Shabbat Talmud Study: Studying Joy – A Proposal by Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie

For the last two weeks, we have grappled with the reality of modern intermarriage and examined the thinking of the Conservative movement that emphasizes maximally welcoming interfaith couples while inviting and encouraging the non-Jewish partner to convert, and reaffirms the traditional stricture against rabbinic officiation at interfaith weddings.

This coming Shabbat we are going to study a different perspective.  Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie was ordained as a Conservative rabbi but left the Conservative movement because he officiates at interfaith weddings.

In a work he published several months ago entitled Joy: A Proposal, he argues that the world has changed.  First, he says, we are living in what he calls a “post-ethnic” age.  Our parents and grandparents lived the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.  The next generation did not live it but was raised on it.  The call of Jewish history, the Holocaust, and the founding of Israel were core to our identity.  But our children and grandchildren, millennials today, do not think this way. Rather, they are post-ethnic, wanting to see and love people for who they are individually, regardless of religion or creed.

Second, he argues that Jewish identity today is itself more fluid, more of a spectrum than a binary. When a non-Jewish partner raises Jewish children, co-parents in a Jewish home, and lives a lifetime of Shabbat dinners and holidays, what is such a person?  Amichai Lau-Lavie calls them “Joy,” a double entendre.  Joy as a synonym for gladness.  And Joy as a combination of Jew and goy.  A person who is a “Joy” occupies an intermediate space between Jew and gentile.

He proposes that there are ancient categories of fluid identity (ger toshav, resident alien, or yirei hashem, God-fearers), that are on the spectrum between Jewish and not Jewish.  The sources do not use these categories to permit intermarriage.  But Amichai Lau-Lavie argues that reinterpreting those old categories, and extending them beyond the way they have been used previously, would give a new frame to officiating at the marriage of a Jew and those he calls  “Joy” in the modern world today.

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie will be at Temple Emanuel on Thursday night, December 7th, from 8 to 9:30, to talk about his thinking and to entertain questions.

To prepare for his visit, I will begin to teach his proposal this coming Shabbat and Wes, who will be in Israel this weekend, will continue on November 25th. Whether or not you agree with him, his thinking should make for a tremendously engaging conversation as we continue to examine our own thinking, individually and as a community.

We also have an extraordinary speaker later in the morning at our Shabbat services.  Larry Bacow, Hauser Leader in Residence at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and President Emeritus of Tufts University, will engage our congregation in deep thinking about maintaining our sense of community in polarizing times.

Starting at 8:30am in the Rabbi Samuel Chiel Sanctuary, join us for a riveting morning!

Can’t wait to see you on Shabbat.