For the week ending 13 September 2008 / 13 Elul 5768

To Wed or not to Wed?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

I'd like to discuss a Jewish marriage with you. My husband and I were married this year in a traditional wedding ceremony. He is Jewish, I am not. However we would like to remarry in a traditional Jewish ceremony. I've been doing some research and have learned about the ketubah, chuppah, ring, breaking of glass. I am aware of the position of other groups in Judaism on this question, but what I’d like to know is if according to Orthodoxy there is anything special we/I have to do to have a Jewish ceremony & be legally married in the Jewish laws? We also want our children to have bar and bat mitzvas.

Dear Anonymous,

I honor your interest in Judaism and your desire to sanctify your relationship according to Jewish Law.

However, as you are aware that you have addressed your question to Orthodoxy, I must inform you that Jewish law prohibits intermarriage. I don’t want to hurt you, but this means that according to Jewish law, not only can you not have a traditional wedding ceremony; you cannot be married to a Jew.

I do not wish to belittle the significance and value of your relationship, but since you seek the opinion of Jewish Law, I must answer accordingly.

To be "legally married in the Jewish laws" as you write, the non-Jewish person must convert through sincere acceptance of all the tenets and obligations of Judaism for Judaism's sake alone and not out of desire for the Jewish partner. Only after a valid, Jewishly-legal (Orthodox) conversion, may the person marry a Jew. (And even then, there might be restrictions, for example if the Jewish partner is the man and he's a kohen.)

Any other "conversion" is not effective according to Jewish law, and a marriage involving such a conversion is not binding according to Jewish law, nor would there be any need for Jewish legal divorce if the couple decides to separate. Any children from such a marriage where the woman is the non-Jewish partner would not be Jewish (not even "half-Jewish" — there's no such principle in Judaism), and therefore it would not be relevant for them to have a bar or bat mitzvah.

It is important to realize that this is not because Judaism has a negative attitude to non-Jews. Judaism loves and respects all good people and recognizes and celebrates their unique individuality, purpose, contribution and worth. But as far as perpetuating and preserving the unique Jewish identity and destiny through marriage and childbirth, G-d permits Jews to marry only Jews (which would include sincere converts according to Jewish law, as above).

I want to reiterate, that I in no way doubt, criticize or invalidate the sincerity of your feelings for each other or the depth of your relationship. And of course, you are free to make your own decision - everyone has free-will. But based on your question, I feel I must make you aware of Jewish law in this instance, the issues involved/at stake and the conscious or even subconscious intentions of those who might condone action against Jewish law in general, and in your case in particular.

Since you are both interested in incorporating Judaism into your lives, whatever you decide, I suggest you consult Orthodoxy as well so that you have a well-balanced view and will know exactly where you stand each step of the way.

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