Jewish Theological Seminary announces continuing ban on interfaith wedding ceremonies

(JTA) – The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), which trains rabbis for the Conservative movement, said it is committed to continuing to ban its clergy from performing interfaith wedding ceremonies.

The statement issued Wednesday comes in response to the announcement last week by two rabbis who are members of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, that they would begin officiating at interfaith wedding ceremonies.

Senior Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon of the popular nondenominational synagogue B’nai Jeshurun in New York City announced in a video shared last week at the synagogue’s annual meeting: “We are embracing a significant change in how we approach the future of Jewish life at BJ.”

“For JTS and its partners in the Conservative Movement, the wedding ceremony is not only a celebration of a couple, but a commitment to the Jewish covenant. Its opening blessing thanks God for infusing our lives with holiness through the mitzvot, and its closing lines connect this marriage to the rebirth of the Jewish people in Jerusalem. Such statements can be said truly only if both partners identify as Jews,” the statement continued.

“For those who are or wish to be members of our communities and of our families, the door is open to study and commit to join our ancient faith. We respect the choice of those who prefer not to become Jewish, understanding that their religious identity is no less significant than is our own,” the statement also said.

The announcement at Bnai Jeshurun came after a year-long series of classes and discussion on the topic to prepare the community and earn its buy-in.

The synagogue’s new policy is intended to welcome the participation of interfaith families within the bounds of Jewish law, or Halachah. Interfaith couples will not sign a ketubah, the traditional document sealing a marriage between a Jew and a Jew, but a ritual contract called a tenaim, a traditional engagement agreement that lays out the conditions of marriage, will continue to hold to the traditional matrilineal definition of Jewish identity, in which a child is considered Jewish at birth if its mother is Jewish by birth or choice. Patrilineal adults and children will continue to immerse in a mikvah as part of a conversion ceremony at the synagogue.

The JTS statement concluded: “We understand the arguments made for our clergy to officiate at interfaith weddings, knowing that they come from a place of genuine concern for bringing near individuals and families who are or might be estranged from the community and tradition we love. However, we believe – and the data confirm – that by far the most effective path toward building a Jewish future is to strengthen Jewish identity, beginning with the Jewish family.”

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie of the influential New York congregation Lab/Shul also said this month that he expects his congregation to resign from the Rabbinical Assembly in favour of a policy he wrote that “may enable more rabbis to welcome more people into our community with open arms.”

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