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St. Louis Jewish Light

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Local rabbis react as Conservative Movement holds firm on intermarriage ban

A letter from Conservative movement leaders urged rabbis to welcome interfaith couples but reiterated a ban on rabbis performing their weddings. (Justin Oberman/Creative Commons)


The Conservative movement is upholding its ban on rabbis officiating interfaith weddings, according to a new, 21-page report released this week. However, the report recommends various changes, such as introducing new rituals and updating hiring regulations, to promote greater inclusion of interfaith families within the movement.

Crafted by a working group of 12 rabbis, the document addresses ongoing debates over the role of Conservative rabbis in interfaith weddings. While maintaining the ban, the report acknowledges the personal connections some rabbis feel to the prohibition within the evolving landscape of non-Orthodox denominations.

Rabbi Noah Arnow of Kol Rinah believes this acknowledgment is important.

“I appreciate that the Conservative movement has been working on issues of interfaith inclusion and rabbinic affiliation,” said Arnow. “At Kol Rinah, we’ve been working in these areas for almost a decade. I’m proud that families with people from all different backgrounds are welcomed at our congregation, in practice and in policy.”

The report supports the welcoming approach of Arnow and other local rabbis advocating for changes so they may embrace interfaith couples more easily.

“The Conservative movement has been welcoming people of all backgrounds for several years.  This simply makes that official,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham of Congregation B’nai Amoona.  “Outside of the ban on officiating at interfaith weddings, there are no other prohibitions on membership in our synagogues.  We want to be a place that is truly open and welcoming to all.”

The report proposes three areas for the movement to move away from policies based on rabbinic approval and towards those centered on dialogue with couples and families.

“The Conservative movement used to not even allow rabbis to attend intermarriages, announce the weddings of family members in the congregation if one of the spouses wasn’t Jewish, and so on,” said Abraham. “While these practices have not been done for years, some of the original rabbinic rulings from the 1970s and 1980s are still on the books. This means we need to have our written pieces catch up to what we are doing in practice, which is being completely open and welcoming to all.”

In a statement regarding the report, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of both the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said, “We’ve already started to see creativity among our rabbis in terms of rituals that they might develop. I hope that this report encourages our colleagues to push their creativity, to welcome these folks into our communities.”

Abraham believes such “creativity” has been on display for years here in St. Louis.

Many of my colleagues, including myself, have found ways to bless interfaith couples, integrate them into other lifecycle events such as baby namings and b’nai mitzvahs,” said Abraham. “We offer an aufruf blessing to any couple getting married, regardless of if both spouses are Jewish.  At this point, Conservative rabbis have done just about anything except for signing the official marriage license.”

This report also acknowledges that despite its continued rabbinical prohibition of performing interfaith marriages, more and more Jews are intermarrying. A 2020 study from the Pew Research Center found that between 2010 and 2020, nearly three-quarters of non-Orthodox married Jews wed non-Jewish partners. A majority of Conservative respondents said rabbis should officiate interfaith weddings.

“I look forward to when I am permitted to officiate at any wedding, and I hope that day will come soon,” said Arnow.

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About the Contributor
Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer
Jordan worked at KSDK from 1995 to 2020. Jordan is a three-time Emmy award winner who produced every kind of show from news to specials during his tenure, creating Show Me St. Louis, The Cardinal Nation Show. He started ksdk.com in 2001 and won three Edward R. Murrow Awards for journalistic and website excellence in 2010, 2014 and 2020. Jordan has been married for 25 years and is the father of two college students. He is an avid biker, snowboarder, and beer lover. He created the blog drink314.com, focusing on the St. Louis beer community in 2015. Jordan has an incredible and vast knowledge of useless information and is the grandson of a Cleveland bootlegger.