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 Home > Jewish Wedding Guide > Reform > Forbidden Marriages

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Forbidden Marriages According to Jewish Law
A Reform Perspective by Rivka C. Berman

 • Marrying a Non-Jew
 • Will a Rabbi Officiate a Mixed-Marriage?

 • Children of Intermarriage

Leviticus (20:11-21) fends for the health of the gene pool and the psyche by forbidding incestuous unions. Off limits pairs include relationships between mother and son, father and daughter, sister and brother, grandfather and granddaughter, grandmother and grandson, aunt and nephew. Though the verses see nothing out of place with a union between an uncle and his niece, American law does. An uncle may not marry the daughter of his brother or sister, but he may marry the daughter of his wife’s brother or sister.

Marrying a Non-Jew
Judaism celebrates a couple’s decision to marry as it promises new worlds, new explorations of Judaism, and holds the potential for continuing generations of Jews. When a Jew marries a non-Jew these hopes are called into question. Despite best intentions, a marriage between Jew and non-Jew does not usually result in an enthusiastically Jewish home.

Reform Judaism wants every Jew to feel welcome – no matter who they married. Rabbi Schindler, who served as president of the UAHC from 1973-96, said:

I believe that we must do everything possible to draw the non-Jewish spouse of mixed marriage into Jewish life…. If non-Jewish partners can be brought more actively into Jewish communal life, perhaps they themselves will initiate the process of conversion. At the very least, we will dramatically increase the probability that the children of such marriages will be reared as Jews.

Nor can we neglect to pay attention to the Jewish partners of such marriages. Frequently, they have felt the sting of rejection by the Jewish community, even by their own parents….We must remove the ‘not wanted’ signs from our hearts. We are opposed to intermarriage, but we cannot reject the intermarried.

These words began a revolution in the Reform approach to intermarriage. Outreach programs were born to introduce non-Jewish spouses to Jewish life. Beginning Judaism classes, variously titled “A Taste of Judaism” or “Judaism 101” have proliferated. Doors to conversion have been opened for non-Jewish spouses before and after the couple marries. New roles for non-Jews have been carved out in the synagogue to encourage their family’s participation in Jewish life.

A 1973 position statement on intermarriage produced by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s main rabbinic body, described several disadvantages of a mixed marriage:

• “It is the task of a rabbi to strengthen Judaism and the Jewish community. Mixed marriage tends to weaken these ties. It raises doubts about the couple’s will to remain a Jewish family or to assure that future offspring will be Jewish. Even if their children are circumcised, named in the synagogue, or some effort is made to raise them as Jews, this is still not as effective as raising children in a Jewish household in which both parties actively participate in Jewish ceremonies. Judaism is a religion of the home and the family, with emphasis upon the atmosphere of the home and upon the influence of extended family; therefore, it is important that there be a minimum of confusion between the couple and their in-laws about the Jewishness of the home.”

• “In times of prejudice and anti-Semitism, families with a mixed marriage will be subject to greater pressures and have fewer resources through which they can withstand such pressure.”

A mixed marriage is far from the optimal hope of the Jewish people. Judaism sees each person, Jew and non-Jew alike, as having a personal spiritual mission. To marry out of one’s own faith compromises the full expression of one’s own spiritual traditions.

Rabbi Officiating at a Mixed Marriage
Good intentions are behind a couple’s desire to have a rabbi’s participate in their marriage ceremony between Jew and non-Jew. They wish to honor their individual traditions, include all and avoid hurt feelings.

However, a Jewish ceremony is not a simple blessing, it creates a new entity – a married couple - in the eyes of Jewish law. Central to the ceremony is the statement Harei at mekudeshet li betaba'at zo kedat Mosheh veyisrael. Literally: "Behold you are consecrated unto me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel." This Hebrew nuptial formula, with its mention of Jewish law, is only of any use to those who are subject to these laws, Jews and not non-Jews.

Asking a rabbi to officiate at a mixed marriage ceremony creates a dilemma for the rabbi as a leader and role model for his or her congregation. A rabbi is supposed to support the viability of Judaism. To officiate at this ceremony is contrary to a rabbi’s role. Furthermore a rabbi, who officiates in a mixed ceremony, demonstrates to the congregation that intermarriage is not much of a concern.

Although refusing to officiate at a mixed marriage is the official position of the Central Conference of Aemerican Rabbis (CCAR), in practice there are rabbis who will perform these marriages. Some rabbis have changed the wording of the ceremony, so that he or she does not marry the couple, but blesses them instead. Others incorporate Jewish prayers into the ceremony, but refrain from breaking the glass or other Jewish marriage rituals.

There are rabbis who will co-officiate at a ceremony alongside pastors, priests and leaders of other faiths. However many rabbis will not. It is viewed as an attempt to combine Judaism with another faith and undermine each religion’s individual integrity.

Children of Intermarriage
According to traditional halacha, a child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew. A father’s religious identity is irrelevant. In 1983, the CCAR took a groundbreaking step in redefining the tradition to include a “child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent.” Accepting fathers as determining a child’s religion has been termed “patrilineal descent.”

A “presumption of Jewish descent” is fully realized when a child, any Jewish child and not just those of a mixed marriage, formally and publicly identifies exclusively with Judaism. Being born Jewish is not enough. Entering the covenant, receiving or choosing a Jewish name, celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah, a kabbalat Torah (confirmation), a Jewish wedding, studying Torah, and doing mitzvot are active ways to accept a Jewish identity. For offspring of a mixed marriage who are beyond the age of Jewish lifecycle events, a public declaration of Jewish identity or some other undertaking can be discussed with a rabbi.

Other streams of Judaism, namely Conservative and Orthodox Judaism, have not adopted this stance. A Jewish mother continues to be the sole determining factor for being born Jewish.

Reform Judaism encourages intermarried couples to raise their children as Jews. Children with one Jewish parent are welcomed, in most cases, to attend the synagogue’s religious school and receive the privileges of membership: bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies and the like.



 

READ MORE:
Dating Jewish
The Dowry (Nedunia)
Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make me a Match!
Forbidden Marriages
Engagement: Announcement and more
Marriage: A Jewish Perspective
Setting a Date for the Celebration of a Jewish Wedding
Double Wedding, Double the Fun?
Jewish Wedding A Second Time Around
Mikvah:The Ritual Bath
Aufruf – A Torah Honor for the Groom
Wedding Day Customs
The Ketubah: The Jewish Marriage Contract
The Reform Ketubah Text and Translation

Ketubah Designs and Designation
The Bedeking Ceremony: Veiling of the Bride
The Chuppah - the Wedding Canopy
Chuppah: Make Your Own Chuppah
The Processional and the Chuppah Ceremony
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part I: The "Erusin" - the Engagement

Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part II: The Ring and Its Significance
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part III: The Ketubah Reading
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part IV: Nesuin, the Marriage Ceremony
Jewish Wedding Ceremony Part V: Breaking the Glass

Yichud: Bride and Groom Retreat from Crowd for Alone-Time
Jewish Wedding Reception Customs and Traditions

Shana Rishona: The First Year of Marriage
Practical Tips: List of things to bring to your wedding


  




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