RA Executive Council Receives Blue Ribbon Commission Report on Standards of Practice

Posted on: Wednesday January 24, 2018

Conservative rabbis uphold intermarriage officiation ban, call for reconsideration of attendance ban

The Rabbinical Assembly, receiving a report by its Blue Ribbon Commission, reaffirmed and further applied its standards on Conservative movement rabbinic officiation at intermarriages, on (re)marriage without a get (religious divorce) and on the determination of Jewish identity via matrilineal descent and via halakhic conversion. Meanwhile, the Commission referred the question of mere attendance at intermarriages (as opposed to officiation or participation) to its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, holding that the attendance ban remains a clear responsum of the Law Committee but as constructed as a standard had long fallen into disuse.

The Blue Ribbon Commission was established last March to study the history of the RA’s Standards of Rabbinic Practice (binding rules for all Conservative rabbis) and to clarify the process for passing, amending or overturning a standard. Elliot Dorff, the head of the RA’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), and Alan Silverstein, a past president of the RA, chaired the Commission. Its other members were: Rabbis Bradley Artson, Pamela Barmash, Debra Cantor, Elliot Cosgrove, Daniel Nevins, Marcelo Rittner, Peretz Rodman, Gerald Zelizer, RA CEO Julie Schonfeld and RA President Philip Scheim (both ex-officio). It was staffed by the RA’s Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg.

As the Conservative movement affirmed in a recent pastoral letter, we will spare no efforts to offer community and welcome to interfaith families joining with us to learn, grow and live. Nonetheless, the Blue Ribbon Commission upheld the ban on Conservative rabbis performing intermarriages. However, the Commission found the prohibition on Conservative rabbis simply attending intermarriages while remaining as a Law Committee legal position had long fallen into disuse as a binding standard of rabbinic practice, and referred the matter for consideration to the CJLS. The Commission clarified that the officiation ban also applied to same-sex interfaith weddings, in addition to opposite-sex ones.

Examining the standard on divorce and remarriage, the Commission recommended minor word changes with no halakhic significance, it said, to clear up linguistic ambiguities and acknowledge legal mechanisms used in a Jewish divorce for a same-sex couple.

Dealing with the third standard, the Commission agreed with its definition of Jewish identity as acquired through matrilineal descent or by halakhic conversion. However, it clarified that the original standard never did include  a requirement that previously circumcised men who were converting undergo hatafat dam brit (a symbolic form of ritual circumcision for the previously circumcised) even though hatafat dam brit remains the point of view of the Law Committee. Consequently, that version in the Code of Conduct must be corrected to reflect the original approved text. 

As part of its work, the Commission also made recommendations regarding the procedure for amending or annulling an existing standard. This aspect of the report remains under discussion by the Executive Council and further examination and consideration is anticipated.