Leap of Faith: it is our sacred task to welcome mixed-faith families

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Leap of Faith: it is our sacred task to welcome mixed-faith families

One in three Jews marries a non-Jew

Among the more striking findings in the recent Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) survey, Jews in the UK Today, was that one in three of all British Jews who married between 2010 and 2022 married a non-Jew – up from one in four in the previous 10 years.

The data shows that being ‘against intermarriage’ – the position of some of the Jewish community over the last decades – hasn’t made it go away. As the American Rabbi Lawrence Kushner has written: “We now have enough data to say categorically that there is simply no way to stop Jews from marrying non-Jews. Fierce rabbinic bans are risibly ineffective. Insulting forms of covert ostracism only make us look xenophobic and weak.”

In Progressive communities, our orientation to this question is very different. If we live within wider society, then Jews will marry non-Jews. This should not be understood as a declaration that Judaism doesn’t matter to them. It is not in itself a ‘marrying out’. Rather, this is a new demographic reality that makes a demand of us: do we want to make it possible for more people to live meaningful Jewish lives? If so, how do we increase the likelihood that Judaism is a part of the lives of those who marry non-Jews, and that they pass this on to their next generations? How willing we are to embrace the choices that they have made, to welcome the non-Jewish partner as a member of our communities? How do we create opportunities for their lives together to be honoured with us?

Across the life cycle we have, over the last generation, created the ability to respond to the needs of mixed-faith families. Our clergy will help couples to celebrate with new Jewish rituals after a civil wedding, or with home dedication ceremonies to recognise a shared commitment to creating a Jewish home. Our Batei Din are committed to helping people to create Jewish families, so that the decision of a mixed-faith couple to raise their children as Jews is recognised in their status. In many of our cemeteries, we are able to bury mixed-faith couples together.

Our synagogues have forms of membership for non-Jewish partners – many communities have done so for decades. Non-Jewish partners often play full roles in our communal life: joining committees, organising events and enjoying services and study. We welcome non-Jewish parents as active participants in their children’s Jewish education, including involvement in the ceremony of Bar and Bat Mitzvah – fully supporting Jewish life and our Jewish future alongside thousands of other Jewish-Jewish families.

What we have learned over the years is important for us all to acknowledge: we are often the decisive factor. Jewish identity doesn’t cease to be important to a Jew who falls in love with and marries a non-Jew. Rather, it is the quality of our welcome that matters most.

If a third of Jews now marry non-Jews, we have an urgent and sacred task: to ensure that our communities honour the choice that they have made and welcome them in. Progressive Judaism is committed to responding to this task.

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