On Marriage and Covenant: A Statement by JTS
The Jewish Theological Seminary affirms that the study of Torah, the sacred wisdom of our people, and the performance of mitzvot, Judaism’s sanctified pattern of religious practice, stand at the very core of Jewish identity. Torah and mitzvot have always been the foundation of the Jewish people’s covenant with God, guiding and sustaining us for three millennia in nearly every corner of the globe. They remain so today. Individuals from other backgrounds are warmly invited to join the covenant through conversion. There is also much that Jews can and must do to signal our respect and welcome for non-Jews in our community, whether or not they choose to become Jewish. What we must not do is to abandon the core beliefs and practices which are the very foundation of Jewish life.
For JTS and its partners in the Conservative Movement, the wedding ceremony is not only a celebration of a couple, but a commitment to the Jewish covenant. Its opening blessing thanks God for infusing our lives with holiness through the mitzvot, and its closing lines connect this marriage to the rebirth of the Jewish people in Jerusalem. Such statements can be said truly only if both partners identify as Jews.
Judaism was never meant to be practiced alone. Our faith emerged as a family journey, and it is in the concentric circles of family, community, and peoplehood that Jewish civilization has flourished. Throughout our history many individuals from other backgrounds have been welcomed into the Jewish people. That remains true, even in the greatly altered circumstances of life today. For those who are or wish to be members of our communities and of our families, the door is open to study and commit to join our ancient faith. We respect the choice of those who prefer not to become Jewish, understanding that their religious identity is no less significant than is our own.
We understand the arguments made for our clergy to officiate at interfaith weddings, knowing that they come from a place of genuine concern for bringing near individuals and families who are or might be estranged from the community and tradition we love. However, we believe—and the data confirm—that by far the most effective path toward building a Jewish future is to strengthen Jewish identity, beginning with the Jewish family. This is also the path which Torah and tradition command. JTS will in coming months expand our efforts to welcome all families, including those that are interfaith, to explore Judaism together with us. We will do all we can—along with our partners in the Conservative movement—to make the process of joining our age-old covenant attractive, accessible, and compelling. This is not the moment for Conservative Jews and their rabbis to abandon the profound and joyful practice of rituals and learning, work for social justice and encounter with the Divine, love of Torah and love of the Jewish people that continue to make this form of Jewish life a source of community and meaning for hundreds of thousands of Jews in North America and beyond. Let us join together in confidence about the wisdom of the path to which we are committed.