Jewish Survey Sees Changing Attitudes Toward Interfaith
Many American rabbis have ambivalent attitudes toward interfaith marriages, according to a survey published by the Jewish Outreach Institute in September. JOI, which seeks to promote the inclusion of interfaith couples in the Jewish community, says in its survey that 59% of rabbis who perform interfaith marriages feel ambivalent about their practice, while 33% of rabbis who do not perform interfaith marriages also feel ambivalent about their stance.
Traditional Jewish law, the halachah, forbids Jews from marrying outside of their faith. As the survey notes, "The more traditional [Jewish] movements (Conservative and Orthodox) have banned any accommodation to interfaith couples seeking rabbinic help in getting married. The more liberal movements (Reform and Reconstructionist) have refrained from mandating any particular course of action among their members. Instead, they have permitted each rabbi to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience in the matter."
Surveys were sent to 100 Orthodox, 250 Conservative, 250 Reform, and 50 Reconstructionist rabbis. Of these, surveys were returned by 31 Orthodox, 130 Conservative, 125 Reform, 23 Reconstructionist rabbis; 16 rabbis did not identify themselves, for a total of 325 responses.
As expected, the traditions differ widely in their attitudes toward interfaith marriage. Of the Reform rabbis who responded, 36% will perform interfaith marriages, while 85% of the Reconstructionist rabbis will do so. The survey noted that most rabbis will only perform such marriages if certain conditions are met, such as a promise by the couple that they will raise their children as Jewish.
None of the Orthodox and Conservative respondents will perform interfaith marriages, but 11% of Orthodox rabbis and 32% of Conservative rabbis will refer interfaith couples "to other rabbis who will officiate at an intermarriage."
Overall, 43% of the surveyed rabbis say that they have become more accepting of interfaith marriages. As a result of the data on the rabbis' ambivalent attitudes toward their stances on this issue, JOI concludes that "there is a considerable soul-searching going on among the majority of the American rabbinate on the thorny issues of interfaith marriage."
According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the results of the survey are being questioned by officials of Reconstructionist and Orthodox groups. The survey claims to be "the first scientific survey of the American rabbinate" on the issue of interfaith marriage.
© 1997 Heather Elizabeth