Letter: Jews by choice
Wednesday 30 September 1998
Sure, there are problems, outmarriage - and note I do not say "intermarriage" - being the major one. I speak only for one branch of Judaism - Reform - but our experience of huge numbers of people coming to educational courses on Jewish history, culture, language - and religion even - does not speak of a community on its way out. Our Movement's, Orthodoxy's and non-affiliated education seminars are bulging at the seams.
To return to the problem of attrition by outmarriage, however, it is here that we part company from our more traditional co-religionists.
Most committed Jewish families - and that includes the huge number whose only contact with their faith is chicken soup, barmitzvahs and Jewish New Year - fear their children marrying outside the faith. It is however an increasing fact of life. A community of 300,000 in a population of 60 million cannot stop it, and we have tried.
The answer is - as far as our Movement is concerned - to turn outmarriage into inmarriage. This is not - yet - a view shared by Orthodoxy, where conversion is all but impossible. Conversion, while not encouraged vigorously by Judaism, has a long tradition dating back to Ruth in the Bible and even before. Many other Jewish communities worldwide make it easier for people to join in than is the case in the UK.
We do all we can to retain our young Jews who find non-Jewish partners. Our rabbis train and teach, encouraging the Jewish partner often to return to a faith they had all but abandoned. There is no shame in keeping your child loyal to his or her traditions and welcoming the partner. The alternative route -wringing our hands while eschewing the only way of staunching the flow - leads nowhere but to a small echt-kosher rump, living in isolation in a few parts of London and Manchester. We will not settle for that.
At my own synagogue many of our most committed and spiritual worshippers are there by choice rather than accident of birth. Our future includes a recognition of the need to match our commitment to traditional values and practices to a dialogue with modernity.
Reform Synagogues of Great Britain
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