The Atlantic

‘We’re Headed Toward One of the Greatest Divisions in the History of the Jewish People’

A small, vocal group of Conservative rabbis is pushing the movement to accept marriages between Jews and non-Jews. The fight is really about the future of the religion.
Source: Kelley DeBettencourt / Getty / Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

In late June, 19 rabbis gathered in New York City for an urgent meeting. It wasn’t secret, exactly, but it certainly wasn’t public. The Jewish leaders—all members of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, except for two—were there to decide what to do about intermarriage.

Since the 1970s, the Conservative movement has banned its rabbis from officiating or even attending wedding ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews. The denomination is more traditional than the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, which both allow their rabbis to decide the intermarriage question for themselves. But over time, Conservative Judaism has also been more willing to make concessions to modern life than Orthodoxy, leaving it distinctly vulnerable to challenges from within on one of its most sensitive policies.

A small, vocal resistance to the Conservative movement’s stance on intermarriage has been building in recent years. Some rabbis left: Adina Lewittes—once an assistant dean at the Conservative movement’s flagship school, the Jewish Theological Seminary—decided she couldn’t tolerate the lack of welcome for non-Jews anymore. Or they were kicked out: Seymour Rosenbloom, the recently retired rabbi of Philadelphia’s Congregation Adath Jeshurun, wrote an op-ed about marrying his stepdaughter and her non-Jewish husband last spring. Months later, the executive leaders of the Rabbinical Assembly expelled him unanimously after more than four decades in the organization.

This summer, the dissent has gotten much louder. In June, the rabbis at a large Manhattan synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun, announced they would begin officiating at intermarriage ceremonies. Although the congregation isn’t technically associated with the Conservative movement, its longtime senior rabbi, Roly Matalon, is part of the Rabbinical Assembly. Another prominent rabbi, Amichai Lau-Lavie, released a 58-page study detailing why he had decided to start marrying interfaith couples at his “artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional, pop-up, experimental” congregation, Lab/Shul. “These are two very important institutions,” said Rosenbloom. “They’re very avant garde. They are the models that many Conservative synagogues look to as a vision for the future.” These rabbis’ decision to break with their denomination about intermarriage is “going to give other people encouragement to follow their conscience,” he added. “It seems like we’re coming to a tipping point. … Everyone is talking about this right now.”

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