ARR 445-465


American Reform Responsa

146. Reform Judaism and Mixed Marriage

(Vol. XC, 1980, pp. 86-102)

QUESTION: May a Reform rabbi officiate at a marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew? What is the attitude of Reform Judaism generally to such a marriage?

ANSWER: Reform Judaism has been firmly opposed to mixed marriages. This was true in the last century and in this century. At its New York meeting in 1909, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed the following resolution: “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that mixed marriages are contrary to the tradition of the Jewish religion and should, therefore, be discouraged by the American rabbinate” (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 19, p. 170). This resolution was reaffirmed as part of a lengthy report in 1947 (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 57, p. 161). A considerably stronger resolution was passed in Atlanta in 1973. Its text reads as follows:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 “that mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged,” now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition. In order to keep open every channel to Judaism and K’lal Yisraelfor those who have already entered into mixed marriage, the CCAR calls upon its members:

1. to assist fully in educating children of such mixed marriage as Jews;

2. to provide the opportunity for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse; and

3. to encourage a creative and consistent cultivation of involvements in the Jewish community and the synagogue. (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 83, p. 97)

These resolutions clearly state the position of the Reform rabbinate in this matter. They reflect only the latest steps in the long struggle against mixed marriage which began in Biblical times and will now be traced as background for this resolution.

The Bible and Mixed Marriage

If we review the marriages of the Patriarchs, we can see that they went to considerable trouble to obtain wives within the family circle, presumably with individuals who would be friendly to the religious ideals which the Patriarchs held. It is clear that endogamous marriages were preferred to exogamous marriages: Abraham married his half-sister (Gen. 20:12); Isaac married Rebecca, the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother and niece, his double first cousin once removed (Gen. 24:5); Jacob married Leah and Rachel, who also were his first cousins, the daughters of his mother’s brother (Gen. 29:12); and Esau married Mahalat, the daughter of Ishmael, his uncle, also a first cousin (Gen. 28:9). It is quite clear that Abraham wished Isaac to marry someone not a Canaanite; later Esau understood that the daughters of Canaan would not please his father, Isaac. There were many instances which demonstrated that endogamous marriages were preferred for religious, family, and national reasons.

It would be appropriate to look at the Biblical legislation against mixed marriage more closely. A prohibition against marriage with Edomites and Egyptians appeared in Deuteronomy 23:8-9. Children of such unions were not to be admitted into the congregation until the third generation. The Bible reported no marriages with Edomites, but mentioned a number of marriages with Egyptians and two involved problems. Leviticus 24:10-11 dealt with the son of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian father who became a blasphemer. Solomon married many foreign wives for the purpose of political alliance, and among them was a daughter of Pharaoh (I Kings 3:1, 9:16, 11:1). The Book of Kings specifically warned against these foreign wives: “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods” (I Kings 11:2), which happened in the case of Solomon. Finally, there is a reference to Sheshan who married his daughter to Jarha, an Egyptian slave (I Chronicles 2:34). These three isolated incidents indicate that such marriages involved both male and female Egyptians.

Moabites and Ammonites were prohibited from being “admitted to the congregation of the Lord…even in the tenth generation” (Deut. 23:4). This statement contains no reference to mixed marriages. Negative references connected with mixed marriages to Ammonites were associated with Rehoboam, who was considered an evil king, and his mother was Ammonite (II Chronicles 12:13); in addition, Joash was slain by assassins whose mothers were Ammonite and Moabite (II Chronicles 24:26). While the Israelites were in the desert, they consorted with Moabite women and were led astray after their gods (Num. 25:1ff). In that same section we have a report of an Israelite who brought a Midianite woman into camp and was slain by a zealot. In both these instances the danger of other religions was decried. Ruth, a Moabite woman, demonstrated an opposing point of view, as she became the antecedent of David (Ruth 4:18).

The most thorough Biblical injunctions were directed against mixed marriage with the seven Canaanite nations; so the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deut. 7:1; also Exodus 34:11) were prohibited. “You shall not intermarry with them and not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons” (Deut. 7:3). A clear exception was made for a woman taken as prisoner of war (Deut. 21:11ff). After a period of delay, her captor could marry her; and the legislation made no comments of a religious nature, nor did it mention conversion. The Bible contains few references to proselytes as well (Is. 14:1; Esther 10:27).

When the Israelites entered Canaan, they intermarried with the local inhabitants and served other gods (Judges 3:6). The most striking example of such a mixed marriage was that of Samson and Delilah (Judges 14:1). She was a Philistine, and became responsible for his downfall. Later Solomon married many foreign women as part of royal alliances (I Kings 11:1ff), and they, too, led him astray in his old age. If we look at the subsequent record of the kings of Judah and Israel, we may be surprised at the paucity of mixed marriages. Among the nineteen kings of Israel who ruled for two hundred forty-one years, we find only Ahab, who was married to Jezebel (I Kings 16:31). Among the twenty kings of Judea who ruled for three hundred ninety-three years, we have only Jehoram (II Chronicles 21:6), and possibly Jehosaphat (II Chronicles 18:1), whose mother’s name may have been omitted because she was not an Israelite (Leopold Loew, “Eherechtliche Studien,” Gesammelte Schriften,vol. 3, pp. 138ff.

The Book of Proverbs contains a number of references against associating with loose or foreign women (Prov. 2:16-17, 5:3-20, 7:5-27). These are hortatory statements, not prohibitions. The prophet Malachi denounced such marriages (Mal. 2:11).

The clearest statements against mixed marriage appeared at the end of the Biblical period in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, when we find specific legislation prohibiting such marriages and demanding that Israelites separate themselves from foreign wives (Ezra 9:12, 10:10ff). Ezra scrutinized the marriages of the citizens of Jerusalem and neighboring villages. Considerable time was taken to complete this task against some opposition. A list of priests, Levites, and other Israelites who had intermarried and relinquished their foreign wives was provided (Ezra 10:18ff). Among those listed by Ezra as having engaged in intermarriage we find many among the High Priests’ families, thirteen among other priests, ten Levites, and eighty-six Judeans. The problem was not entirely solved, as the same difficulty arose again in the days of Nehemiah, who railed against those who had taken wives from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. Nehemiah did not advocate the dissolution of these marriages, although he removed the son of a High Priest who had entered such an alliance.

Each of these statements prohibiting mixed marriage was subjected to detailed Talmudic discussion, which provided a totally different interpretation. We should remember that all of these Biblical statements which dealt with mixed marriage or prohibited it, did not declare such a marriage invalid. That thought was foreign to the Bible and did not appear until a later period

Hasmonean and Hellenistic Period

Mixed marriages were discussed by the Book of Jubilees,which opposed them with the same vigor as Ezra and Nehemiah earlier. In it Abraham, and later Rebeccah, condemn marriages between Israelites and Canaanites (Jub. 20:4, 25:1). This theme also continued in later portions of the book (Jub. 22:16ff). Those who permitted their daughters to marry Gentiles were to die through stoning and the daughters through fire (Jub. 30:7ff). There could be no atonement for this sin, and the act was considered akin to presenting the child to Molech.

The Book of Maccabees reported mixed marriages as part of the general pattern of assimilation to the Hellenistic culture and condemned them (I Macc. 1:5, 11:18). The Prayer of Esther, an interpolation to the Biblical Esther, stressed her detestation “of the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien.” It was only necessity which brought her into the palace and into her position (Prayer of Esther, 115f). Charles considered this and other additions as dating from the first century of our era or earlier.

The same reluctance to engage in public intercourse or marriage with non-Jews was reflected in Josephus’ tale of Joseph, who loved a pagan actress (Josephus, Antiquities XII, 4.6); he was eventually tricked into marrying the Jewish daughter of his own brother. Further evidence of mixed marriage is provided by some of the papyri (Tcherikover, Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews, p. 70). Those who left Judaism and probably were motivated by the desire to marry Gentiles were also vigorously denounced in Egypt by Philo (MosesI, 147) and by the author of III Maccabees (7:10ff).

Talmudic Period

The vast literature of the Talmud contains few discussions concerning mixed marriage. Each of the Biblical statements cited in the earlier section provided a basis for further development. Every effort was made to create a protective wall against the outer pagan world and to shield Jews from contact with non-Jews. During the most restrictive periods, non-Jewish bread, wine, and oil were prohibited, and anything cooked by non-Jews could not be consumed by a Jew (Avoda Zara 35b-38a); virtually all contact with non-Jews was prohibited (Nid. 34a; Shab. 16b; Avoda Zara 36b). Naturally, this prohibition extended to casual sexual contact, and those who violated this injunction faced punishment without trial in the same fashion as imposed by Phinehas (Num. 25:7f; Avoda Zara 36b). If the parties involved went further and actually married, they were subject to whipping (Avoda Zara 36b; Kid. 68b; Yad, Isurei Bi-a 12.1).

Not all the Talmudic authorities and not all periods were as restrictive as those previously cited, and the exchange of food, as well as social intercourse, with non-Jews was allowed, but the basic wall of separation remained (Avoda Zara 57a, 58b, and 59a).

The most significant change made during this period was the declaration of invalidity of mixed marriages. This remained a dictum of Rabbinic literature (Mishna, Kid. 6b, 68b). This Talmudic tractate provides a long list of marriages which are null and void for a variety of reasons, as well as marriages which are valid but interdictive. Marriages which involve Gentiles are declared void as no Kiddushin is possible. This new view may have reflected an internal Jewish development, or it may have been influenced by Roman law (Boaz Cohen, Jewish and Roman Law,vol. I, pp. 339f).

The Biblical laws against intermarriage were reinterpreted sometimes more strictly, and on other occasions leniently. The Schools of Hillel and Shammai expanded the list of nations excluded from intermarriage beyond the seven peoples of Canaan, to include all pagans. Simeon ben Yochai agreed with this interpretation (Avoda Zara 36b).

A very strict view was taken by Rava, who felt that the prohibition against the seven nations continued after their conversion. This was one of the many attempts to maintain absolute family purity. It meant that intercourse or marriage with pagans was seen as prohibited from a biological or racial point of view; it was Zenut, and would be punished through whipping (Yev. 76a; Yad, Isurei Bi-a 12.1).

Part of the strong feeling against mixed marriages was reflected in a general emphasis on family purity. It existed from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah to the destruction of the Temple. The loss of records at that time and in the later revolt of Bar Kochba made such genealogical practices difficult. The long genealogical lists in Chronicles reflected the mood, as did the Mishnaic concern with Mamzerim and Netinim. Degrees of family purity were established for various Israelites (Kid. 71b, 75aff). Such laws of purity were especially enforced for the priesthood (Kid. 66a, 76a, 77a).

The Tannaitic interpretation of the prohibition against marrying Ammonites and Moabites was limited to males, and did not extend to females–provided that they converted to Judaism. They could marry a native Israelite in the third generation (M., Yev. 8.3; Yev. 76ff). Rabbi Simeon sought to apply the same principle to Egyptians. Another mishna simply declared that Ammonites could no longer be clearly identified since the days of Sennacherib (M., Yadayim 4.4; Ber. 28a; Yad, Isurei Bi-a 12.25).

Deuteronomy had prohibited Egyptians and Edomites until the third generation, and in this case there was no tradition to make marriages with females possible after conversion, while excluding males. Although Rabbi Simeon sought to establish such a practice (M., Yev. 8.3; Yev. 76b, 77b), his view was not accepted. If the Egyptians and Edomites converted, they were not permitted to marry born Jews until the third generation (Yad, Isurei Bi-a 12.19).

Others rejected these interpretations, so Rav Asi stated that the century-long mingling of pagans and Jews in Babylonia meant that many might be descendants of the ten lost tribes. One could marry them without conversion or any other step, as they were Jews of doubtful status (Yev. 16b, 17a).

Similarly, Sennacherib so mixed the nations that it was no longer possible to tell who belonged to the seven prohibited peoples. This meant that they were eligible for conversion and acceptance as Jews (M., Yadayim 4.4). Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Johanan simply stated that Gentiles outside of the Land of Israel were not idolaters, but blindly followed the habits of their fathers, so matters of belief were no longer at issue, nor was there a danger of being led astray by them (Avoda Zara 65a; Chulin 13b). The principle of population mixture could be applied to Egyptians and Edomites also, and there was some Talmudic discussion about this (M., Yadayim 4.4; Tos., Kid. 5.5; Yad, Isurei Bi-a 12.25).

In general, the Talmudic period expanded the prohibition against intermarriage so that it included all pagan peoples. Restrictions against specific nations were eliminated. This meant that they, as well as any other pagan, could convert to Judaism and thus become part of the Jewish people. If this occurred without ulterior motive, but simply because of an attraction to Judaism, then the convert–no matter what his national origin–was treated as any other Jew.

The Talmudic invalidation of all mixed marriages meant that an insurmountable wall had been erected between the Jewish and pagan communities. As marriage to a pagan was simply not recognized (“Einam tofesin”),that family unit did not exist as far as the Jewish community was concerned, and was effectively excluded from the community. The union had no Jewish legal status in the various Christian communities. It was then unlikely that such unions would occur with any degree of frequency.

The Middle Ages

The discussion of mixed marriage continued into the Gaonic period. The responsa of the Geonim show some incidence of mixed marriage. The prohibitions of the Talmudic period were extended with further discussion about their implications, but without substantial changes (B. Lewin, Otzar Hage-onim;Yev. 48b; Kid. 22b, 66b, 68b, etc.). In these instances both casual intercourse and long-term relationships with servants, concubines, or wives were contemplated. We should recall that interdictions toward mixed marriage were expressed with equal vigor by Christians; this occurred frequently during the Middle Ages. The statements generally followed the pattern of those of the Council of Orleans, adopted in 538 C.E., which declared:

Christianis quoque omnibus interdicimus, ne Judaeorum conjugiis misceantur: quod si fecerint, usque ad sequestrationem, quisquis ille est, communione pellatur. Item Christianis convivia interdicimus Judaeorum; in quibus si forte fuisse probantur, annuali excommunicationi pro hujusmodi contumacia subjacebunt. (Ephraim Feldman, “Intermarriage Historically Considered,” CCAR Yearbook, vol. 19, p. 300).

Similar prohibitions can be found throughout the Middle Ages (Toledo, 589; Rome, 793; etc.). Their constant renewal may point to a continuing series of mixed marriages, or it may indicate the Church’s desire to re-emphasize its hostility toward Jews and Judaism.

The highest rate of mixed marriage in the Middle Ages occurred in Spain, and we find reports of Gentile wives and concubines. Such relations were already reported in Visigoth Spain in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries. The Arian Christian Church did its best to halt them and frequently adopted statements of church councils, most to no avail (Georg Caro, Sozial und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden, vol. I, 85ff, II, 225ff). Various forms of illicit relationships between Jews and Christians are reported (Adret, Responsa I, 1187, IV, 257; Asher, Responsa VIII, 10; Baer, Die Juden im Christlichen Spanien, Urkunden und Regesten I, 171, 442). We should remember that there were stiff penalties for such illicit intercourse imposed by Christians; it could mean death by fire (Baer, Die Juden im Christlichen Spanien, Urkunden und Regesten II, 125, no. 72; Asher, Responsa VIII, 10; Baer, ibid., I, 456, 10371038, II, 63, p. 48). As such transgressions could endanger the entire Jewish community, they were dealt with severely by Jewish authorities (Zichron Yehuda, #80, 91). There is a considerable number of cases of adultery and intercourse between Gentiles and Jewish women (Adret, Responsa I, 1187, 1250, IV, 257; Asher, Responsa VIII, 10, XVIII, 13). We also find intercourse between master and slave, presumably non-Jewish (Adret, Responsa I, 7.10, 6.28, 12.05, IV, 3.14; Asher, Responsa XXXII, 13, 15). The medieval authorities, like their Talmudic predecessors, made some distinction between relationships with Gentiles in private and in public. Although they prohibited such relationships in either direction, they tended to be a little more lenient if it was between a Gentile and a Jewess, as the possible offspring of such a union would be Jewish (Rashba to Kid. 21a in Otzar Haposekim, p. 253). An anonymous Spanish rabbi commanded, “You should proclaim a ban with the sounding of a horn against anyone who would have intercourse with a Gentile woman. He that is found to have done so should be severely punished, since many children have been born to Jews by their non-Jewish maid-servants” (Zichron Yehuda, #91). Zakuta reported that some Jews killed during the persecution of 1391 were actually slain by their own Christian sons born to Christian women (Yochasin, ed. Filipowski, 225a). These conditions were endemic to Spanish Jewry and continued after the expulsion in the lands to which Jews fled (David ben Zimri, Responsa I, 48, 409, III, 443, 520). Moses of Coucy succeeded in getting a number of Spanish coreligionists in about 1236 to set aside their Christian or Moslem wives (Semag, Lo Ta-aseh 112). Loew has suggested that these marriages probably referred to concubines (Loew, op. cit., vol. III, p. 176). Isaac Aramah (Akedat Yitschak,#20, etc.) denounced irregular sexual unions in his sermons. He may have painted an excessively gloomy picture, but was certainly dealing with a real problem.

Among the Spanish authorities we should also mention Simon of Duran, who dealt with Jews who had more casual relationships with Gentile women (Radbaz, Responsa III, 158), and Solomon Adret, who reported relationships and concubinage with Moslem women (ResponsaV, #242). In Adret’s case it seems that this condition was quite frequent.

Medieval Egypt seems to have been an exception to the continuing problem of mixed marriage. S.D. Goitein (A Mediterranean Society, vol. II, pp. 2277f) reported no such marriages in the Geniza material; when they did occur, then one partner converted. Marriages between Karaites and Jews were mentioned, but none between Moslems and Jews.

Mixed marriages also occurred in Northern Europe although there are fewer data available (G. Caro, op. cit., I, 57, 70, 94, II, 224). There were also numerous instances of mixed marriage and sexual relationships with non-Jews during the Renaissance in Italy (Cecil Roth, The Jews and the Renaissance,pp. 45ff, 344ff).

The halachic literature of the Middle Ages which prohibited mixed marriage had to concern itself with the status of Moslems and Christians, who were not pagans. The pattern for a new attitude toward these monotheistic religions had already been set by R. Johanan (third century), who stated that Gentiles outside the Land of Israel were not to be considered as idolaters, but merely as people who followed the practices of their ancestors (Chul. 13b). Non-Jews could, therefore, be subdivided into three categories: (a) idol worshippers, (b) Gentiles outside of Israel, who simply continued the habits of their ancestors, and (c) Gentiles who observed the seven Noahide commandments, which included the prohibition of idol worship. Maimonides considered Christians and Moslems in the second of the above categories (Commentary on M., Avoda Zara 1.3; Zimmels, p. 208. On other occasions he went even further and categorized Christians and Moslems as Benei Noach. In that category they assisted the preparation for the messianic era (Yad, Hil. Melachim XI.4). The Tosafists of Northern Europe generally included Christians among the Benei Noach (Tos. to Avoda Zara 2a), but occasionally also saw them as simply following the practices of their ancestors (responsum by Gershom b. Judah Meor Hagola). Rashi had come to a similar conclusion, quoting the Geonim about the same time (Tos., Avoda Zara 2a, 57b). There were some variations in the outlook adopted toward Christians or Moslems, depending on the economic and social circumstances of the Jewish communities, as well as on the distinction between Ashkenazim and Sefardim.

This new and friendlier outlook towards Christians and Moslems had definite limits. Sometimes they were set to cover commercial transactions; others dealt with items which could be connected with the religious ritual of these religions (Tos. to Avoda Zara 57b; Yad, Hil. Ma-achalot Asurot XL.7; Ribash, Responsa, 255, 256; Moses Schick, Responsa, Yoreh De-a 15). The restrictions definitely prohibited both sexual relations with non-Jews and mixed marriage. Marriages of Jews with Christians or Moslems were clearly prohibited by Maimonides and others (Yad, Hil. Ishut 4.15; Hil. Isurei Bi-a 12.1; Hil. Melachim 8.7; Tur, Even Ha-ezer 16.1; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 16.1, 44.9). All the medieval codes contain the Talmudic prohibition against mixed marriage. The codes differed in their interpretation as to whether the prohibition represented a Biblical or Rabbinic ordinance (based on Yev. 76a). Maimonides considered it Biblical, while Jacob ben Asher in his Tur invalidated such marriages on Rabbinic grounds. The codes, like the Talmud, indicate definite punishment for intercourse with Christians or for mixed marriages. Thirty-nine lashes were prescribed for such intercourse, and if a man lived with a Gentile concubine, then the punishment was to be tripled (Shulchan Aruch, Even Haezer 16.1-2). In addition, the sinner was also to suffer divine punishment. Maimonides’ code mentioned the Talmudic teaching that the slayer of a Jew engaged in intercourse with a non-Jew was not liable for punishment (Yad, Sanh. 18.6).

Rabbi Simon of Duran reported that the government permitted the Jewish community to stone Jews who had illicit sexual relations with a non-Jewess (Responsa III, 158). The responsa not only reported a variety of forms of such relationships, but also tried to discover solutions. So, when unions between Jewish masters and Gentile slaves were reported (Zichron Yehuda, 91, p. 44a; Baer, Die Juden im Christlichen Spanien, Urkunden und Regesten, I, 164, #6), this was sometimes used to compel a master to liberate such a slave and convert her to Judaism. In those instances, she may have become his Jewish concubine (Adret, ResponsaI, 12.19).

In the 18th century, when social barriers between Jews and non-Jews decreased in England, intermarriage increased. Conversions to Judaism were rarely permitted, so such individuals usually married in the church. Intermarriage did not necessarily mean that the party wished to leave the Jewish community, but they had little choice, as they were inevitably expelled from the synagogue. Sometimes the children of such unions later converted to Judaism, and were brought back into the community. Although no numbers are provided, it seems to have been a noteworthy group (Albert M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of England, pp. 176ff). We find a similar phenomenon in France before and during the great French Revolution (Z. Szajkowski, “Marriage, Mixed Marriages and Conversions among French Jews During the Revolution of 1789,” Jews and the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830 and 1848,pp. 826ff). We can see from this essay that a goodly number of individuals who entered mixed marriages subsequently converted to Catholicism. All of these incidents have been cited to demonstrate the reality of the problem throughout the medieval period. The codes and legal literature attempted to halt the process, and generally succeeded, but the same incidence continued throughout the period.

Conversion for the Sake of Marriage

Many non-Jews joined the Jewish community in the Biblical and early post-Biblical periods. Formal conversion was first discussed by the Talmud, which required sincere motivation as a prerequisite. Sincere converts could, of course, marry Jews (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 4, 8-10). Those who converted for the sake of marriage or for the sake of wealth or power, or those who were prompted by greed, were not considered proper proselytes (Yev. 24b, 76a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 268.12), but the matter is not quite as clear cut as it might seem, since various Biblical texts were interpreted as referring to conversion for the sake of marriage. This is how the captive woman (Deut. 21:13) was seen (Kid. 68b; Yev. 48a). Furthermore, prohibition against marriage with the Ammonite or a Moabite was limited to males, while females were permitted to be married immediately after conversion (Yev. 76b). Another statement in the same tractate held that we do not question the motivation of converts if they joined us during persecution or if they could gain no improvement of status by doing so (Yev. 24b). Others went even further; thus Hillel converted a Gentile who sought to become a High Priest (Shab. 31a), while Rabbi Hiya converted a woman who wished to marry a Jew (Men. 44a).

In the Middle Ages a major distinction concerning converts developed between the Spanish authorities and the Franco-German rabbis (B.Z. Wacholder, “Proselytizing in the Classical Halakhah,” Historia Judaica, vol. 20, pp. 77ff). The former, represented chiefly by Alfasi and Maimonides, emphasized purity of purpose, and did not recognize any injunction to seek proselytes, a matter questioned by Simon ben Zemah of Duran (Entsiklopedia Talmudit VI, p. 426). Therefore, only those who came with noble and lofty purposes were to be accepted (Yad, Hil. Isurei Bi-a 13.14ff). The Tosafists, on the other hand, stressed the commandment of seeking converts and were willing to do so even if not all the technical requirements could be met (Tosafot to Kid. 62b; Git. 88b, 109b; Yev. 45bff; Or Zarua II, 26a, 99). There were a fair number of converts during the Tosafist period despite the Church injunctions against conversions. So, Wacholder found twenty-five converts in the responsa of the 12th and 13th centuries (B.Z. Wacholder, “Cases of Proselytizing in the Tosafist Responsa,” Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 51, pp. 288ff). A number of them were due to mixed marriages and were cited by R. Tam (Tos. to Ket. 3b; Yoma 82b) and Yehiel of Paris (Mordechai, San. 702; Toledot Adam VeChava23.4). In addition, there were numerous converts among slaves of Jews, which in some cases involved sexual unions and concubinage.

Social relationships, mixed marriage, and conversion remained a factor in Jewish life even in the most difficult periods of the Middle Ages. They led to conversions in both directions, with probably a larger number leaving Judaism than joining it. Any conversion could endanger the life of the convert, his family, and in some instances the entire Jewish community (Jacob ben Moses, Maharil, 86b; J.R. Rosenblum, Conversion to Judaism,pp. 74ff)

The issue of converting for marriage is discussed at length by Caro and Joshua Falk in their commentaries to the Tur (Yoreh De-a 268). Caro concludes that some proselytes who convert for the sake of marriage may, nevertheless, be sincere; all depended on the judgment of the court (“Hakol lefi re-ut beit din”). Falk concludes that such conversion would be accepted bedi-avad.There are, therefore, good grounds in tradition for accepting such converts.

Modern Times

Mixed marriages occurred with increasing frequency beginning in the latter part of the 18th century. This was true in all lands of Western Europe and in the United States. Szajkowski has shown that such marriages occurred among the obscure and the prominent during the French Revolution (Z. Szajkowski, op. cit., pp. 826ff). Mixed marriages increased rapidly during the succeeding century as a number of careful studies have indicated (E. Schnurmann, La population juive en Alsace, pp. 87ff; N. Samter, Judentaufen im Neunzehnten Jahrhundert,pp. 86ff).

The largest incidence of mixed marriage and conversion to Christianity, in many cases, was found in the German-speaking lands of Central Europe. This began in the generation after Moses Mendelssohn, and occurred in the fashionable circles of the upper class as well as among those who sought upward mobility. Much has been written about Rachel Varnhagen and her intellectual circle, but we should note that the phenomenon also existed among those further down the social ladder. Eastern European Jews who settled in Central Europe in large numbers throughout the 19th century were equally involved in this phenomenon. If we look at the entire l9th century, we shall find that approximately ten percent of the Jewish population was intermarried (A. Ruppin, The Jews in the Modern World,pp. 157ff). The percentage remained fairly stable throughout the century, but increased in the 20th century.

The lands of Eastern Europe and the Balkans were not entirely free from this problem, although the numbers involved were smaller (Ruppin, op. cit.,p. 159).

We should remember that opposition to mixed marriages remained equally strong on the part of Catholics and Protestants. Slowly some Protestants granted concessions if the children were raised as Christians. The Catholic Church insisted that such marriages were not valid and that remarriage was necessary after conversion of the non-Catholic partner, although some changes in this view began to occur in 1821 (Leopold Loew, “Eherechtliche Studien,” (Gesammelte Schriften,vol. 3, pp. 194ff). Slowly intermarriage was legalized in modern European states. This occurred in Germany in 1875, in Hungary in 1895, and in Rumania a little later. In 1913 it was still prohibited in Austria, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Islamic lands. Even within the Jewish community, marriages between subgroups like Ashkenazim and Sefardim were rare in the l9th century.

Intermarriage was highest in lands where the number of Jews was small and where there was little discrimination, as in Denmark, Italy, and Australia (Ruppin, op. cit., p. 161). It reached 34.1% in Italy in 1881, while in New York in the same year it was one percent, as most Jews had settled there only recently. The figures in Germany between 1904-1908 were 22.2%. It should be noted that pre-World War I Hungary ruled that those about to “contract a mixed marriage can make an arrangement as to the religion they wish their children to have. In the absence of such an agreement, the sons follow the religion of the father, the daughters that of the mother” (Ruppin, op. cit.,p. 177).

The pattern of increasing mixed marriage, which was noted for England in the 18th century, grew especially with the establishment of civil marriages in 1837. Before that time Jews who married Christians were forced to do so in the Church (C. Roth, “The Anglo-Jewish Community in the Context of World Jewry,” Jewish Life in Modern Britain, pp. 83ff; S.J. Prais and M. Schmool, “Statistics of Jewish Marriages in Great Britain,” Jewish Journal of SociologyIX, no. 2).

Such marriages were also found with fair frequency in early America (M. Stern, “Jewish Marriage and Intermarriage in the Federal Period, 1776-1840,” American Jewish Archives, vol. 19, pp. 142ff; J. Goldstein, A Century of Judaism in New York, pp. 328ff; H.B. Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, 1654-1860, pp. 372ff). Studies for the mid-20th century indicated the increasing rate of mixed marriage, which has now reached approximately thirty-five percent of all Jewish marriages. Accurate broad statistics are not available, but many specialized studies have been undertaken (see Erich Rosenthal, “Studies of Jewish Intermarriage in the United States,” American Jewish Yearbook, 1963, pp. 3ff; B. Kligfeld, “Intermarriage: A Review of the Social Science Literature on the Subject,” CCAR Yearbook, vol. 70, pp. 135ff; “Report of Special Committee on Mixed Marriage,” CCAR Yearbook, vol. 72, pp. 87ff; M. Davis, “Mixed Marriage in Western Jewry,” Jewish Journal of Sociology 10, pp. 197ff; Rosenbloom, Conversion to Judaism,pp. 121ff).

The issue of mixed marriage was raised in a formal way by the Napoleonic Sanhedrin in 1806. Among the questions posed to this body was the following: “Can a Jewess marry a Christian, or a Jew a Christian woman, or has the law ordered that Jews should only marry among themselves?” As a result of the French Revolution, marriage and divorce had been made a concern of the State. Keenly aware of the implications, the Sanhedrin conducted lengthy discussions, in which reference was made to marriages between Jews and Christians which had taken place in France, Spain, and Germany, and which had sometimes been tolerated by the rulers. The final answer stated, “The Great Sanhedrin declared further that marriages between Israelites and Christians, contracted according to the laws of the Code Civil, are civilly binding, and that, although they cannot be invested with religious forms, they shall not result in anathema” (Tama, Transaction of the Parisian Sanhedrin, transl. F. Kirwan, p. 155; G. Plaut, The Rise of Reform Judaism, pp. 71ff). The French text here simply declared civil marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew valid, but avoided the issue of religious marriage; the Hebrew text deemed such marriage religiously invalid (E. Feldheim, “Intermarriage Historically Considered,” CCAR Yearbook, vol. 19, p. 296). The Napoleonic Sanhedrin here applied the legal principle “Dina demalchuta dina” to civil marriage, without granting religious status. This Talmudic principle was constantly used for civil and criminal law, but never previously in matters of personal status. Some modern Orthodox authorities recognize such marriages, while others do not, and therefore require no religious divorce for them (Abraham Freimann, Seder Kiddushin Venisu-in, pp. 362ff; C. Ellinson, Nisu-in Shelo Kedat Mosheh VeYisra-el,pp. 170ff).

The Rabbinical Conference of Braunschweig in 1844 intended to endorse the declaration of the Napoleonic Sanhedrin, but as no one possessed a copy of the resolution, it actually went further by stating: “The intermarriage of Jews and Christians, and, in general, the intermarriage of Jews with adherents to any of the monotheistic religions, is not forbidden, provided that the parents are permitted by the law of the state to bring up the offspring of such marriage in the Jewish faith.” A motion was also made to permit rabbis to officiate at such marriages, but that was rejected, and so no Jewish authority was authorized to conduct such marriages (for a summary of the debate, see W.G. Plaut, The Rise of Reform Judaism, pp. 220ff). The author of the general resolution, Ludwig Philipson, later changed his mind on this question (L. Philipson, Israelitische Religionslehre, vol. III, p. 350; Moses Mielziner, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce, p. 48). Abraham Geiger similarly opposed mixed marriages (A. Geiger, Referat ueber die der ersten Israelitischen Synode ueberreichten Antraege, pp. 187ff). At the conference held in Breslau in 1846, Samuel Holdheim suggested that rabbis should officiate at mixed marriages, but this motion was rejected (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 1, p. 98). Resolutions calling for acceptance of civil marriage and marriages between Jews and Christians were introduced at the Leipzig Synod of 1869, but none was passed. The Synod of Augsburg (1871) stated that civil marriages are to be considered as valid (CCAR Yearbook, vol. 1, p. 113). None of the other rabbinical conferences held in Germany or in the United States during the last century passed resolutions on this subject; a number of individual rabbis dealt with the issue in essays and lectures. The radical David Einhorn called mixed marriage “a nail in the coffin of the small Jewish race” (Jewish Times,1870). This citation was frequently quoted by others in the last century and in our own.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has dealt with the question of mixed marriage extensively from its earliest days. Mendel Silber read a lengthy historical essay on the subject to the Conference in 1908 (Mendel Silber, “Intermarriage,” CCAR Yearbook, 1908, p. 207). This represented part of the concern over the subject and the desire to establish a policy on the question. The following year a major portion of the Conference was dedicated to this subject with the presentation of two papers (E. Feldman, “Intermarriage Historically Considered,” and S. Schulman, “Mixed Marriages in Their Relation to the Jewish Religion,” CCAR Yearbook, 1909). Both cited a considerable number of sources and reviewed the positions taken by various Reform groups in the l9th century. The discussion of the Conference indicated that all the rabbis present opposed mixed marriages, although some were willing to officiate at them. The debate dealt with the freedom of the individual rabbi versus the power of the Conference and the general force of the rabbinic tradition. The debate on the subject dealt with the question itself and with the issue of rabbis officiating at such marriages. The resolution which was passed read:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that mixed marriages are contrary to the tradition of the Jewish religion and should, therefore, be discouraged by the American rabbinate.

There was no substantial additional discussion in the following years, but the matter was mentioned peripherally in a lengthy paper by Kaufmann Kohler (“The Harmonization of the Jewish and Civil Laws of Marriage and Divorce,” CCAR Yearbook, 1915, pp. 335ff). This essay made it clear that Reform Judaism accepts civil marriages as valid and does so in the case of mixed marriages as well.

The following decades saw some discussion of this subject in responsa of the Conference (“Forfeiture of Congregational Membership by Intermarriage,” CCAR Yearbook, 1916, pp. 113ff; “Burial of Gentiles in a Jewish Cemetery,” CCAR Yearbook, 1963, pp. 85ff), and those of Solomon B. Freehof in his various volumes. Fairly frequent articles in the CCAR Journal and elsewhere by Reform rabbis demonstrated continued concern, and minor discussion of this question occurred at conferences through the years. It was not brought to the floor of the Conference again until 1947, when a lengthy report of a special committee under the chairmanship of Solomon B. Freehof proposed a set of recommendations with considerable annotations, which were adopted after some debate (“Report on Mixed Marriage and Intermarriage,” CCAR Yearbook, pp. 158ff). The Conference reaffirmed the 1909 resolution on mixed marriage and then proceeded to deal with the specifics involved in mixed marriage through resolutions embodied in the report. These were as follows:

II. The CCAR considers all sincere applicants for proselytizing as acceptable whether or not it is the intention of the candidate to marry a Jew.

III. We consider civil marriage to be completely valid but lacking the sanctity which religion can bestow upon it. We recommend that whenever a civil marriage between Jews has taken place, it be followed as soon as possible by a Jewish religious marriage ceremony.

IV. Since it is the point of view of the Conference that all sincere applicants for conversion be accepted whether marriage is involved or not, and since, too, we recognize the validity of civil marriages but urge that they be sanctified by a religious marriage ceremony, we surely would accept such a proselyte and officiate at the religious marriage. However, it should be clear that the fact that the couple is already married by civil law does not obviate the necessity of conversion of the Gentile party before the Jewish marriage service can take place.

V. The Conference may well take the stand that wherever the state acknowledges the validity of common law marriage, we likewise consider them to be valid; but that just as in cases of civil marriage. we urge that they be changed to regular marriage by license and religious ceremony.

VI. We cannot take quite the same attitude which traditional law has taken inasmuch as marriage, especially in England and the United States, is not only church marriage; it has also, to some extent, the status of civil marriage, at least to the extent that the license to marry was issued by the state. Nevertheless, in this case, the mood of the traditional attitude must determine our point of view. We cannot declare such a marriage invalid but would consider it highly improper and should endeavor, as much as possible, to persuade the couple to be married subsequently by Jewish ceremony. Likewise, on the basis of the unanimous attitude of traditional law, it would be improper for a rabbi to participate with a Christian minister at such a marriage.

Children of religious school age should likewise not be required to undergo a special ceremony of conversion but should receive instruction as regular students in the school. The ceremony of Confirmation at the end of the school course shall be considered in lieu of a conversion ceremony. Children older than confirmation age should not be converted without their own consent. The Talmudic law likewise gives the child who is converted in infancy by the court the right to reject the conversion when it becomes of religious age. Therefore, the convert should receive regular instruction for that purpose and be converted in the regular conversion ceremony.

Considerable background material for each conclusion was provided. These specific recommendations have gone much farther than any other material in providing an orderly and uniform approach to the questions connected with mixed marriages.

A further recommendation was made by a special committee under the leadership of Eugene Mihaly in 1962 (“Report of the Special Committee on Mixed Marriage,” CCAR Yearbook, 1962, pp. 86ff). It analyzed the problem and recommended a resolution which would have changed the position of 1909 and permitted rabbis to officiate at mixed marriages. There was considerable debate in which all matters connected with mixed marriage were thoroughly discussed. The substantive portion of the resolution failed, but it was decided to study the matter further and monitor it.

The issue of mixed marriage was raised again in 1971 with a demand for further study which was brought to the floor of the Conference in 1973 through a report under the chairmanship of Herman E. Schaalman (“Report of the Committee on Mixed Marriage,” CCAR Yearbook, 1973, pp. 59ff). In this instance the majority report was accompanied by several minority statements. The entire matter was then subjected to lengthy discussion. The resolution accompanying the report urged that the 1909 statement be reaffirmed and then proposed a series of detailed statements which sought to restrain rabbis officiating at such marriages and co-officiating with Christian clergy. It also dealt with the question of welcoming those who had already entered a mixed marriage as well as their children. The discussion which followed dealt again with every aspect of mixed marriage as well as the issue of rabbinic freedom. The resolution finally adopted read:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 that “mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged,” now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition. In order to keep open every channel to Judaism and K’lal Yisraelfor those who have already entered into mixed marriage the CCAR calls upon its members:

1. to assist fully in educating children of such mixed marriage as Jews;

2. to provide the opportunity for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse; and

3. to encourage a creative and consistent cultivation of involvement in the Jewish community and the synagogue.

The Conservative Movement felt it necessary to deal with the intermarried Jew and his rights within the synagogue and community at length (“Intermarriage and Membership in a Congregation,” Rabbinical Assembly Annual, 1958, pp. 110ff). The statement which opposed mixed marriage also sought to deal with the non-Jewish partner in a conciliatory manner. “It should be clearly understood that in frowning upon intermarriage and in voicing opposition to the choice of a non-Jewish mate, neither Judaism at large, nor Conservative Judaism in particular, expresses any judgment about the morality of character of these non-Jewish men and women.” A list of fourteen reasons for not accepting the non-Jewish partner into a congregation was provided. Congregational membership could be retained by those already holding it, even after a mixed marriage, but would not be accepted initially. Such an individual would be permitted to worship with the congregation, but could not join it. In either case, it was recommended that synagogue honors be withheld, and the non-Jewish members of the family were not granted burial rights. The statement concluded with a milder injunction considering it “a mistake to permit the unconverted non-Jewish wife to be a member of the women’s organization of the congregation.” The Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly has dealt with the question further, but not in published responsa.

Orthodox Judaism has not changed its approach to this question. Civil marriages are not recognized by most Orthodox authorities. When a civil marriage has united a Jew and a non-Jew and, subsequently, the non-Jew converts to Judaism, some Orthodox authorities have refused to conduct a religious marriage (Mishna, Yev. II.8), while others have followed a more lenient point of view, as did Ben Zion Uziel (Mishpetei Uzi-el, Yoreh De-a, #14; also see B. Schereschewsky, Dinei Hamishpacha,pp. 80ff).

There are a number of responsa by David Hoffman (Melamed Leho-il, vol. 3, #10, 14, etc.) which dealt with the status of intermarried individuals, especially in cases of a later desire to convert, or where there was some concern about the future of the offspring of such a union. Such converts were refused. Similar responsa are also found in Moses Feinstein’s Igerot Mosheh, Even Ha-ezer, #73, 44, etc.) and elsewhere. All of them simply reported the incidence of intermarriage and decried it.

Israeli law has followed Orthodox law in matters involving family and personal status. It has, however, recognized civil marriages conducted in other lands in accordance with international law (Skornik v. Skornik,1951, 8:155-156). For Purposes of the Law of Return, a non-Jewish spouse and his/her children possess similar rights of immigration as Jews (Law of Return, Amendment, 2, 4a, March, 1970).


Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis has opposed mixed marriages. We recognize the problem as significant in every period of Jewish history. It has become more severe in 20th-century America, and, therefore we have made provisions for families of mixed marriages and their children. They are welcome in our congregations, and we continue to urge them to convert to Judaism. The Conference resolution of 1973 succinctly summarizes our position:

The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 that “mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged,” now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage. The Central Conference of American Rabbis recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition. In order to keep open every channel to Judaism and K’lal Yisraelfor those who have already entered into mixed marriage, the CCAR calls upon its members:

1. to assist fully in educating children of such mixed marriage as Jews;

2. to provide the opportunity for conversion of the non-Jewish spouse; and

3. to encourage a creative and consistent cultivation of involvement in the Jewish community and the synagogue.

Walter Jacob, Chairman

Eugene J. Lipman

W. Gunther Plaut

Harry A. Roth

Rav A. Soloff

Bernard Zlotowitz

See also:

Resolution, CCAR Yearbook, vol. 19, 1909, p. 170.

Resolution, CCAR Yearbook, vol. 57, 1973, p. 97.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.