It its series “Rabbi Roundtable”, The Forward recently asked twenty-two rabbis representing the full scope of Jewish life, “Is intermarriage a problem? Or an opportunity?” In having read all of the opinions shared, I revisited some of my own thoughts about intermarriage in Judaism and wanted to share my own thoughts, and my own journey, with you.
When I was searching for my next rabbinic position in 2011, Kirk and I had been dating for about a year and a half. His own interest in Judaism predated our relationship, but his official journey to conversion began after we had been together for just over a year. As I became closer to matching with a congregation, our friend and my colleague Rabbi Michael Latz, with whom Kirk was working towards conversion, encouraged us to complete Kirk’s conversion to Judaism before I began at my new congregation. I challenged Michael and asked him, “Don’t you think it might be an asset for a rabbi to be in an interfaith relationship? Won’t I understand more of about the members of my congregation?” While Rabbi Latz sees himself as among the most progressive in our movement, yet he couldn’t rationalize a situation in which being an intermarried rabbi would be an asset. Ultimately, Kirk did complete conversion before we came to Bet Ha’am, not out of concern for the rabbi being in an interfaith relationship, but rather because it was important to Kirk that he complete conversion with the rabbi with whom he’d began the process.
Still, I think that the path that Kirk and I have walked together, navigating his journey to Judaism and our extended family’s variety of faiths, has served my rabbinate well and has helped me to relate to many families in our Bet Ha’am community. When Kirk and I were first dating, we were visiting his parents around Easter and his mother fretted over whether or not to give me an Easter basket. Would I be offended if she gave me one? Would I be offended if she didn’t? Kirk settled it. “He likes chocolate. Maybe go with a chocolate bunny and not a chocolate cross.”
In the years that Kirk and I have been together, we have personally navigated celebration of Christmas, how to teach Zak, our son, about the holidays that some of his grandparents celebrate, and how to appreciate the variety and diversity of religious tradition in our extended family. These challenges have, in fact, been opportunities for me to deepen my understanding of Judaism and how to guide others facing similar challenges. Kirk brings to the table a rich appreciate for ritual and relationship with God and I couldn’t imagine raising our child without his guidance and encouragement in those areas. My Jewish life is richer because of Kirk’s background and personal Jewish practice. I would venture to say that members of the Jewish community who have brought those who are not Jewish into the fold of our people, whether or not through formal conversion, have enriched Jewish life. For me, any challenge is an opportunity for growth and intermarriage is no different.
Rabbi Jared H. Saks
Congregation Bet Ha’am