Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

Intermarriage? Ha! Try Inter-milah

I have a confession.  I officiated an inter-milah. The bris was for an amazing family though. The father was Jewish but the mother was not.  And the craziest part, no one came after me.  I wasn’t barred from any rabbinical organizations and it doesn’t look like there will be any riots.  But in this interfaith work, we’re not all so lucky.

This article, printed in the JTA, tells the story of a Conservative rabbi who was ousted for performing intermarriage.  Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom was expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly for performing five interfaith weddings, with intent to do more.  The RA offered Rabbi Rosenbloom to remain a member of the organization if he agreed to stop officiating intermarriages.  He declined, stating: “We’re isolating ourselves from our congregants at precisely the time they need us and want us most. For many of these couples, once we say no to the wedding, it’s very hard for them to overcome that. The experience of rejection is far too great to even consider being part of the congregation.”

There were many interesting facets to this story.  This first is that the Rabbinical Assembly actually took a stance.  They stood up for what they believed in and said, ‘No, that’s a red line for us.’  And in all truth, I commend them for that.

Rabbi Rosenbloom’s position, along with much of the Conservative movement’s positions, are about validating a present reality.  It’s littered with halachic responsa that attempts to minimize sin by permitting problematic behavior.  It’s about keeping people where they are and not at all about moving people along a Jewish journey.

The second interesting thing to note about this story is that Rabbi Rosenbloom was the rabbi of my shul growing up.  I had a challenging relationship with him, to say the least.  He told my confirmation class that we were the worst in Adath Jeshurun history, and I’m pretty sure I was the main reason for that. You see I was a bit of a skate rat in my youth, and I believe all of this led to Rabbi Rosenbloom telling me not to become a rabbi when I expressed interest.  But in his defense, at the beginning of my rabbinic education, when I approached him for financial support to learn in Israel, he gave me money from his discretionary fund without batting an eyelash. But my rabbinic path quickly put us on the opposite sides of the spectrum, even before I received Orthodox smicha (ordination), and this most recent development is no different. Rabbi Rosenbloom is wrong.  Officiating intermarriages does not bring Jews closer to their tradition.  It only does one thing — it ensures that there are fewer Jews in the world.

Not to worry.  I have a solution.  My advice to all of the Conservative (and other) clergy out there that want to work with interfaith couples — be a mohel. I get to work with everyone. I can perform britot for Jews (obviously), non-Jews, families where the mother is Jewish and the father is not, and families where the father is Jewish and the mother is not.  And the latter can even be for families not doing the brit for conversion.  It’s controversial but permissible within the halachic parameters.  So it’s a win-win all around.  You get to work with everyone and make everyone feel welcome. But most importantly you get to do the exact opposite of officiating an intermarriage — you get to ensure the Jewish future by making more Jews.  Now, how can you say no to that?

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Safer HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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