Should Intermarried Jews be Accepted into Rabbinic Seminaries?

The student-run Jewish magazine New Voices continues to tackle powerful issues not touched by other mainstream Jewish news outlets, with a fascinating piece in its latest edition, called “The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi.” In the piece, Jeremy Gillick gets to the crux of what we at JOI have been discussing internally recently, the difference between being “tolerant” and being “embracing.” Among the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, which have made great strides in being inclusive of intermarried families, the policy of not admitting intermarried rabbinic applicants seems to suggest to Gillick that the welcoming of intermarried families may really be more about tolerating demographic realities than being genuinely embracing:

[In 2002] a devout [intermarried] congregant…wanted to know why she could not attend HUC’s rabbinical school. The CCAR [the rabbinic arm of the Reform movement] responded decisively, offering its “full and unqualified support” for HUC’s policy. “Someday, perhaps,” its responsum suggested, “her husband will come to share that commitment to Judaism.” Until then, it said, she would have to find another vocation. It also implied that the Reform movement’s welcoming attitude towards interfaith families was born largely of necessity, and not of a sincere desire to become more inclusive. The latter interpretation represented “an incomplete, and therefore incorrect, perception of our attitude toward marriage between Jews and non-Jews…Although we do not use terms such as ‘prohibition’ and ‘sin’ to describe mixed marriage,” it explained, “we do not condone mixed married itself.”

Should rabbis be held to “a higher standard”? If so, what does it mean to a community whose congregants are almost half intermarried to say that in-marriage is still the “higher standard”? In the piece, Profession Steven Cohen is quoted as saying that the higher standards for rabbis are logical, in part because “intermarried rabbis will have no chance of teaching the next generation the importance of marrying Jews.” Of course, we know that the huge rise in intermarriage over the last four decades happened despite the teachings of a rabbinate that was completely devoid of intermarriage—rendering that role-modeling theory as a factor impacting intermarriage rates improvable at best.

But if you believe that rabbis are indeed role models for the laity in making personal choices like spouse selection, is it also possible to encourage the already-intermarried to get more involved in Jewish life? The article also quotes Rabbi Ed Stafman, the second intermarried rabbi ordained by the Renewal Movement, as suggesting that this is exactly what happens when he meets unaffiliated intermarried Jews and tells them that he too is intermarried. So what do you think?


  1. Interesting that both the Renewal and Orthodox branches are not being hypocrites here (I doubt that refusal to admit interfaith rabbis would fit in with Renewal’s devotion to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama)

    Reform’s refusal is very interesting. The Reform movement was the first to admit women as rabbis, but it is an open secret that women rabbis get paid less than men, and apparently the Reform tolerate this. I suspect that if the Reform admitted intermarried rabbis the same monetary hypocrisy would apply. (The intermarried rabbi you mentioned is the spiritual leader of a temple in Bozeman MT, not I suspect a well paying gig)

    Comment by Dave — April 26, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  2. I guess everyone has a line they won’t cross. I am surprised that the Reform movement choose this as their line after all of their ” inclusiveness ” dialogue.
    Sounds like the ” not in my backyard ” syndrone.


    Comment by Ell — April 27, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  3. No one can judge by a person’s current circumstances if they are moving closer to a traditional model of Judaism or farther away - it would be nice to honor everyone’s place on that journey.(Who said the only correct answer to “Do you keep the mitzvot?” is “yes” or “not yet?” - and who said there is always room for teshuvah? - if you want to go that route.)

    Which is more important: The transference of Jewish wisdom or the rules that define who can be Jewish? I didn’t give up my personal conscience or individuality when I married - why should it be different for a rabbi?

    As for the pay of women rabbis - I’m sure they are used to it, as women in all professions are paid less.

    Comment by Sara — April 27, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  4. Isn’t the Reform movement being a little inconsistant? If they feel that inter-marriage is ok - with no caveats - then why couldn’t a Jewish person who is inter-married be a rabbi??


    Comment by Ell — April 27, 2009 @ 2:40 pm

  5. What would happen to a rabbi who gets married to a non-Jew after being ordained? If a gay rabbinical student has a non-Jewish partner but is not legally permitted to marry, would they be kept out?

    Comment by Sara — April 27, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

  6. Having personally known couples forced to choose between their life’s calling and the love of their life, I can say - it stinks.

    We are now holding up in-marriage as a goal in and of itself. In-marriage started, originally, as a tribal system for preserving inheritance, and was later codified by zealots like Malachi. In the disapora, it was something enforced externally, by those who wished to keep us separate from the “good Christians.”

    I am not at all convinced that intermarriage is a problem, absent all the discrimination and exclusion the Jewish community - and even the rabbinical institutions - direct at it.

    Comment by Tzipporah — May 12, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

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