TRR 7-9



A Gentile young man is engaged to be married to a Jewish young woman of our congregation. We do not officiate at such mixed marriages. But may the young man be called up to the Torah at our Friday night Torah service? (Asked by Rabbi Sanford H. Jarashow, Massapequa, New York.)


The question is complicated and, because of modern circumstances, is of considerable importance. The parents of the Jewish member of such a couple almost invariably plead with the Rabbi to officiate or co-officiate at such a marriage. When he refuses to do so, they plead with him to give the couple some semblance of Jewishness so that there will be hope that future grandchildren will be raised as Jews. The anxiety of the parents is understandable. We sympathize with them and wonder what we can do in concession to them.

First of all, we can inform them that a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish by birth. Even if it were a Gentile mother and a Jewish father, and the child is therefore born Gentile, nevertheless in our Reform movement conversion of a child is easy. It simply has to be enrolled in our Sunday School and we accept the intention to raise the child as a Jew tantamount to a conversion. But here in this case, the parents in addition want some public symbol which will serve to mark the intention to raise the grandchildren as Jews. Hence, the question, whether we may call the Gentile bridegroom up to the Torah on Friday night.

First, it must be understood that the ceremony of calling worshipers to the Torah has an unclear status in Jewish law. Is being called to the Torah a mitzvah which every Jew must fulfill, or is it a privilege which a congregation confers on those whom it chooses to honor, or is it a right which every worshiper can demand as due him? The discussion of these various definitions of calling to the Torah will be found in Current Reform Responsa, p. 62 ff., under the heading, “An Unworthy Man Called to the Torah.”

The simplest answer to the three possible definitions of this ceremony (as to mitzvah, privilege or right) is to say that it is a well established custom. Perhaps it should be considered as law that a priest or a Levite be called first and second to the Torah; although even with regard to this right (or custom) if no priest or Levite is present, an Israelite may be called up first and second. Then beginning with the third portion to the end of the seven portions, the question of rights or duties rises. We may say that the following have “rights” established by custom: the father of a Bar Mitzvah, the Bar Mitzvah, the husband of a wife who is recovering from childbirth and is now in the synagogue, a man who has Yahrzeit, and a bridegroom on the Sabbath before his marriage.

What is the relative importance of these various “rights”? We can judge that from the well known handbook on Torah reading, Shaarei Ephraim by Ephraim Margolis. He says definitely that of all these rights mentioned above, the first obligation is to call a bridegroom up the Sabbath before his marriage. He uses the word Haiv, i.e., “obligation.” So it is clear that this custom popularly called Aufruf is, to the extent that any of these are mandates, the most important of all of them. Therefore it requires special care and consideration.

As to the further question as to whether a Gentile may be called to the Torah altogether, please see Recent Reform Responsa, p. 49, where it is clear at least that there is no harm in having Gentiles handle the Torah. Furthermore, it may be argued that our Reform custom of Friday night Torah reading is not according to the Halakhah and, therefore, there is less halakhic importance whom we call up.

But all this is secondary to the important question. Since calling up to the Torah of a bridegroom is deemed one of the most important of the various “obligations,” we are making a serious gesture when we call the Gentile partner to a forthcoming mixed marriage up to the Torah. Doing that seems to me to be more than we can properly do to allay the understandable grief of the Jewish parents.