Ubiñas: Esteemed Conservative rabbi expelled after performing his stepdaughter's marriage

Conservative Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom was recently expelled from the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s rabbis’ association, for performing interfaith weddings on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

These days, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom can hardly believe he hesitated to officiate at his stepdaughter's marriage.

But in 2014, he was still on the fence about the Conservative movement's prohibition against rabbis performing interfaith marriages. As increasingly uncomfortable as it was to turn away young people who'd been part of his congregation for years, he was still struggling with where he ultimately stood on the mandate.

So when his stepdaughter and her fiance approached him, his first instinct was to do what he'd done when others asked him: send them to a Reform colleague.

Instead, he told them he'd think about it. Then he agreed to perform their marriage. Then he performed a few more. And then he wrote about what he'd been wrestling with.

And then the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative Rabbis, expelled him.

As the distinguished and longtime rabbi of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, it would be natural for the now-retired Rosenbloom, 72, to feel shunned by an organization he still clearly reveres.

But when I visited Rosenbloom at his home, what I found was a man at peace.

There was a moment while speaking with Rabbi Rosenbloom when I wished I could hook him up to a microphone and amplify his words for the world to hear.

His explanation, while deeply personal, also struck me as profoundly universal. Many Jews fear that interfaith marriages threaten their future, much like the fear so many have these days that their futures are at risk from "others."

"To many, intermarriage is a symptom of ultimate assimilation which will destroy the future of the Jewish people," Rosenbloom said. "I have that same concern. But my approach is different, and begins with the fact that intermarriage is a reality. Pushing them away will only seal our fate and make Judaism irrelevant to their lives. It is openness and change through adopting from the surrounding civilizations that has enabled Judaism to endure, not walling ourselves off and trying to be impervious to change."

Replace Judaism with America - American democracy, even - and you'll understand why I not only wished everyone could hear his words, but that we'd all heed them.

When I reached out to the Rabbinical Assembly they referred me to a spokesperson, who did not respond in time for this column. But earlier this month its executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that while the movement is constantly discussing how to approach the growing number of interfaith marriages, the movement mandates the ban.

For Rosenbloom, the time is now, especially because interfaith couples are welcomed back into Conservative congregations after the weddings that the rabbis aren't supposed to officiate or attend, (but often do).

"But those we push away on Saturday night are not so ready to come back on Sunday morning," Rosenbloom wrote in a recent op-ed.

So he'll be performing more interfaith weddings.

Rosenbloom is a new grandfather who, surrounded by his 9-month old granddaughter's toys, clearly relishes the role. You wouldn't peg him as a rebel, but what he did certainly characterizes him as one in my book, even if he no longer needs the Rabbinical Assembly, which younger rabbis rely for placement in congregations.

For his daughter, Stephanie Fox, having her wedding officiated by a rabbi - especially one who happened to be her stepfather - only strengthened her new family's connection with Adath Jeshurun, which the family attends regularly.

"I think it's a shame," Fox said of the Rabbinical Assembly's decision. "I guess looking at it from their perspective in terms of tradition and history, I can see where they might have a problem. But I just think it's almost 2017, and if we truly want to be progressive and welcoming and accepting, it's time that interfaith marriage be embraced rather than pushed away."

Recently, Rosenbloom got a call from a friend and former congregant who had seen one of the articles in the Jewish press on his expulsion and recalled a two-part sermon on intermarriages he gave on Rosh Hashanah in 1980.

On the first day, he spoke about the sociological phenomenon of intermarriage and what it meant for the future of the Jewish people. On the second, he talked about how parents should respond to a child's decision to intermarry.

At the end, he quoted a teaching attributed to Baal Shem Tov, considered to be the founder of the Hasidic movement:

"A person comes to him and recounts how his child has strayed from the path of Jewish living. What should I do? the disciple asks the rabbi. Baal Shem Tov responds, 'Do you love your child?' 'Yes, of course,' responds the disciple. To which the Baal Shem Tov responds 'Love him/her more.'"

Love him more.

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