It’s wedding season....and in 2011 I will be officiating at seven weddings, three of which involve a young person who grew up in our congregation. You can imagine, I’m sure, what a unique joy it is to stand beneath a chuppah with a young person I have watched grow up. It is one of the special pleasures and privileges of serving a community, as I have, for over two decades now.
You may also be aware that, for the first eighteen years of my tenure here it was my policy not to officiate at interfaith weddings. A long reexamination of that policy culminated in my sharing, at the High Holy Days in 2008, a change in my officiation policy. I would henceforth, I announced, welcome the opportunity to officiate at weddings where one of the partners is a Jew and where the couple manifests a desire and intention to create a Jewish family together.
So, with a number of interfaith weddings on my calendar for this year, let me give you an update on the consequences of my policy change. Here is some of what I have learned (and am still learning) over the past three years:
• Every couple, and every family from which the two halves of a couple emerge, is unique. It is absolutely vital that I bring open ears, an open mind and an open heart to the conversations I have with interfaith couples who invite me to officiate at their weddings.
• Being asked to view Judaism and Jewish traditions from the vantage point of someone who stands outside of Judaism is crucial to my determining how I can best address the needs and concerns of interfaith couples.
• Merely because I have done something a certain way for a long while, or the fact that it’s comfortable to do so, does not necessarily mean that couples are well-served by my decisions. Being asked (or challenged) to reconsider a particular element or ritual in the wedding ceremony has been part of an important learning curve for me.
• More than any other life-cycle observance, weddings push me to define for myself my relationship to Jewish law and tradition. What is malleable and subject to transformation? Where lies the bedrock of tradition that I would not presume to alter?
• Growing up in a Jewish home is not a predictor of Jewish attachment and commitment. Nor is entering an interfaith marriage a predictor of an attenuation of Jewish connections. Because there is, in every marriage, a complicated web of influences and decisions to be made at each step of the way, I view my role as a resource and an educator for all couples but, especially so, for interfaith couples. I advocate for open and clear discussions between partners and for Jewish choices that are reflective of each couple’s unique history and relationship.
In short, I have not regretted for a moment the decision I made to officiate at interfaith weddings under the conditions I felt it appropriate to impose. Marriage is a wonderful vessel to enfold and nurture kedusha (holiness) and, just as every hand-made piece of pottery is unique, so, too, is every marriage.