The In­ter­mar­riage In­no­va­tor Ask­ing The Tough­est Ques­tions

Amichai Lau-Lavie

Forward Magazine - - Forward 50 -

Should a rabbi be per­mit­ted to marry a Jew and a non-Jew? This year, that ques­tion roiled the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment as it strug­gled to bal­ance its em­brace of moder­nity with the stric­tures of Jewish law and tra­di­tion. Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie put a face, and a pro­posal, to that chal­lenge.

Ever since he founded an ex­per­i­men­tal Jewish prayer com­mu­nity in Man­hat­tan in 2013, Lau-Lavie, 48, has served as a spir­i­tual leader of­ten asked to of­fi­ci­ate at in­ter­faith weddings. But once he was or­dained a Con­ser­va­tive rabbi in 2016, he was re­quired to say no. Un­sat­is­fied, he em­barked on a year­long re­search project to de­velop a frame­work within Jewish law to per­mit in­ter­mar­riage un­der cer­tain con­di­tions.

In his pro­posal, which he un­veiled in June and ti­tled “Joy,” Lau-Lavie said that he would ask prospec­tive cou­ples to devote at least six months be­fore the wed­ding to study Jewish val­ues and demon­strate a com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity. “What should make a dif­fer­ence is not what is in your blood or on your doc­u­ments,” he told the For­ward’s Jane Eis­ner. “It’s did you show up? Are you a part of this?”

Not sur­pris­ingly, th­ese ideas prompted a ro­bust di­a­logue on the For­ward’s pages and beyond. Around the same time, Con­gre­ga­tion B’nai Jeshu­run, an in­flu­en­tial Man­hat­tan syn­a­gogue with ties to the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment, con­cluded its own year­long re­view by de­cid­ing that its rab­bis could per­form in­ter­mar­riages if the cou­ple pledges to raise a Jewish fam­ily.

For Lau-Lavie, the con­se­quences have been both joy­ous and dif­fi­cult. He re­signed in Au­gust from the Rab­bini­cal As­sem­bly, which rep­re­sents Con­ser­va­tive rab­bis, know­ing that he would be asked to leave any­how. He re­cently told the For­ward that he is get­ting more re­quests to of­fi­ci­ate at weddings than ever be­fore, and about 60% are from in­ter­faith cou­ples. He plans to cre­ate pub­lic pro­grams for th­ese cou­ples in the next year.

Mean­while, the de­bate within the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment con­tin­ues, as its rab­bis try to rec­on­cile the fluid iden­ti­ties of con­tem­po­rary life with their com­mit­ment to main­tain­ing Jewish tra­di­tion. The deep and com­pli­cated ques­tions Lau-Lavie raised won’t be an­swered any­time soon.


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