“The Conservative movement is torn between two conflicting positive imperatives…”

“The Conservative movement is torn between two conflicting positive imperatives,” said Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee. “Given the reality of mixed marriage, it’s of enormous importance that mixed marrieds be considered as welcome, as included. … That said, the other imperative is that the best solution to mixed marriage remains conversion to Judaism. And for those who are not married, the imperative of that is inmarriage,” he said. “You’re torn between these two conflicting imperatives of upholding the values of endogamy and conversion on the one hand and welcome and inclusivity on the other hand. Those two things don’t coexist all that easily. … I think it’s a real challenge for the movement.”

According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, the intermarriage rate for Jews has risen from 46 percent in the early ’90s to 58 percent in 2013. The majority of those marriages are by Reform (50 percent) and unaffiliated (69 percent) Jews, in 2013, 27 percent of Conservative Jews were married to someone outside the fold, the survey said. Only 2 percent of Orthodox Jews marry non-Jews, the survey found.

In most streams of Judaism the issue of interfaith marriage is clear-cut. Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis are free to perform interfaith marriages, intermarried couples are welcomed and children with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers are considered to be Jewish. The Orthodox world rejects interfaith marriages outright. Conservative synagogues, on the other hand, occupy a gray area, where tolerance is balanced with tradition, and rabbis are left walking the tightrope of adhering to halacha while still trying to be welcoming to those who marry outside the fold.

Amy Sara Clark, “Middle Movement’s Conflicting Values Being Tested Anew”, The Jewish Week (24 February 2017), 13.