Twenty Reconstructionist Rabbis at the center of a debate over whether spiritual leaders should be allowed to marry outside the Jewish faith have formed a new association to “affirm a serious commitment to traditional Jewish thought and practice.”
The group’s founding rabbis said in a statement that they will be an “educational consortium and resource for rabbis, congregations, and lay people wishing to continue the work and vision of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983).”
Several of the 20 rabbis have been outspoken critics of a seismic shift in Reconsructionism that, in September, decided it was okay to ordain students in its rabbinical seminary, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, who were in interfaith relationships.
“Many younger progressive Jews, including many rabbis and rabbinical students, now perceive restrictions placed on those who are intermarried as reinforcing a tribalism that feels personally alienating and morally troubling in the 21st century,” an RRC document explained last fall.
In January, as debate over the policy change intensified, seven rabbis said they would quit the movement.
Rabbi Reba Carmel, a founding member of Beit Kaplan told The Forward then that letting rabbis marry outside Judaism, is “detrimental to the Jewish people in America …(who)ultimately we will be assimilated out of existence.”
“It goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jewish leader,” said Carmel, a 2009 RRC graduate.
Thursday night, Beit Kaplan’s acting spokesperson Shoshana Hantman (also one of the 20 founders), had this to say about the group:
“We have formed a new association in order to represent rabbis, congregations and laypeople who adhere to a more traditional Kaplanian reading of Reconstructionist Judaism.”
“The decision to form the association was sparked, in part, by the recent RRC policy shift that muddled the definition of what it means for a rabbi to have a Jewish family. Other contributing factors include a desire to return the focus of liberal Judaism to Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s vision of Jewish peoplehood and a desire to affirm connections to the Jewish people globally, including in Israel.”
Kaplan and his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein were the founders of the Reconstructionist Movement, which shook up American Judaism in the 20th Century.
One of the most revolutionary things? Kaplan in 1922 was the first to hold a public celebration of a bat mitzvah in America.
It was for his daughter Judith, and celebrated at his New York shul, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism.Something else revolutionary that day: Judith Kaplan read from the Torah.
“The Rabbinic Partnership hopes to offer rabbis a place to continue the work Kaplan described decades ago: not to react to the circumstances that change Jewish life, but to actively shape those circumstances, and to do so in partnership with supportive and caring colleagues,” said a third founding member, Rabbi Lester Bronstein.
The other 17 founding rabbis are: Emanuel S. Goldsmith, Carol Harris-Shapiro, David Osachy, Fred Schwalb, Jerry Seidler, Joan Pitzele Sacks, Karen Sussan, and Kevin Hale/
Also: Larry Pinsker, Marna Sapsowitz, Rebecca Lillian, Rick Libowitz, Yaacov Kravitz, Yocheved Heiligman, Daniel Brenner, Andrew Jacobs, and Howard A. Cohen.
The controversy over over-assimilation of Jews has presented itself in different ways in recent years: most recently in the fight to designate an egalitarian prayer space at Israel’s Western Wall.
Several Orthodox and right-wing leaders condemned Reform Jews. One even cited Christian Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to a Jew.
Yariv Levin of the Likud party said: “Reform Jews in the United States are a dying world. Assimilation is taking place on a vast scale. They are not even tracking this properly in their communities. It is evidenced by the fact that a man who calls himself a Reform rabbi stands there with a priest and officiates at the wedding of the daughter of Hillary Clinton and no one condemns it, thereby legitimizing it.”
While the breakaway Reconstructionists have not sought to ban interfaith nuptials among their congregants, last fall’s decision to okay it among the Rabbinate was too much for the Beit Kaplan founding members and their supporters.
“It was the last straw,” said Arlo Binderman, a member of Congregation Kol Haneshama in Sarasota, Fla.
“The (Reconstructionist) movement used to be a little left of Conservative and now it has become way left of Reform Judaism.”
John Oswald is The Forward’s deputy digital media editor.