The Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK has released this statement on celebrations following mixed-faith civil weddings and rabbinic involvement in them.
The Assembly of Rabbis maintains its continuous commitment to Jewish marriage as the best basis for a successful and meaningful Jewish life. Therefore where a Jew marries or intends to marry a non-Jew we will encourage the conversion of non-Jewish partners to Judaism.
As a body, the Assembly maintains a clear opposition to the involvement of rabbis in any kind of mixed-faith ceremony or blessing around civil wedding celebrations. However, the Assembly no longer regards such involvement as being incompatible with membership of the Assembly.
We note that some rabbis may take the view that being involved with couples at or after their civil ceremonies is an important component in continuing and extending the couples’ engagement with Judaism. In such cases the Assembly has issued guidelines on the parameters of rabbinic involvement.Click here to read the full statement and guidelines
Does this mean that the Movement for Reform Judaism is now endorsing mixed-faith marriages?
No. But we do recognise the reality of large numbers of Jews marrying non-Jews, and seek to include them in our community with a view to doing everything we can to enhance their involvement in Jewish life. The guidelines state that a celebration should not be conducted unless there is a prior programme of study and Jewish participation so that the couple intends to, and is capable of, building a Jewish home. Those Reform Rabbis who do choose to do so will not be conducting marriages between mixed-faith couples but rather will be creating a celebration following the couple’s civil marriage.
What does this mean?
The Assembly of Reform Rabbis no longer regards conducting a celebration following a mixed-faith civil marriage as incompatible with membership of the Assembly. We recognise that both those who will conduct such celebrations and those who choose not to make their choices from positive motives and our guidelines focus on our Jewish values and ensuring Jewish continuity.
Does this go too far?
Reform Judaism always seeks, when possible, to include rather than exclude. We seek to ensure Jewish continuity and the guidelines state that a celebration should not be conducted unless there is a prior programme of study and Jewish participation so that the couple intends to, and is capable of, building a Jewish home. We maintain our continuous commitment to Jewish marriage as the best basis for a successful and meaningful Jewish life.
Does this go far enough?
It remains our very strong belief that Jewish marriage is the best basis for a successful and meaningful Jewish life. That, therefore is the model which the Reform Movement seeks to promote, including encouraging non-Jewish partners to convert. Nevertheless, we recognise that we should provide paths to engagement with Judaism to those families which continue to be from mixed-faith backgrounds. That is the purpose of this resolution.
Why is the Assembly responding to these issues?
Whether children of mixed-faith couples identify as Jewish or not determines the future of mainstream Jewry in this country and the whole Diaspora. Research carried out in America suggests that only a small proportion of children of inter-faith marriages retain their Jewishness into adulthood. While it may be dangerous to read directly across from America to the UK – and while most of the children, when asked their religion, still self-identify as Jews – we cannot dismiss the American experience out of hand. Mathematically, at current rates of inter-marriage, if only a third of such children retain their Jewish identity our community will decline by a quarter in a generation. Conversely, if two thirds identify as Jewish we will growth by a sixth every generation. Our aim in everything we do is to respond to the challenges we face in a way that is most likely to lead to the maximum involvement in a Judaism that is authentic, meaningful and relevant to today’s world.