By Bradley Shavit Artson, Arnold Eisen, Julie Schonfeld and Steven Wernick
(JTA) — Contemporary Jewish life is graced by extraordinary blessing: We are the heirs of a Torah of compassion and justice that has grown ever more supple and vibrant because of the dynamic nature of halachah (Jewish law) and the opportunity to observe mitzvot (commandments).
At the same time, modernity has removed barriers of discrimination and anti-Semitism, as well as opened doors to broader cultural participation and professions previously closed to Jews. We face the challenge of remaining true to the best of our ancient tradition while also enjoying the blessings of the best of modern civilization.
Conservative/Masorti Judaism understands our goal to be the integration of these two streams: the values and practices rooted in Torah leavened by contemporary insight and knowledge. While that challenge is real, it should not blind us to the blessings that democracy now makes possible. It is a blessing that growing numbers of non-Jews are willing to see us as colleagues, neighbors, friends and even family; it is miraculous that many turn to Judaism as part and parcel of their own cultural heritage as human beings.
Integrating those blessings, which sometimes conflict, requires all the courage, vision and heart that our Torah demands of us. Honoring and loving the actual people whose lives are in our care remains a high privilege and duty. This integration of responsibilities requires us to recognize that there will properly be a pluralism of incompatible responses from different sectors of the Jewish world. We salute all constructive contemporary forms of Jewish vitality that root themselves in a Jewish vision of human dignity, rigorous and respectful debate, and a Torah of chesed (lovingkindness), tzedek (justice) and emet (truth).
Within that cluster of Jewish communities, Conservative/Masorti Judaism has long taken a stand among those who continue to hear the commanding voice of the Divine reverberate in our sacred texts and who find joy and purpose in communal lives of covenantal loyalty. We hold to the time-honored practice of mitzvot as interpreted in an unbroken yet dynamic link from Moses to the present day. New insights and possibilities (when they strengthen covenantal living) are integrated within the structure of halachah. We see ourselves as faithful to traditional Judaism when we facilitate the organic growth of Torah and Jewish law to respond to a changing world, even while our primary response is to affirm and conserve traditional Jewish observance.
Judaism survives as a communal system, worldwide and across generations, by changing as little as possible as late as possible, modifying it only when necessary and only when there isn’t already a solution within the system of halachah. Honoring the integrity of both partners in a wedding, and for the sake of deepening faithful Jewish living, rabbinic officiation at weddings is and should remain restricted to a marriage between two Jews.
We also recognize the precious personal good of finding a loving partner and that all people can benefit from access to Jewish wisdom and community, so we call upon all Conservative/Masorti rabbis and congregations to foster deep and loving relationships with all couples, and to create a rabbinic relationship that is broader and deeper than simply the moment of officiation.
To achieve both the desired goal of rabbinic officiation and the goal of meaningful Torah observance, we invite the non-Jewish partner who seeks rabbinic officiation to share responsibility with the rabbi by studying Judaism and then linking their identity with the destiny of the Jewish people through conversion. Conservative/Masorti Judaism welcomes those who would convert to Judaism, and thousands of those converts each year elevate our communities with their faith, passion and resolve.
We take the path we do as an expression of our understanding of Torah and Judaism: an ancient, communal and dynamic covenant that seeks to shine the light of Torah across the ages, augmented in each generation by the new insights of its time. In our age, we are blessed that many gentiles love us and seek to share their lives with us. We love them, too. And we respond to them with open arms. For those who would join their identities and destinies with ours, we will move heaven and earth to share Jewish community, wisdom and observance, culminating in conversion to Judaism. Having chosen to join the covenant linking God and the Jewish people, those individuals bring their integrity as Jews to every moment of their lives, including their wedding ceremony.
For those who have not chosen (yet) to convert, and those who choose not to, we will move heaven and earth with equally open arms: honoring their identity as life partners of Jews, potentially someday as parents of covenantal Jews. We joyously include them and their families in the lives of our congregations and organizations, in our teaching of Torah, in our worship, in our social action. And we find ways to celebrate their marriage and love that honors their choice not to merge their identity with the people Israel by being present as pastors before the wedding, as rabbinic guides and companions after the wedding and as loving friends during the wedding period.
We hold out an open hand to those whose souls calls them to a life enriched with the kind of dynamic and deep Torah that characterizes Conservative/Masorti Judaism: fusing the writings and faith of the ages with the knowledge and moral advance of each new age. Together, we will keep our ancient covenant strong, supple and holy.
(Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson is dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University; Arnold Eisen, Ph.D., is chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Steven Wernick is executive vice-president and chief executive officer of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.)