Reform Jewry Grapples With Intermarriage Among Rabbinic Students

Should Rabbis Date Non-Jews?

thinkstock

By Dana Evan Kaplan

Published April 23, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

There’s a new controversy roiling the Reform movement: Can an applicant to rabbinic school be married to a non-Jewish partner? Everyone knows that many American Jews date men and women from other religious backgrounds. But rabbis? This might shock some readers — even today, when nothing shocks us anymore. But actually, the phenomenon is not new. The question today is whether to officially accept it.

It’s a debate that offers further evidence that the Reform movement is losing its religious focus. We Reform Jews may be on the verge of not believing anything, but simply identifying with the Jewish people as defined by the Reform movement. If this trend continues, Reform Jews will undermine the claim they once had to representing a true and compelling ethical monotheistic faith. Rather, contemporary Reform Judaism would represent the consequence of a lifestyle choice rather than a theological process.

If we Reform Jews really saw ourselves as believers, then every policy would be evaluated in terms of whether it was consistent with our faith. If that were so, then the partner of a rabbi would certainly have to have beliefs consistent with Progressive Judaism. They wouldn’t need to be technically Jewish, and they might or might not practice Judaism as we understand that term in mainstream Reform circles, but criteria relating to religious beliefs would inform and define the debate. As it stands, those arguing to allow non-Jewish partners are advancing only nonreligious arguments. The impression I get is that the debate is so diffuse because the subject — what makes one eligible to represent Reform Judaism — is so amorphous.

The specific question involves admissions policies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform movement’s central rabbinical school. Admissions requirements have a symbolic importance beyond their actual impact on the students and their families, and it is for this reason that the debate is being followed closely by those interested in the development of American Judaism.

The policy, which has attracted criticism, says that HUC-JIR will not admit any applicant who is “…engaged, married, or partnered/committed to a person not Jewish by birth or conversion.” Responding to the question “Should Our Seminary Admit Students With Non-Jewish Partners?” rabbinical student Daniel Kirzane argues in Reform Judaism magazine that this policy “… is antithetical to our Movement’s essential focus on welcoming and outreach.”

At first glance, the question of whether intermarried Jews could apply to rabbinical school appears to be ridiculous, like wondering whether a Catholic priest would intend to remain celibate. Standing as a role model of Jewish continuity would seem to be part of the job requirement for any rabbi, an expectation so obvious that it should not have to be mentioned.

But Kirzane states that it should be open for debate. In 1999, he writes, the Central Conference of American Rabbis did indeed affirm that the Reform Movement is an inclusive community, “…opening doors to Jewish life to [every person]…who strive[s] to create a Jewish home.” HUC-JIR, which is the official academic institution of the movement, “should be the greatest exemplar of this ideal.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.