The Former Orthodox Rabbi Who Now Does Interfaith Weddings

I interviewed David Gruber in June 2008 about how he lost his faith and left the Orthodox rabbinate.

Then I did another interview with him Nov. 30 about his appearance on MTV doing an interfaith wedding.

Here’s an excerpt from that conversation:

David: “They (the couple) were just tremendously thankful that they found somebody at the last minute. They wanted a rabbi.”

Luke: “How do the Jews and the non-Jews react to you at these interfaith weddings? Is there a significant difference?”

David: “I wouldn’t say there was a significant difference. Usually the Jews attending interfaith weddings are not Jews who oppose interfaith weddings. Usually, people are very appreciative, very thankful, that I am willing to do interfaith weddings.

“The reactions that I get from non-Jews are very interesting. The non-Jews really really like the Hebrew, even though they can’t understand it. They like the fact that I chant in Hebrew. Some of them like the sound. Some of them like that I ‘speak the language of our Lord.’ I’ve had that phrase said to me several times. Everyone is very appreciative. They always talk about how they’ve never been to a Jewish wedding. ‘This has enabled me to learn about it.’ Everything I do, I explain, so nobody is in the dark.”

Luke: “Do you try to give advice?”

David: “I always give a little bit of a sermon. Every rabbi likes the sound of his own voice. I try to limit it to three or four minutes. I try to say, what can we learn from this couple?

“The background noise that I try to give is this: You’re going to hear from enough people that what you are doing is wrong, but I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s great. I think it is wonderful that you are coming together from two different faiths. Here is what I have learned from you and here is what we can learn from you.”

Luke: “Have you run into non-Jews who object to the marrying of a Jew?”

David: “I can’t say that I have run into that.”

Luke: “Have you personally experienced anti-Semitism in the United States?”

David: “I’ve really got to think about that one. Hmm. When I was a kid, once, I heard a comment or something. I haven’t run into it since.”

Luke: “Do you have a hero or mentor in the Jewish tradition who you look to for what you’re doing? I’m thinking about that book, As A Driven Leaf, about Elisha Ben Abuya in the Talmud.”

David: “He’s a very interesting figure.

“When I think about specific heroes, it would be my grandfather, who I am named for, who did a whole lot of interfaith work. He was a rabbi in the deep South, in Columbia, South Carolina, and he did a whole lot in interfaith and in contributing to non-Jews knowing what the Jewish faith was all about. His life work was interfaith.

“His mentor was Rabbi Stephen Wise. He cared about what he believed in more than anything else. He sacrificed the building of his temple because he spoke truth to power. In 1918 or something, he visited the steelworkers on strike and gave a sermon in support of them even though he knew that most of his major donors were big business owners and opposed to the steelworkers. On the way to shul, he said to his wife, ‘My temple is going up in smoke today.'”

Luke: “Have you had any interesting encounters with the Orthodox since we spoke 18 months ago?”

David: “No.”

Luke: “Have you gone on a spiritual journey over the past 18 months?”

David: “Not really. I think that one significant life-altering journey is probably enough for a lifetime.”

Luke: Is there any hope for a couple who has contempt for the others religious and political beliefs?

David: “Think about Mary Matalin and James Carville. I always marvel at them. Interfaith is easy. They’ve showed that it is possible.”

Luke: “How would you envision a relationship working between two people with opposite views on religion and political?”

David: “I understand that Matalin-Carville don’t talk much about politics at home. It’s like doctors who don’t come home and discuss their patients. They have other stuff to discuss with their wives. If you have enough going on between you, it doesn’t have to be something that comes up all the time.

“When you’re talking about religion, that does necessitate some lifestyle choices. My brother just got ordained as a Reform rabbi. His wife is Orthodox. They had to make some decisions about how they will live their life. It’s always going to be the non-Orthodox partner who has to compromise more because the Orthodox side from the Orthodox perspective has things that can not be compromised on. People make it work.

“One of the prominent secular left-wing Meretz members of the Israeli parliament is married to an Orthodox man.”

Luke: “Shimon Peres has an Orthodox wife.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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