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By Jason A. Miller When I decided to become a rabbi in 1996, I visited the Jewish Theological eminary, my !"t"re rabbinical school. Along with sitting in on some classes, I stayed in the a#artment o! !o"r !irst$year rabbinical st"dents. I still recall a disc"ssion we had at the habbat dinner table. %ne o! the rabbinical st"dents raised the &"estion o! what wo"ld ha##en i! one o! their siblings became engaged to a non$ Jew ' co"ld they even attend the wedding( The )abbinical Assembly, *onservative J"daism+s rabbinic organi,ation, lists attendance by a rabbi at a wedding between a Jew and a non$Jew as a violation o! its - tandards o! )eligio"s .ractice/ in its code o! #ro!essional cond"ct. The "nderlying rationale is that a rabbi+s attendance at an inter!aith wedding wo"ld be #erceived as condoning intermarriage. While the recent wedding o! *helsea *linton to Marc Me,vins0y renewed age$old debates abo"t intermarriage, !or *onservative rabbis in #artic"lar it has s#"rred disc"ssion abo"t the ).A.+s #olicy. This is beca"se JT +s chancellor, Arnold 1isen, attended the co"#le+s #ost$wedding rece#tion. 1isen ' who became close to the groom when he was a #ro!essor at the co"#le+s alma mater, tan!ord 2niversity ' is not a rabbi. 3et chancellors o! JT are considered by some to be the *onservative movement+s tit"lar heads. Is it #ossible !or the chancellor o! JT to attend an inter!aith wedding rece#tion witho"t im#licitly sending a message either abo"t the *onservative movement+s attit"de toward
intermarriage or, more s#eci!ically, abo"t the a##ro#riateness o! the ).A.+s #olicy( In tr"th, i! 1isen were not s"ch a high$#ro!ile !ig"re, he wo"ld not have been brea0ing new gro"nd. In #ractice, the ).A.+s #olicy has le!t considerable room !or inter#retation. ome ).A. members disting"ish between attendance at an inter!aith wedding ceremony and the rece#tion that !ollows. %thers disagree, arg"ing that the wedding ceremony is directly connected to the act"al ceremony and attendance at either co"ld be #erceived as tacit a##roval. ome rabbis, however, have sim#ly !lo"ted the #olicy, &"ietly attending inter!aith wedding ceremonies o! relatives and !riends. The ).A.+s code states that violations o! standards o! religio"s #ractice -"s"ally res"lt in e4#"lsion !rom the )abbinical Assembly./ )abbis who o!!iciate at inter!aith weddings !ace the #ros#ect o! stern sanctions !rom the ).A., and in #ractice have generally chosen to resign their membershi# in order to avoid #"blic controversy. I am not, however, aware o! any instances in which rabbis who sim#ly attended inter!aith weddings 5and I 0now more than a !ew who have6 !aced re#erc"ssions !rom the ).A. Indeed, one widely held view among ).A. members is that the real #"r#ose o! the attendance ban is to give *onservative rabbis who #ersonally o##ose attending s"ch weddings a ready e4c"se when invited. 7evertheless, the #olicy #resents many o! "s with #ro!o"ndly di!!ic"lt choices. A co"#le o! years a!ter I was ordained at JT , I chose not to attend my !irst co"sin+s wedding to a lovely, albeit non$Jewish, yo"ng woman. I e4#lained that my wi!e and I wo"ld not be attending beca"se my rabbinic association !orbade it. My re!"sal to attend 5he 0new better than to as0 !or me to o!!iciate6 led to animosity !rom other relatives and a !ract"red relationshi# among co"sins.
In light o! the !allo"t !rom that decision, I made a m"ch di!!erent decision several years later. When I received an invitation to the wedding o! a close childhood !riend, I didn+t allow the !act that her bashert wasn+t a -member o! the tribe/ to deter me !rom re#lying -yes/ on the ) 8. card. I don+t believe anyone in attendance saw my #resence as an acce#tance o! intermarriage. My intention was only to show s"##ort !or my long$time !riend and to ens"re the co"#le 0new that the Jewish comm"nity wasn+t t"rning its bac0 on them. The ).A. isn+t abo"t to allow its members to o!!iciate at inter!aith weddings. B"t the attendance ban, which is listed in the code o! cond"ct alongside the o!!iciation ban, is a di!!erent iss"e. This #olicy !orces rabbis to choose between violating a r"le and slighting loved ones. The #olicy, en!orced or not, adds #ain to an already di!!ic"lt sit"ation !or !amilies. It sends a message that J"daism #"ts tribalism be!ore dignity and res#ect. It is time !or the )abbinical Assembly to rescind its #olicy banning its members !rom attending inter!aith weddings as g"ests. I! o"treach to inter!aith co"#les is a goal !or o"r movement and o"r comm"nity, then the ins"lt o! re!"sing to attend their weddings is co"nter#rod"ctive. Rabbi Jason A. Miller is rabbi of Tamarack Camps in Michigan and director of the Kosher Michigan, a kosher certification initiative.