Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Into the Jewish People - by James Ponet

Tablet Magazine - A New Read on Jewish Life
Rabbi James Ponet, the Yale Hillel rabbi who officiated at the wedding ceremony of Chelsea Clinton, describes his personal religious journey and explores why he now officiates at interfaith weddings.  He concludes:

My problem with intermarriage, I now realize, is based on legitimate fears about the survival of our people, period. But what if our people is in fact evolving into new forms of identity and observance? What if we are indeed generating new models of Jewish commitment and engagement with the world? What if Rabbi Donniel Hartman is right when he observes in his book The Boundaries of Judaism that “when the intermarriage act is in fact only … an expression of one’s choice as to partner and not of one’s personal religious and collective identity, the classification of intolerability is not warranted” and that “modernity and the choices it has engendered have created complex realities which we must take into account in our boundary policies”?

I submit that it is time for Judaism to formulate a thoughtful, traditionally connected ceremony through which a Jew may enter into marriage with a non-Jew, a prescribed way or ways by which a rabbi may officiate or co-officiate at such a wedding. I believe we are the ever-evolving people and that there will always be among us those who are rigorously attached to ancient forms. I believe it is critical that there will also always be among us those who vigorously dream and search for new vessels into which to decant the sam chayyim, the living elixir of Torah. If we only look backward as we move into the future, we will surely stumble. We need scouts, envoys, chalutzim, pioneers to blaze new ways into the ancient-newness of Judaism.

Perhaps for example we might note that there may be stages of entrance into and levels of engagement with the Jewish people, which might find liturgical expression both in the wedding ceremony and at other lifecycle events going forward. After all, becoming a Jew, like becoming a person, takes a lifetime. And just as we want to be able to invite our ancestors to the weddings and brisses and bat mitvahs of the present generation, we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren to feel drawn to the love and joy of being connected to the Jewish people. We want them to know that we have not forgotten that the Jewish people is “a covenant people, a light of nations.”

Lots to think about and ponder.  I still marvel at the world I find myself in.  It is a world that is nonplussed that the former president of the United States is hoisted in the air for the hora, albeit by the Secret Service.  For now sermons to write.

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