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?

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