Interfaith couples could marry in shul

By Simon Rocker, July 26, 2012

Mixed-faith wedding celebrations could take place on synagogue premises under new guidelines approved by the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK.

Assembly chairman Rabbi Mark Goldsmith said this week: “It is not impossible for them to take place in a synagogue building, but it is unlikely. The synagogue would need to make the choice.”

Until now, Reform rabbis faced expulsion from the assembly if they participated in a ceremony with a Jewish and non-Jewish partner.

But rabbis can now play a role in celebrations that accompany a civil wedding under certain conditions — although the assembly emphasised that it maintained “clear opposition” to such involvement.

According to the guidelines, the celebration cannot use symbols associated with a Jewish marriage such as a chuppah or ketubah.

No clergy from other faiths should officiate, or prayers from other religions be used. The marriage must not take place on Shabbat or a Jewish festival.

The couple must also attend a programme beforehand encouraging them to build a Jewish home. “It doesn’t mean that Reform does interfaith marriages,” Rabbi Goldsmith stressed.

“What it does say is that some Reform rabbis are willing and ready to help a couple married civilly with the wedding.

“We recognise that some of our people who are most committed to Judaism happen to find themselves in a position where their life partner is not Jewish.”

One Jewish element that could be included in a celebration was parents reciting the priestly blessing over the couple.

Many Reform synagogues already offer a call-up to the Torah to the Jewish partner of a mixed-faith relationship ahead of the wedding, he explained.

Maidenhead Synagogue’s Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who has run programmes for interfaith couples for more than 20 years, said the decision was the result of “persuading the Jewish community to overcome its hostility to them and to realise that marrying out does not necessarily mean opting out”.

Rabbi Goldsmith said that although a minority of his colleagues were uncomfortable with the new position, a large majority had voted for it.

One opponent is Hendon Reform’s Rabbi Steven Katz, who feared that rabbinical participation in such occasions would lead people to assume that intermarriages were being sanctioned.

While respecting the “good faith and conscience” of his colleagues who approved the decision, he hoped “families will respect rabbis, including myself, who feel that this is not the way forward”.

He believed that rabbis were “representative of the traditions and values of Judaism and that they have no part to play in a ceremony of that nature”.

Last updated: 3:52pm, July 26 2012