A Place in the Tent: Inter­mar­riage and Con­ser­v­a­tive Judaism

Mark Bloom; Ted Feld­man; Gor­don Free­man; Stu­art Kel­man; Har­ry Man­hoff; Mimi Weisel; Rose Levin­son; Glenn Massarano
  • Review
By – September 21, 2012

Six North­ern Cal­i­for­nia Con­ser­v­a­tive rab­bis and two lay lead­ers pro­duced this short book, rep­re­sent­ing the Tifer­et Project, a two-year study on inter­mar­riage and the syn­a­gogue com­mu­ni­ty. The authors announce their ide­ol­o­gy on the title page, quot­ing the prophet Isa­iah: Enlarge the site of your tent, extend the size of your dwelling. Spare not!” The Tifer­et Project aims to widen the Con­ser­v­a­tive tent, to wel­come Jews and their non- Jew­ish par­ents, spous­es and children. 

With proud­ly lib­er­al instincts toward inclu­sion and against judge­men­tal­ism, the project con­sid­ered Con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment poli­cies, Halakha, his­tor­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal views of inter­faith rela­tions and per­son­al accounts gath­ered from inter­mar­ried Jews and their non-Jew­ish part­ners. Since inter­mar­riage is unlike­ly to decline, and as no one in record­ed his­to­ry ever caught flies with vine­gar, these authors con­clude noth­ing can be gained from puni­tive, exclu­sion­ary poli­cies. They believe the best hope for renew­ing the com­mit­ment of inter­mar­ried Jews is to wel­come them and hon­or, not con­demn, their families. 

To this end, the authors devise a new term for non-Jews who sup­port the Jew­ish life of their fam­i­lies and prac­tice no oth­er reli­gion: k’rovei Yis­rael, which they ren­der as rel­a­tive or friend of Israel, close to the Jews.” They hope this semi-offi­cial des­ig­na­tion will seem more wel­com­ing to a KY (as the authors refer to them) and prompt syn­a­gogues to appre­ci­ate the role of these non-Jews. 

Every non-Ortho­dox pul­pit rab­bi knows plen­ty of KYs, and we should all thank God for them. The authors seem on the right track in wish­ing to sup­port such fam­i­lies on a dif­fi­cult jour­ney. This pamphlet’s weak­ness is the mod­esty of its scope. It is con­tent to address the eas­i­est prob­lem in inter­mar­riage: the minor­i­ty of fam­i­lies forg­ing Jew­ish life with­in syn­a­gogues. But what of the large major­i­ty of fam­i­lies that do not fit this encour­ag­ing pic­ture, but who fall out of Am Yis­rael alto­geth­er? This book on inter­mar­riage and Con­ser­v­a­tive Judaism” does not address this more chal­leng­ing prob­lem. I encour­age the Tifer­et Project to tack­le the tougher ques­tions next. 

Rhetor­i­cal­ly, this work is sol­id if typ­i­cal writ­ing-by-com­mit­tee: clear, a bit bland, some­where between mod­est and timid.

Jere­my Kalmanof­sky is rab­bi of Con­gre­ga­tion Ansche Chesed, a Con­ser­v­a­tive syn­a­gogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He came to this pul­pit in 2001 from Jew­ish The­o­log­i­calSem­i­nary, where he served as assis­tant dean of the Rab­bini­cal School.

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