“In a place where none behave as a leader, behave as a leader” (Hillel, Pirkei Avot 2:5).
Earlier this month, the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors, endorsed by an overwhelming majority, a resolution to permit, at the rabbi’s discretion and where the couple intend to maintain a Jewish home, a ceremony under a chuppah in the circumstances where a Jew is partnered with a person who does not identify as a Jew.
It did so not to win popularity within the Jewish community, nor to increase membership, but rather to offer couples the opportunity to utilise a chuppah, the symbol of a Jewish home, if those couples are committed to Jewish continuity.
Liberal Judaism has never sought popularity nor courted controversy for its own sake, but rather it has sought to remain true to its core mission: to bring to Jews and others its unique combination of the enduring values and beauty of Judaism with the advances and conveniences of modernity.
Liberal Judaism’s policies of inclusion and equality – and its modern introduction of liturgical creativity and ritual innovation – have changed the face of modern Judaism more deeply than within its own relatively small membership.
One of my proudest moments, during my period as the movement’s chief executive and senior rabbi, was giving evidence as the only invited religious Jew in favour of same-sex marriage to the parliamentary Public Bill Committee on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
While I was joined by some other smaller faiths – most notably the Quakers and Unitarians – the legislation was enacted against the opposition of established churches and silence in religious communities elsewhere. How things change. Now, even Pope Francis has offered a compassion response to the question of same-sex civil unions.
I am confident it will not be long before other parts of the Jewish community and, indeed other religious faiths, review their marriage practices. This is because they will need to reflect the growing liberalisation of a multifaith society where religious expression is just one part of the complexity of 21st century identity and life.
Now that British society is getting to a place of acceptance, religion must once again catch up.
- Rabbi Danny Rich is a vice president of Liberal Judaism
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