Intermarried Rabbis Can't Do Their Job Right

As a former lawyer myself who transitioned to a career in Jewish communal service, I well understand your dilemma and your yearning for a greater sense of purpose in your work. When I was asked to become the Executive Director of a Jewish Federation, my wife was not Jewish. Unlike your husband, however, she was studying for conversion, but had not yet completed the process.

Before accepting this position of Jewish communal leadership, I met with the Federation Board President and explained our family’s situation. The Federation ultimately allowed me to become their Executive Director as my wife was on the path to conversion and so the real issue was one of timing. However, had we intended to remain intermarried, I wouldn’t have been hired.

I was, and am, completely ok with that. Had I remained intermarried, I could not have been a fully successful Jewish leader. How much more so for a rabbi, who is a religious Jewish leader

As I’ve written before in The Forward, “when Jews choose to become Jewish leaders, their actions leave the realm of private decisions rendered for their personal benefit and become public decisions that carry deep symbolic and practical significance for us all.”

Some will claim that, given the huge number of intermarried families, an intermarried rabbi could better relate to them. That’s like saying that if the majority of families in a congregation don’t keep kosher, then the ideal rabbi is one who eats pork.

An ideal rabbi is one who models Jewish living, in every sense. A true spiritual leader challenges people out of their comfort zones rather than simply making them comfortable with their choices. Intermarriage would cripple a rabbi’s ability to do that. There are myriad ways, short of the rabbinate, that an intermarried Jew can serve the Jewish community, which I would encourage you to explore.

Harold Berman is a veteran Jewish communal professional, and the Director of J-Journey.org, which provides mentoring and support for intermarried families exploring the possibilities of observant Jewish life. Harold is also, with his wife Gayle, the co-author of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope,” about their “intermarriage gone Jewish.”

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Intermarried Rabbis Can't Do Their Job Right

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