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From that day to this, I have struggled with my own feelings about participating in the marriage ceremony of a Jew and a non-Jew.
During my two years in Los Angeles, I read every book or article about intermarriage on which I could lay hands.
I arrived, though, in Connecticut, and I stand before you today, still believing that the nature of the Jewish marriage ceremony precludes my officiating at the marriage of a Jew and a non-Jew.
For me, the crucial moment in the ceremony is when the bride and the groom in turn say to each other in Hebrew and English, “With this ring be consecrated unto me as my wife (or as my husband), according to the religion of Moses and Israel.” To me, it is simply not appropriate for one who is not a member of the religion of Moses and Israel–either through birth or through formal conversion–to say those words.
We put significant time and energy into the conversion process of those who make the decision to formally adopt Judaism as their faith.
We also do our best to make the non-Jewish spouses in member families feel welcome and at home.
It is also a position at which I have arrived after much introspective thought, study, discussion, and prayer.
My struggle with the rabbi’s role in interfaith marriage started on the Sunday after I arrived in Los Angeles to begin my graduate rabbinical studies, in the fall of 1968.
For that reason, I have regretfully declined requests by non-Jewish friends to officiate at their weddings.
Most notably, we invite them to participate actively and appropriately on the bimah during the naming and B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies of their children.
Sadly, though, non-Jews have often not felt our welcoming embrace at the time when they consecrate their marriage to a Jewish partner.
The next year, when I studied in Israel, the first oral presentation I ever made in Hebrew was for a graduate seminar in which I boldly enrolled–I say boldly because I only understood about half of what the students and the professor were saying!
–at the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.