The change made by Liberal Judaism in regards to mixed faith weddings this week is not only right it is, in my view, long overdue. Indeed, among both our supporters and critics, many thought this was already the case.
I was delighted to propose the successful resolution, passed by the Liberal Conference of Rabbis and Cantors (CoLRaC), that marriage blessings where a Jew is partnered with a person who does not identify as Jewish can now take place under a chuppah.
This new practise – which will take place at the rabbi’s discretion and where the couple intend to maintain a Jewish home – reflects the reality that the institution of marriage and the symbol of the chuppah itself has changed over time.
The original meaning of the word and purpose of chuppah are unclear but, before it came to refer to a wedding ceremony in general, it meant a canopy – either under which a bride was escorted to her marital home or under which a groom received the bride into their new home.
A modern chuppah is usually today made of beautiful fabric and supported by four firm poles and it is under its confines that the marriage ceremony takes place.
As one of a number of beautifying symbols of a Jewish marriage, the chuppah is frequently understood as representing the Jewish home which the couple concerned are responsible for creating.
Jewish homes are those places where Jewish values are lived out, where the Jewish way of life is manifested, where Jewish ceremonies and rituals take place and where Jewish families are moulded.
It is the pastoral experience of Liberal rabbis that all of this may happen in the homes where a Jew is partnered with a person who does not identify as Jewish, and, where the couple indicates it will, it would be illogical and possibly counter-productive to deny the request for a chuppah.
Since its inception – here in the United Kingdom in 1902 and in early nineteenth century Germany – Liberal Judaism has sought to increase Jewish commitment, belief and practice. It has sought to do so by offering Jews –and others, who, for example, by partnership with a Jew – a genuine welcome into Liberal Jewish communities, synagogues, schools and youth movements.
In its history Liberal Judaism has welcomed on an equal basis children of Jewish fathers (when all other sectors of the Jewish community demanded maternal proof), Jews who had distanced themselves or been distanced from the community, Jewish who identified as lesbian and gay and more recently trans, and, of course, people who had no previous identification with Judaism but were seeking a spiritual way of life.
It goes without saying, but let it be repeated, that Liberal Judaism affirms the Talmudic principle, given in the name of the 3rd century Babylonian scholar Samuel, dina malchuta dina: the law of the land is the law. The current Marriage Law of England and Wales only permits rabbis and synagogue marriage secretaries to ‘officiate’ where both bride and groom ‘profess’ the Jewish faith. All other couples, including a Jew partnered with a person who does not identify as Jewish must undergo a civil ceremony in order to be legally married. The wedding blessing under the chuppah would follow that.
Liberal Judaism prides itself on responding within a Jewish context to the needs and desires of an increasing diverse Jewish community, practicing its Judaism in a modern environment.
This decision on chuppah is yet another example of Liberal Judaism’s continuing purpose: to strengthen Jewish life by bringing new meaning to ancient traditions.
Judaism comes in many shapes and sizes but the destiny of Judaism was never to be merely a tribal faith; it raison d’etre was to bring the message of ‘one humanity under one God’ to the peoples of the world.