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Believe me, I completely understand why a Jewish community would want to do away with the ethnocentric notion of Jewish “chosenness”. In our pluralistic society, it is extremely offensive and detrimental for any group to claim superiority in any way over any other group on the basis of identity alone.
However, I have to suggest that the Conservative Movement’s growing acceptance of intermarriage is a dire mistake. In the past year, many prominent Conservative Rabbis have openly allowed officiating at intermarriage weddings in an attempt to cater to the growing attitude among millennials in America. According to the recent Pew findings, almost 50% of American Jews intermarry, and that number is by no means declining. As the fastest disappearing movement within Judaism, Conservative Jewry has to make a crucial, and possibly fatal choice, in terms of which side of this issue to support.
Since its inception, Conservative Judaism has tried to create a middle ground between the rigid world of Orthodoxy and the extremely plastic Reform movement. The waning numbers of Conservative Jews only attest to the fact that this balance is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Once we decide that Jewish law and theology is malleable, you might ask, what is stopping us from rationalizing away or modernizing all of it?
This crucial question is not only at the center of the Conservative movement, but is really the fundamental question for many contemporary Jews. Whether you like it or not, the truth is that the majority of Jews do not believe that the Torah is a book authored by God or that the rabbis of the Talmud were acting according to some divine imperative. So again, once the dogmatic notion that the Jews are chosen or metaphorically superior is erased, why not intermarry?
When asked about their connection to Judaism many individuals today may give an answer that is somewhat reducible to social justice. They love Judaism, they say, because of the good values that it teaches and imposes on the community: nothing less and nothing more.
While I agree that these values are at the core of Judaism, there is a fundamental danger in trying to reduce Judaism to these ideas. If one believes that Judaism is valuable because it teaches and conveys certain ideas about the world and how to treat fellow humans, then that person should also want Judaism to survive into the future. One may say that they will dispose of the archaic and ritualistic parts of Judaism, and only keep the moral and social principle, but this can only last for so long.
Once we begin to eradicate all the parts of Judaism that cannot be defended by ration or are related to social justice, we would never stop. The reason that Judaism is so effective at teaching these valuable ideas in terms of morality and social justice is that it is surrounded by full lifestyle that imposes a plethora of limitations on man’s desires.
Intermarriage is the quintessential and foundational case in this debate. Statistically, children who are raised in intermarried families intermarry themselves at an astounding 83% rate. Furthermore, these children are much less likely to participate in Jewish youth groups, camps, and schools than children born to two Jewish parents. It is simply impossible to want to maintain and uphold strong Jewish values come future generations, while at the same time intermarrying and quadrupling the chances that one’s grandchildren will not identify as Jewish.
At this point, I want to make it clear that I do not think that people who intermarry are immoral or even doing something inherently wrong. I do not think that Judaism or religion in general is necessary for every individual in the world. All I am saying is that if an individual or movement thinks that Judaism holds important messages, values, or truths for our world – then they should want it to continue into the future. To do this, one must hold on to certain ideas and rituals even if they make no logical sense in our world today. In short, the moral laws in Judaism are to secure our society today, while the rituals are to secure our society come the future.
The Conservative movement holds an important place in contemporary Judaism as they continuously try and synthesize modernity and Judaism in an undogmatic but still traditional way. Allowing intermarriage would be the beginning of the end not only for the Conservative movement, but for survival of this well-balanced form of Judaism.
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