Conservatives inmarried-only rule must go

How peculiar that Conservative Judaism’s clergy association, the Rabbinical Assembly, maintains a policy of prohibiting intermarried Jews to address its annual convention.

A story in this week’s issue (page 12a) covers the assembly forbidding Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, from addressing the convention simply because he is married to a non-Jew. Breyer’s Christian colleague, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is Christian and married to a Christian, will speak at the convention.

The movement’s leaders call this “complex tension,” in which a balance between modernity and tradition is sought. While we respect Conservative Judaism’s intent, we have to question why such a rule is still on the books.

The rule permits only unmarried or “inmarried” Jews to speak. So if a single Jewish man happens to be in a longtime relationship with an unmarried non-Jewish woman, he could address the assembly. But if the man ties the knot with his girlfriend, he becomes persona non grata.

As the article points out, many within the Rabbinical Assembly find this obscure rule ridiculous and, more important, counterproductive to the cause of inmarriage. It seems obvious to us that the Conservative movement can continue to vigorously support inmarriage without resorting to these kinds of arbitrary prohibitions.

Yet there’s much to praise about Conservative Judaism when it comes to interfaith outreach.

Though unalterably opposed to intermarriage, the movement has come to recognize the reality of interfaith couples among its membership. Initiatives such as the Tiferet Project — spearheaded in 2004 by Bay Area Conservative rabbis — offers guidelines for addressing the issue at the synagogue level, drawing boundaries where necessary but embracing a welcoming approach.

Moreover, Conservative Judaism made the courageous decision in 2006 to open its seminary to gay and lesbian rabbinical students, and to permit its rabbis to perform same-sex unions.

No observer of the American Jewish scene can remain neutral on the issue of intermarriage. Over the long run, it clearly poses a demographic threat to the national Jewish population. In a free society like ours, intermarriage is a thorny problem to solve.

Maybe it seems old-fashioned, but Conservative Judaism’s unapologetic stance on intermarriage has merit.

However, when it comes to selecting speakers for an annual convention, we think it’s safe for the movement to drop its guard

a little.