Deborah Waxman

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In the long communal discussion over how to relate to Jews who marry non-Jews, those in the “be welcoming” camp won a major battle this year, thanks in large part to Rabbi Deborah Waxman.

Waxman is president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Seminary, which, after more than a year of deliberation, decided in a September faculty vote to change its admissions criteria in order to allow for the eventual ordination of a rabbi married to a non-Jew.

“The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to police,” Waxman said when the decision was announced.

Waxman, 48, became the first woman to head the congregational body of a major American Jewish denomination when she took over the merged seminary and Reconstructionist synagogue organization in 2013. She now oversees a small but influential movement, with close to 100 individual congregations and a rabbinical school that ordained eight new rabbis in 2015.

The implications of the RRC’s decision to allow intermarried rabbis are still unclear, but the arguments across the wider community have been vehement. Will other liberal movements follow suit, as they did in following Reconstructionists to allow gay and lesbian rabbis? Or will rabbis continue to resist intermarriage in the name of Jewish survival?

Asked about dissent within the Reconstructionist movement, Waxman said she was certain that the movement would not splinter over the decision. “We know this is a challenging topic, and there’s been a wide range of opinions,” Waxman said. “I feel very confident we will keep walking this path together.”

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