being unwelcoming to interfaith couples in their marriages, if we, or the wider Jewish community are to survive.  With all of the choices out there, if interfaith couples continue to be turned away from us, they will no longer just accept this and "join later."  They may simply go somewhere else, but will have more trouble connecting with Judaism and Jewish community.  As we know, for too many, it is already challenging enough to connect with synagogue life.  Some who are turned away when they want to be welcomed will likely give up--not just on synagogue life, but many on Judaism altogether.  This is proven not only by my own experience and experience of my colleagues, but also by many recent studies which have looked at the experiences of interfaith couples.  As our synagogue president, Jodi Lackman quoted in her message to the community, a study by the Cohen Center, Under the Chuppah: Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriagefound that"85% of intermarried couples who had only Jewish clergy officiate at their wedding are raising their children Jewish, compared to only 23% of intermarried couples who have other officiants.  The numbers are only part of the story, but again, this positive result is also echoed by my own experiences and those of my colleagues. 

If we welcome interfaith couples, they most likely will raise a Jewish family and connect with synagogue life.  If we turn them away, most will not.  This fact can't be ignored.

We want a community that says proudly to everyone who walks in our doors, "There is a place for you here, and we accept the choices you have made in life.  When you become part of our community, you do not have to leave your values at the door.  Your story matters, and we want it to become part of ours."  

When we celebrate the partnership of interfaith couples, we can't give up on them after their wedding day, any more than we give up on any member of our community when they come to us to celebrate or in a time of need.  We will offer opportunities for learning, for meeting other couples and socializing, for children's programming, and continue to offer the same meaningful connections and programs that Dorshei Emet is known for.

While this decision was clearly made because of the values it represents, it must be pointed out that it will also have an important practical side-effect.  With this change in policy, we will be one of only two synagogues in the Montreal area that allows interfaith marriage, and this will be an asset as we continue to grow and do outreach to attract members and strengthen our community.  Couples will continue to fall in love and choose to get married regardless of what we and other communities decide, and now we can officially open our doors to them.  Word has already spread about this process, and I believe our decision will put our community at the forefront of positive change, and on the side of compassion, acceptance and love as this topic continues to be discussed in Canada and in the world.

As Jodi discussed in her message, this new policy includes specific guidelines about the wedding ceremony, guidelines that will ensure a respect for Jewish tradition and ritual, yet also an important flexibility and openness to the uniqueness of each couple.  

I know that this is an important change, and that there may be many questions about how the policy will be implemented and how it will affect other aspects of community life.  Please know that I am happy to receive comments and meet with you to answer any questions you might have about the new policy.  As with all we do in our community, I hope that open-minded discussion and compassion will be what moves us ahead.

As I said during my Rosh Hashanah sermon a few months ago: "Judaism is changing, but it always has been.  I hope that we can hold on to the strength of what has held us together for so long, but also move beyond what has held us back--as individuals and as a Jewish community."  

I believe that this is a decision that is good for Dorshei Emet, and good for the Jewish people.  I believe this is a change we can be proud of.

With blessings for strength, and excitement for our future,

Rabbi Boris

We welcome   you!

Congregation Dorshei Emet welcomes and celebrates interfaith families as part of our diverse community.  We have people with faith backgrounds other than Jewish, people exploring Judaism or of no faith background as part of our congregational family. We all come together for services, to study, to share in holiday celebrations and participate in lifecycle events. We believe that interfaith families enrich our community as we all can learn from each other's unique experiences.  

Interfaith families are invited to become full participants and active members of Dorshei Emet, and non-Jewish spouses are invited to serve on committees and participate in leadership.  As a Reconstructionist synagogue we live our egalitarian values by embracing the participation of all types of families and partnerships.

Some people who experience our community make the choice to convert, and we have an active Introduction to Judaism class and support this process.  However, for those who choose not to convert but who desire to be active members of our community, we welcome you and are grateful for your presence.  Life is a journey, and we hope that each member of our community can find the place that feels right for them!

We are committed to making you feel welcome at Congregation Dorshei Emet, and would love to connect with you.  Please stop by for one of our services or programs, or contact us for more information.  Welcome to to the community!

Wed, December 12 2018 4 Tevet 5779