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Two Non-Jews, One Jewish Marriage

Rabbi Block’s open-door wedding policy

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Rabbi Kenneth Block.(Rabbi on the Go)

Last month, the Washington Post reported on a Jewish wedding, complete with huppah, ketubah, and rabbi, in which neither bride nor groom was Jewish. The officiant was Rabbi Kenneth Block, and quick Googling revealed that this “Rabbi on the Go” is on a mission: to show and to demonstrate that (to quote from his Website) “there is no ‘right way’ to have or do a wedding or commitment ceremony. It can take any form you wish.”

Around the Thanksgiving table, the article provoked quite a bit of discussion. Was this, well, kosher? Should non-Jewish couples be entitled to partake of Jewish traditions and even Jewish marriage? (Is this at least better than interfaith marriages? Some thought so.) A few days ago, I chatted with Rabbi Block to find out where he is coming from. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Tell me the story of your career.
I graduated from Hebrew Union College in 1974 and attended Boston College four years prior. I had a small congregation in Maryland and was a chaplain with Veterans Affairs part-time. I left the congregation, and my hours increased with the V.A., and there was also a small group, which started at 15 or 20 families, and is now at 105 or 110, a congregation with its own building. I had enough experiences saying no to interfaith couples: the standard rabbinic answer. And as I moved away and started working with my group and listening to other people, I began realizing that the rabbinic position doesn’t work. By not officiating, you weren’t getting people to join a temple. These are people who would have stayed being turned away.

Why would I want to participate in something leading to the lessening of the number of people involved, the weakening of the religion? Wouldn’t I want to just do the obvious and bring people in? What harm is there if I officiate with two non-Jews, a Jew and a non-Jew? No one has ever pointed out to me harm. All I’ve ever had thrown back to me is, “You can’t do that, it’s not allowed.” But we don’t have a pope or policemen. Jewish law is “the way.” It doesn’t mean law in the sense of speeding or robbery. The question is, what is “the way” of the past? And Judaism has lots of pasts. Moses had two wives: One was Jewish and one was not, one was black and one was white. Moses is every other example. His father-in-law was a Midianite priest! What could be a better interpretation?

Temple membership is going down, affiliation is going down, but what is going up is they want a spiritual connection, they believe it can come through Judaism. They don’t want the institution, the bureaucratic system. And that’s perfectly within the concept of Judaism. The rabbi is a teacher, not a policeman.

Are you ordained and licensed to perform these marriages, religiously and civilly?
I am authorized by the commonwealth of Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, as an agent of the state. I don’t think anyone has had a problem at a Reform congregation.

The wedding mentioned in the Post had two non-Jews. Is theirs a Jewish wedding?
Yes. Since we don’t have a pope, we don’t have laws—what we have are traditions, customs, and ceremonies. Going back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob having many wives, these ways of uniting with God.

Would you marry somebody who was already married to someone else?
No. It’s not legal. It’s like I wouldn’t sell marijuana, it’s not legal. Jut like I do marriages in the District between same-gender, because it is legal there.

One Talmudic thought I had is that marrying two non-Jews could be seen as violating the injunction against evangelizing outside the faith. How do you respond to that?
That’s a neat question. That rule developed out of self-defense. If you look back, King David forced people to convert; but because of the Middle Ages, the pogroms, what the church did, the rabbis developed the attitude about not converting. But there is nothing in the religion itself that prohibits being an evangelist.

So, do you consider yourself an evangelist?
Yes. Yes I do. I just choose a message of being accepting and sharing and showing what a unique experience of God you can have through Judaism. And how can you sell something without experiencing it? I am an evangelist for Judaism, for the concept that my house of prayer will be a house of prayer for all people.

The metaphor I use is a train. They opened a Chabad house—who’dve thought Bel Air, Md., would have a Chabad house! I’ve discussed this with one of them. I’m in the caboose. He’s somewhere near the engine. But we’re on the Jewish train. His hope is that the people in my car will move up and go to his. My hope is: come on the train.

If you have 10 cars on a train and get rid of the 10th car, then the ninth car becomes the last car. If they’re not on the Jewish train, then they’re not going to move up the cars. We need every single car. I have decided my place is the last car on the train.

Jewish Wedding Traditions Adopted by Non-Jewish Couple [WP]

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Geoff M says:

Wait, what? We don’t have laws? Is this guy serious? Of course Judaism has laws, and it the interpretation of laws that varies. How did you not challenge him on this?

Not Michael says:

I once knew a couple in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where both husband and wife were non-Jews, but they were quite philosemitic and most of their friends and professional colleagues were Jewish. (One was a lawyer, the other a psychiatrist.)

They adopted a little girl from China or Korea and decided to raise her Jewish. It always made me scratch my head and wonder.

Bill Pearlman says:

seems a little strange

What does he mean that there are no laws in Judaism? Has he ever read The Book? Ie: Torah? There are 613 laws, and that, of course, is just the beginning. Judaism is very clear that non-Jews have seven overarching categories of law, called the Noahide Commandments, that they are responsible for keeping. Non-Jews have their own rituals and celebrations.

Judaism is not a cute “style” that folks can buy off the rack and toss on for weddings and other occasions if they happen to feel like it. . . and then take off and hang back up when they get tired of it.

This so called Rabbi is supposed know that, if he wants to change the law there are appropriate ways of doing so. They involve discussion with other qualified Rabbis. They involve rulings in Bet Dins, and back and forth argumentation between highly educated individuals. Despite his smicha from the Reform Seminary, he sounds oblivious to Jewish law, custom and tradition.

If he is so concerned about bringing people in to Judaism, he should remember that there has to be some Judaism left to bring those people to. What he is doing is simply destroying Judaism, and making it a laughing stock besides.

I had to laugh when I read your story about the Jewish rabbi marrying two non-Jews…taking the NYC subway ad from the 1960s, “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Enjoy Levy’s Rye Bread” to its logical conclusions…

If this had happened in Israel (believe it or not there are plenty of zany things that ORTHODOX rabbis do as well*)- the story would have starred in Chelm-on-the-Med© Online (http://www.chelm-on-the-med) – a unique news website that liberates the most wild and whacky stories hidden in the Hebrew press (some Israelis sighed with relief), and sharing them with the world.

“Ours” – worth a good chuckle – include a Chief Rabbi who issued a ‘never on Sunday’ warning that one should not take divorce proceedings initiated on the first day of the Israeli work week seriously, as the claimants were probably just overworked from a hectic Sabbath, and another orthodox rabbi who doesn’t ride on the Sabbath who decided the best way to serve the needs of two congregations on opposite sides of town was to don a pair of rollerblades. (Key in keywords “rabbi” or “haredi” or “mikvah” or “religious court” on the Chelm search function on the homepage for more laughs if you don’t believe me.)

esthermiriam says:

A Jewish wedding w/o Jews… Reading the WashPost article gave me cold chills — and not the good kind.

Jewish custom and ritual as a kind of decoration, under the guidance of a rabbi who seems to have missed the core part of the wedding ritual about “sanctified to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel,” is not a compliment to Judaism: the couple may have (been led to) think they were acting in good faith, but theirs is a parodic, patronizing effort that diminishes what it claims to honor.

Wow. This guy, like all of Reform, is a total fraud. No laws? What does he think the Torah/Talmud/Shulchan Aruch are? And what the heck do they teach you at Hebrew Union College that you can spew such garbage?!?!?!?!

Rabbi Block, what about Devarim 7:3-4? If you consider yourself a rabbi, how can you sanction an outright violation of a Torah mitzvah? Do you make brachot over ham sandwhiches on Yom Kippur too? You can certainly officiate at secular wedding ceremonies of two non-Jews as an authority approved by the state, but to do so with Jewish ritual, Jewish symbolism, Jewish liturgy is a mockery of Judaism, from which the honorific “Rabbi” is derived, perhaps even chillul Hashem.

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Two Non-Jews, One Jewish Marriage

Rabbi Block’s open-door wedding policy

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