(JNi.media) An organization named “Big Tent Judaism” which seeks to embrace intermarried families in the Jewish fold (presumably without the expectation of a conversion of the non-Jewish spouse down the road), sponsored a survey of 249 Conservative rabbis which found that 38 percent— 95 rabbis, would officiate at the marriage of a Jew and non-Jew if the Conservative movement lifted its prohibition on these unions. This sample corresponds to roughly 15% or the Rabbinical Assembly’s approximately 1,700 members.
The survey finds that intermarriage is part of the daily reality addressed by Conservative rabbis and Conservative congregations. Eight in ten respondents have an intermarried family member; seven in ten work with an intermarried volunteer leader in their congregation. Four in ten respondents have attended interfaith weddings, usually of close family members; a handful already officiates at interfaith weddings under some conditions.
On the whole, according to the survey, Conservative rabbis will not marry a person of patrilineal Jewish descent to another Jew, citing halacha, but the survey suggests “their views on Jewish identity are nuanced, as many distinguish between Jewish identity and halachic status.”
In the hypothetical scenario that the Conservative movement’s policy would change, just under four in ten rabbis would officiate at interfaith weddings. Also, according to the survey, almost half of Conservative rabbis interviewed feel that some discussion of their movement’s position on interfaith marriages, recognizing patrilineal descent, and admitting intermarried rabbinical candidates is warranted.
Respondents in small Jewish communities are more likely (45%) to see themselves officiating in interfaith weddings if RA rules changed, compared with respondents in large Jewish communities (33%). Female pulpit rabbis are almost twice as likely to change their practices if RA rules changed (56%) when compared to male rabbis (35%).
Here’s a counter-intuitive discovery: when comparing respondents by age and ordination date, the survey found that respondents over 50 years old and those ordained before the year 2000 are slightly more likely to officiate at interfaith weddings. The authors suggest that the difference can perhaps be explained by the fact that older, more seasoned rabbis have “softened” their attitude toward interfaith weddings after having had to repeatedly turn away intermarried couples.
The survey’s presentation is rife with opinion, not to the point of skewing the results, but certainly to add spin to the numbers. The line in the above paragraph, explaining why older Conservative rabbis are more likely to conduct an intermarriage wedding, actually says the differences are explained “by the fact that older, more seasoned rabbis have “softened” their attitude toward interfaith officiation after having to repeatedly turn away intermarried couples, many of whom would have created Jewish homes.”
Paul Golin, Big Tent’s associate executive director, says the group isn’t advocating that the Rabbinical Assembly change its policy, but rather that it should open a conversation on it. But God—and advocacy—are in the details.
The section headed, “Half of Conservative rabbis believe discussion of some RA rules is warranted” is dizzyingly biased:
“The survey asked Conservative rabbis for their view on whether three specific issues should be opened for discussion among members of the Rabbinical Assembly: allowing officiating at interfaith weddings, recognizing Jews of patrilineal descent, and accepting intermarried rabbinical candidates to Conservative seminaries. Four in ten (39%) respondents agreed that the RA should open for discussion among its members the issue of officiating at interfaith weddings; a third (33%) agreed that the RA should open for discussion the issue of accepting patrilineal descent; and one in seven (14%) agreed that the issue of admitting intermarried or inter-partnered rabbinical candidates should also be opened for discussion. Half (51%) of the respondents disagree with all three statements and think that none of these issues should be open for discussion.”