Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, the retired rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, was expelled from the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA) last month for performing interfaith weddings.
“I’m not surprised, to be honest,” admitted the 72-year-old, who was a member of the RA for 44 years.
Rosenbloom had seen it coming since April, when JTA published his opinion column stating that Conservative rabbis should be permitted to perform intermarriages.
It was a philosophical argument, he continued, that the policy in place is ineffective and detrimental to the relationship between rabbis and their congregants and the future of the Jewish people. Instead of pushing them away, rabbis needed to draw them closer, he said.
In his article, he also mentioned that he has already performed intermarriages, the first one for his stepdaughter a couple years ago, while others were for friends, family and congregants he’s had longstanding relationships with.
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the RA, approached him, asking, “Are you planning to resign from the RA?”
“I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Well, you know what you’re doing is contrary to RA policy.’”
The issue went to the RA ethics committee, then to the Executive Council, which voted unanimously, with abstentions, to expel Rosenbloom.
The RA is made up of 1,700 members, and it helps place rabbis in congregations throughout the world and sets their professional standards.
Expulsions rarely occur.
The RA has a standard of rabbinic practice, Rosenbloom said, that Conservative rabbis are not allowed to officiate at, participate in or attend intermarriages.
“While it isn’t enforced, universally when it comes to attending, I don’t think anyone’s going to be expelled from the RA if they attend an intermarriage,” he noted. “They’ve been pretty adamant that they’re not willing to give an inch when it comes to officiating intermarriages.”
The standard has been in place since 1972, stating, as paraphrased by Rosenbloom, that “attendance or officiating an intermarriage is a form of approval, and if we do it we will be indicating that we approve intermarriage, and that will be detrimental to the future of the Jewish people.”
“If [my colleagues] think that their not officiating intermarriages prevents people from intermarrying, it’s demonstrably an ineffective strategy,” he added, “that people who are in love will cancel their wedding because the rabbi that they have an association with won’t marry them.”
“We are a halachic movement and Judaism envisions the marriage ceremony as taking place between two Jewish people,” Schonfeld, the RA executive vice president, told JTA.
“How we work with families where not everyone in the family is Jewish is tremendously important to us,” she continued. “A tremendous amount of effort is invested by the Conservative movement and the Conservative rabbinate in making our synagogues really welcoming places for everyone.”
Rosenbloom said the Conservative movement calls intermarriage illegitimate, yet welcomes the couple after their marriage, which he said is “hypocritical and false.”
Although he said some rabbis in the movement would like more flexibility to one degree or another, there are others who can’t bring themselves to officiate an intermarriage because it compromises their authenticity as a rabbi.
“I feel that it’s a matter of conscience and it’s a matter of my authenticity as a rabbi that I be able to officiate the wedding of people who one of whom is Jewish and who has a relationship with me and who I want to encourage to be part of the Jewish community,” he said. “Once you say no to officiating, it’s very hard for a couple to get over that sting of rejection and then want to be involved in the community. If we want to keep the door open for couples who are intermarried and to raise their children as Jews, then we can’t say no to the wedding itself. We have to honor them and respect them.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jews, 58 percent of Jews have a non-Jewish spouse, between the years of 2005 to 2013.
Among secular Jews, 79 percent of married non-religious Jews have a non-Jewish spouse, compared with 36 percent among religious Jews. As such, they are less likely to raise their children Jewish.
“To write all those people off and say that we won’t be involved in you for that reason, and then turn around and say on the next day after the wedding, ‘Please come join us,’ is disingenuous and off-putting,” Rosenbloom said.
He has officiated about five interfaith weddings with two more scheduled, but it’s not something he’s trying to continue — interfaith or not.
“Expulsion from the Rabbinical Assembly has virtually no effect on my rabbinic career,” he said.
As a retired rabbi, he is not looking for a job or soliciting to officiate weddings of any kind.
“I would do [intermarriages] if I were asked by a couple that I have a relationship with,” he noted. “I’m not looking to do intermarriages — I’m retired, after all. But if there’s a member of the family, a friend whose child is getting married, someone I know from the synagogue and grew up with me as their rabbi — but I don’t go out soliciting.”
Rosenbloom thinks the RA is on the wrong track.
“More people will realize it’s a futile standard because there’s no logical reason for it any longer,” he said. “If it’s because we don’t want to encourage intermarriage, then obviously it’s failed. We all want to strengthen the Jewish future. The issue is what’s going to strengthen the Jewish future. I believe engaging couples who are intermarrying is the best way to build the Jewish future.”
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