Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding: A Watershed Jewish Moment

It's been almost a month since the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding that rocked the Jewish world. The more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that as rampant as intermarriage is in America, the wedding represents a watershed moment for Judaism (and its demise) in non-Orthodox America.
Historically, while intermarriage has grown increasingly acceptable, it used to be at least "taboo." It was something to be, if not ashamed of, at least upset about. Parents made an attempt to convert the future spouse, if, for no other reason, sentimentality.
Yet, the picture of the Clinton wedding tells precisely the opposite story. It revels in the intermarriage. It's a celebration of the merge of cultures. At one time, a Jewish man marrying a gentile woman would have hid his Jewisness at the ceremony: no kippah, no tallit, no chupah, and certainly no ketubah. But this wedding demonstrates powerfully that this is no longer the case. Jews have gone from mourning marrying out to reveling in it as a celebration of a merger of different faiths, values and cultures. Intermarriage is the ultimate American expression: two people, coming from rich traditions, bringing their own heritage to a new family dynamic.
When I mentioned this to Rena, she noted that this phenomenon goes back to the hit movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It was a really funny movie, but set precisely this tone. Who was the villain in the movie? The father who opposed his daughter marrying someone not from the Greek community. But he wasn't just depicted as old-fashioned. He was a fool - someone who believed that you could cure any ailment with Windex.
That's us today - the Orthodox who continue to reject the richness of American diversity - at least for ourselves. We're the idiotic parents who spray Windex on everything.
And, as I feared, the cards are beginning to fall even among the Conservative rabbinic leadership, which is supposed to lead the charge against intermarriage.
Rabbi Jason Miller, of Michigan, recently wrote an op-ed piece in the Forward calling for the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly to change its rules to allow its members to attend intermarriages. This comes following JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen's attendance at, you guessed it, the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding. Rabbi Miller writes,
The R.A. isn’t about to allow its members to officiate at interfaith weddings. But the attendance ban, which is listed in the code of conduct alongside the officiation ban, is a different issue. This policy forces rabbis to choose between violating a rule and slighting loved ones. The policy, enforced or not, adds pain to an already difficult situation for families. It sends a message that Judaism puts tribalism before dignity and respect.
I wonder: Is the R.A.'s ban on intermarriage on such firm ground? Is it really that difficult to see the Conservative movement finding a reason to allow intermarriages (in situations where the spouse agrees to raise the children in a Jewish environment, of course), in the interests of putting "dignity and respect" above "tribalism"?
Rabbi Miller doesn't want to be the evil father who uses Windex for everything. He wants to be the cool kid. But that "tribalism" has preserved the Jewish community in the Diaspora for 2,000 years.
And abandoning it will not help that. It will only make things worse.


  1. Reuven:

    Just some points of clarification. 1) I have always wanted to be the "cool kid," thank you very much. 2) I use Windex for just about everything. It works. You should try it.

    In all seriousness, I hope you can see the difference between a rabbi officiating at the marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew versus attending such a wedding.

    I don't need to tell you that halachically, an interfaith wedding is not kidushin. So, sitting in the audience during this non-kidushin wedding shouldn't be halachically objectionable to you. Correct? Isn't this more of a social issue than Halacha? Perhaps you could argue it's an issue of marit ayin and I'd agree with you. At a certain point (and each rabbi has to decide what that point is), shlom bayit has to play a factor.

    You were a rabbi at a Young Israel congregation in Metro Detroit. I'm sure there were times when shlom bayit factored into your decision making (for yourself or when you had to psak for your balei batim).

    Remember Reuven, EVERY Jew can look over their right shoulder at another Jew criticizing their actions and views. You're a centrist Orthodox rabbi. Do you really think your fellow Yiddin to the right of you aren't ashamed of some of the things you do (or don't do)? What you consider to be a chumra (because you're Orthodox), the Haredim would consider to be a kula. I'd like to believe that deep down you recognize this.

    Shanah Tovah.

  2. It seems to me that you have missed the point of the post entirely. You are talking about a situation which undermines the entire halachic system. Of course there is a difference between attending an intermarriage and conducting an intermarriage. However, attending the intermarriage as a Rabbi condones the act. Shalom Bayit often plays a role in halachic decisions. However, when you became a Rabbi, that status made you a representative and protector of Judaism. The analogy of "trying to be the cool kid" implies compromising one's own ethics to fit in with the crowd. What about standing up for your own beliefs and setting an example? Granted it isn't always easy or popular, but in this case it's essential. That's what you chose when you became a Rabbi.
    Three more points:
    1. In your essay, you referred to your friend's non-Jewish partner as his "bashert", which means she was his destined soul mate. I highly doubt that God would destine him to marry a non-Jew, as lovely as she may be.
    2. You end your essay saying that the policy sends a message that "Judaism puts tribalism before dignity and respect." What about the dignity and respect of Torah and the Jewish People?
    3. After reading your essay, I am still confused as to one point - if the policy did not affect your personal actions, i.e. you still attended an intermarriage despite the policy, then why do you care so much that it is in place and why call for its revocation?

    Ktivah v'chatimah tovah,
    Rena Spolter

  3. Here are some follow up thoughts on the matter:


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