The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi

http://newvoices.org/2009/04/23/0007-3/

David Curiel didn’t intend to cause any controversy when he decided to become a rabbi in the summer of 2008. At 35, he was happy to have finally picked a career.

It was a surprising choice for the soft-spoken son of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father who split his youth between Caracas, Venezuela and the suburbs of Detroit. Curiel always had a strong sense of spirituality, but he ascribed it to his itinerant upbringing rather than to his occasional appearances at synagogue or his five-year stint at Hebrew school. A bona fide wandering Jew, Curiel couldn’t help feeling that Judaism offered, at best, a very windy route to spiritual fulfillment.

His path to rabbinical school was roundabout indeed. It started in 2003, when he met Amberly, who grew up worlds apart from Curiel in a conservative Christian family. Amberly had left the church, and soon after they started dating, the couple began attending services regularly at Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun, a synagogue in Berkeley, California. It was there, Curiel says, that he “found God.” He began taking classes with Lerner and other local rabbis. Shortly after he and Amberly were married in 2005, Curiel felt that he’d finally found his calling.

So he was shocked when Hebrew College (HC), the non-denominational, Boston-based rabbinical school that appealed to him because it seemed “progressive and forward-thinking,” told him he would not be welcome at its seminary because his wife was not Jewish.

Neither Curiel’s situation nor HC’s policy is unique. The Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) all refuse to admit or ordain students in relationships with non-Jews. “Because we believe in the importance of Jewish family modeling,” reads the policy at HUC, the network of seminaries for America’s largest Jewish denomination, “applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program.”

If the policies affect only a small number of potential rabbis, they channel strong ideological currents. Rabbinical leaders contend that the policies are not only consistent with halacha, but actually embody core notions of Jewishness. “Jewishness has not historically been understood as a matter of individual faith or choice,” explains Jonathan Boyarin, a professor of modern Jewish thought at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “but as entitlement and obligation based ultimately on descent.” With this notion of Jewish collectivity already threatened by high intermarriage rates in America, the schools see rabbis as the last remaining bulwark in the fight to keep liberal Judaism Jewish; if the levees break and the policies are washed away, they worry, Jewishness as we know it could disappear.

That’s exactly what some policy opponents want: to expand the boundaries of Jewishness with the goal of ultimately redefining what it means to be a Jew. “At stake in this debate,” explains Rabbi Shirley Idelson, dean of HUC’s New York campus, “are competing visions of our people’s future—if and how we will survive, what we will look like, and the role that rabbis and cantors will play in shaping our people’s future.”

***

Until recently, the debates over whether to ordain women and gays took precedence over the question of exogamy’s place in the rabbinate. With those issues largely resolved—as of December 2006, even the Conservative movement permits homosexuals to become rabbis, and some Orthodox groups are considering ordaining women—a new generation of American Jews are putting their agenda on the table, and the issue is emerging as the new locus of a sharp ideological divide.

The conflict’s roots lie in the recent surge in intermarriage among American Jews—and in liberal Judaism’s resulting shift in attitude towards the intermarried. Intermarriage rates leapt from 2% at the turn of the century and 10% in 1965 to over 25 percent by the mid-1970s. With demographic studies indicating that intermarried couples were far less likely than their in-married counterparts to raise their children Jewish, the non-Orthodox movements decided to adjust their approach by accepting intermarried couples into the fold.

In 1973, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Reform Judaism’s rabbinical organization, announced that it would permit its rabbis to officiate at intermarriages, reversing a 1909 ban. The Reconstructionists followed suit, and, in the next decade, both movements passed controversial resolutions recognizing the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers as entirely Jewish, a departure from the traditional definition which saw Jewishness as being conveyed through the mother. On the heels of these legal changes, the Reform, Reconstructionist and, to a lesser extent, Conservative movements instituted extensive outreach campaigns targeting interfaith families.

Out of this context grew the fear that rabbis themselves might intermarry. As a result, rules that had previously been unspoken gradually found their way into seminary rulebooks. Naturally, the more liberal HUC and RRC codified their policies first (HUC’s came in the form of the “blue sheet” which all students were required to sign); JTS, whose rabbis do not preside over intermarriages, formally barred intermarried students for the first time this year, after one such student recently sought admission.

The problem for the non-Orthodox movements was that they had now codified a different set of rules for clergy and laity. “It’s not clear what the justification is for holding rabbis to different standards than their congregants,” notes Boyarin. Sooner or later, some intermarried and religious person would decide to become a rabbi and would undoubtedly be upset when what appeared to be a rabbinically-sanctioned double standard got in the way.

The issue almost came to a head in early 2002, when Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh raised the question at the CCAR’s annual conference. According to the statement he submitted, a devout congregant of his wanted to know why she could not attend HUC’s rabbinical school.

The CCAR 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.”

***

Among the earliest opponents of the new policies was Maurice Harris, a rabbi in Eugene, Oregon, who began his studies at Philadelphia’s RRC in 1998. Harris was admitted in 1996 but deferred for a year, during which time he stumbled into a serious relationship with a non-Jew named Melissa Crabbe. “She was really taken with Reconstructionism,” he says. “It absolutely resonated with her approach towards religion.”

Shortly before enrollment, Harris got a call from an administrator who mentioned that Melissa’s last name did not look Jewish. When he confessed that she was not, the administrator reminded him of the school’s policy: RRC “does not ordinarily admit or graduate as a rabbi a student married to, or in a committed relationship with, a non-Jew.”

According to Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, the seminary’s 47-year-old president, the school has not admitted any such candidate in the past and is unlikely to do so in the future.

Harris got lucky. After meeting with the administration, the school decided to treat him as if he had begun the program before entering into the relationship (the seminaries do not explicitly prohibit interfaith dating among enrolled students). Harris was allowed to enroll, giving Melissa nearly five years to convert. If she chose not to, the relationship would have to end, or Harris would have to forego his ordination. The school’s policy on interfaith dating, explains Ehrenkrantz, ensures that students like Harris “have time to work it out.”

But Harris recalls learning about at least five fellow students in covert relationships with non-Jews—evidence that many students are too scared even to “come out” about their partners. “We were the only out couple which was an interesting thing in a seminary known for being very gay-friendly and where issues of being closeted had a strong impact on many students and faculty members,” he says. At one point, Harris and others wrote a letter calling for a policy-change, gathering signatures from about a third of the student body, to no effect.

Harris speaks positively about RRC and its faculty, but he believes that “people were doing things to enforce this policy that made them uncomfortable and seemed to put them in cognitive dissonance with some of their own values.” The policy also put a damper on his experience—for years he lived with the discomfiting knowledge that his ordination was contingent on Melissa’s conversion. Although she did eventually convert in 2003—four years after they married and just in time for Harris to graduate—she felt that she’d done so on someone else’s terms.

***

According to Professor Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist at HUC known for demographic studies of American Jewry, “in-marriage” has historically “been central to what it means to be a Jew.” Its modern importance, he explains, is amplified because of the ongoing population decline among non-Orthodox Jews, which he attributes largely to intermarriage.

Cohen also argues that American Jews put “rabbis at the top of the symbolic hierarchy.” As a result, “it is logical for rabbinical schools to hold rabbis to higher standards.” While Cohen affords some merit to the suggestion that intermarried rabbis could serve as models for interfaith communities, he cautions that “we don’t know for sure what the impact of having intermarried rabbis will be upon those families.” We do know, he says, that “intermarried rabbis will have no chance of teaching the next generation the importance of marrying Jews.”

Rabbi Yael Shmilovitz, a recent HUC graduate who gave a controversial senior sermon in favor of intermarriage in 2007, differs sharply with Cohen. Rabbis should serve as role models, she says, but “endogamy is not a value to be emulated.” In her view, the ideals embodied by the “blue sheet,” which is now colorless and exists only online, are products of “deep-seated Jewish fears of disappearing. It’s about the reluctance to realize that in order to survive we have to change.” And change won’t come if liberal Jewish movements see intermarriage “as a necessary evil to be contended with rather than a blessing,” she says. “If Judaism is strong and vibrant it will survive, and if not, it won’t, regardless of who anyone marries.”

The newly installed president of the CCAR, Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, has emphasized her desire to help young Jews find new, meaningful ways to connect to the religion, but she believes that allowing intermarriage in the rabbinate crosses a thick red line. “Being a rabbi is not a right; it is a privilege and an honor,” she says. “There are other ways to serve God and the Jewish people.”

Dreyfus scorns the suggestion that a modified policy could create a more hospitable environment in which students could speak openly about their relationships. “If students “are being deceptive and ‘closeted,’ it is not the fault of the college, but rather of the [potential] student not understanding or accepting clearly stated rules,” she says.

Deceit may have drawbacks, but openness has consequences, too. M, who was admitted to rabbinical school last month after her boyfriend agreed to convert by 2010, says it would have been easy to pretend he was Jewish. Although she decided against hiding his background from the school—albeit “with no judgment for friends who have made that choice”—M remains torn about the conversion. “The fact that it’s forced puts this strain on his relationship with Judaism,” she says. “The worst parts of Judaism, the parts that exclude and marginalize people, seem to be the parts asking the person I love to convert. That’s really hurtful to me.”

Nor is openness always an option. Y began dating a woman from a Christian background during his second year of rabbinical school and felt compelled to take the relationship underground. He told some close friends, but kept his girlfriend a secret from most students, and the faculty. The experience was hardly enjoyable. “There’s the issue of what it did for the person I was dating,” he says, and “how that made her feel that I was hiding her.”

For rabbinical leaders, though, the delicate, personal problems that stem from these policies seem trivial in light of the crisis they are supposedly helping avert. “The bedrock of what it means to be Jewish is to belong to the Jewish people,” says Rabbi Ehrenkrantz of the RRC. “Leaders of the Jewish community, who model to others what Jewish life can be, should themselves be in homes that are fully Jewish.”

The fact remains that intermarried rabbis exist, and there is at least anecdotal evidence that theirs is occasionally a valuable—and viable—occupation. In 1992, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a founder of the neo-Kabbalistic Jewish Renewal movement, ordained Tirzah Firestone, making her the first intermarried rabbi on record. In her memoir With Roots in Heaven: One Woman’s Passionate Journey into the Heart of Her Faith, Firestone recounts how her husband inspired her return to Judaism, but that their marriage ultimately fell apart because of his faith.

According to Rabbi Marcia Prager, the dean of ordination programs at ALEPH, the small non-denominational seminary affiliated with the Renewal movement, Firestone’s experience informed the school’s approximately 10-year-old policy to evaluate students with non-Jewish partners on a case-by-case basis. When ALEPH does admit such students, it does so with the hope that the non-Jewish partner will one day “join the tribe” and with the caution, born of experience, that intermarried rabbis face “exceptional challenges.”

Ed Stafman, a recent ALEPH graduate and the 55-year-old rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Bozeman, Montana, was the second intermarried rabbi ordained by ALEPH, and is one of the world’s few intermarried rabbis. He takes a fairly stern view of mixed marriages, only presiding if the marrying couple commits to raising their children Jewish, and arguing that intermarried Jews should be ordained only in exceptional situations—like his own. Stafman, after all, had been married for a decade when he experienced his Jewish rebirth. “It’s not as if I wanted to be a rabbi and then decided to intermarry,” he says.

Shortly after his ordination, Stafman saw an ad for a congregational post in Montana. He called, expecting his intermarriage to be a conversation-ender. To his surprise, the response was, “‘Oh, I see what you’re saying: because we have so many intermarried people in our community, you would be an asset for us.’ They actually felt that I was promoting myself!”

Since becoming Bozeman’s rabbi last year, Stafman has indeed come to see his marriage as an asset to the city’s large interfaith community. When he encounters Bozemanites who attribute their absence from Jewish community life to intermarriage, Stafman tells them, “Well, my wife isn’t Jewish.” For intermarried couples, he says, that’s often a big surprise, and it’s sometimes enough to draw them into the synagogue.

Stafman says the exchanges help put liberal Judaism’s emphasis on welcoming interfaith families into practice. “When rabbis cannot be intermarried and when so many rabbis will not do intermarriages, the message that a non-Jewish partner hears is ‘I’m not wanted,’ he says. “Rabbis can talk all day long about how that’s not the message,” but what intermarried couples hear is, “‘They’ll accept me if they have to, but they don’t really want me.’”

***

As David Curiel remembers, his wife was less surprised than he was to learn of the policy at Hebrew College. Amberly, who is committed to helping create a Jewish household and is prepared to one day raise her children as Jews, was disappointed, and indignant. The policy struck her as “a profound injustice. What was most upsetting,” she says, was the implication that because of their intermarriage, “we were incapable of Jewish family modeling. I thought, ‘Have they lit candles with us on a Friday night or sat at our seder table? Do they know I recite the Kiddush from memory each week? Have they tasted my matzo-ball soup or David’s challah?’”

Curiel was distraught. Here was an official voice of Judaism driving a wedge between the two things he loved most: his wife and his faith. “Had I been single or married to a nominally Jewish woman there would be no problem,” he says. “But I have this rich spiritual connection to my wife, very much informed by the synagogue we attended and inspired by her spirituality, and because of that, it’s virtually impossible for me to become a mainstream rabbi.”

Initially set on HC, Curiel is now weighing his options, but he won’t have very many to weigh until Amberly converts—or rabbinical school policies change. “I think if I asked her to convert she would consider it seriously,” he says, “But I want somebody to convert because they really feel ready, not because of some pragmatic or legalistic reason.” Curiel also concedes that he’s fighting for something much more important than his personal ordination. His struggle, in fact, is for a new brand of Judaism whose values are truly universal.

Curiel envisions a Jewishness free from the exclusive, tribal inclinations that history once mandated for the Jews, inclinations that he feels mainstream Judaism still clings to, and that are excluding him from the rabbinate. “This policy feels like a perpetuation of the pain that we’ve felt as a people for thousands of years,” he says. “The way Jews perceive themselves in the world has to do with that pain, and it’s been almost mindlessly passed on from generation to generation. It’s honestly part of the reason that I was turned off from Judaism when I was growing up.”

Inspired by that vision, Curiel has written a new policy that he hopes HC and other rabbinical schools will one day adopt. It requires applicants “to show commitment, knowledge, and passion for creating a Jewish household” and, acknowledging a variety of valid Jewish identities, agrees to “accept applicants in interfaith relationships and marriages who will be able to engage with, support, and otherwise Jewishly enrich the families of the communities they serve.”

“When we left Mitzrayim,” says Curiel, “we were breaking free not only from being slaves, but also from that slavery mentality. That transcendence that we celebrate every Passover” he explains, “that’s really the Jewish story.”

25 Older Responses to “The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi”

  1. VeAhavta
    April 23, 2009 at 1:22 pm #

    If you would like to be in touch with a group of current and prospective rabbinical students and rabbis thinking and talking about these issues, e-mail veahavta.collaborative@gmail.com

  2. Paul Golin
    April 23, 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    New Voices continues to tackle issues that I don’t see being discussed anywhere else in the mainstream Jewish discourse. This is a fascinating piece of advocacy-journalism. Keep up the great work.

  3. Paul Golin
    April 23, 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    BTW, I see no mention in this piece of Secular Humanistic Judaism, which while small is probably still larger than the Renewal movement that you do give considerable space to. I’m pretty sure there have been intermarried rabbis ordained by the Secular Humanistic Judaism movement.

  4. KLE
    April 24, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    I felt called to become a rabbi in 1971 at age 9, and was told by my condescending Conservative rabbi that girls weren’t allowed to be rabbis. Fast forward 3 decades, when the calling became audible once more, and I was told by every single denominational and post-denominational rabbinical school that I would neither be admitted nor ordained because my female life partner is not Jewish. We have a Jewish home, belong to a shul, got married under the chuppah, and live a more visibly and intentionally Jewish life as a couple than most of my born-Jewish, assimilated family members.
    By the way, gender or sexual orientation was apparently not the issue.
    B”H I will see a change in this policy in my lifetime, not only on behalf of future Jewish leaders whose life partners have not converted to Judaism, but in a way that acknowledges that Jewish continuity rests in our willingness to truly live out V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha.

  5. Edmund Case
    April 24, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    Congratulations on covering an important issue. Interested readers might want to read Edie Mueller’s “Why I’m Not a Rabbi” and some interesting comments by others, at http://www.interfaithfamily.com/spirituality/spirituality/Why_Im_Not_a_Rabbi.shtml

  6. Shiela Wallace
    April 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    I am intermarried for 35 years. I am a Jewish professional. I have raised my children Jewish. My husband and I, together, have built a Jewish home. I have taught Sunday school for most of my life. I have felt the call to become a rabbi, but never pursued it because my husband chooses to pursue no religion and I would never force him to convert. It seems very ironic and sad. If I chose to divorce my husband (and was a few years younger), I would have been able to pursue the rabbinate. Because I choose to remain married, that door is nailed shut.

  7. Mara Goldberg
    April 24, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    I guess I will start by saying I no longer intend to become a rabbi largely because of this issue.
    I grew up in Texas where mine was the only synagogue in town. There were 6 students in my confirmation class and maybe 30 in my whole youth group. Should I have spent my teenage years never falling in love or avoiding relationships all together simply because I didn’t like those 29 people?
    The idea that interdating and intermarriage can be avoided is regional discrimination at it’s worst. While it makes sense to the policy writers isolated in their Jewish enclaves in New York those of us living elsewhere should not be asked to forgo any chance at a meaningful relationship because of our desire to pursue a career in the rabbinate coupled with their intolerance.

  8. Mara Goldberg
    April 24, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    I know I posted once already but I was struggling with whether or not to share this part of my story.
    I recently had my heart broken by a woman I dearly loved. The fact that she was Christian had caused me years earlier to decide that she was more important to me than any fledgling desire to be a rabbi. Now with my broken heart I find myself once more contemplating those plans. The fact that everything else aside they might accept me because of such terrible pain or that they might cause such pain to others out of some misguided desire to protect community, that was what finally made me decide that despite my love for Jewish traditions, Torah Study and Pastoral work, I could never attend any institution that would willfully cause that sort of pain. The people who taught me it was okay to be a lesbian, and that it could not matter less what color person you fall in love with telling me that falling in love with any one outside of the 20 or so Jews in my local community (only two or three of which also date women)is wrong. It is just wrong and it a betrayal of the values certainly the reform movement and I believe of any progressive movement.It leaves me feeling lost and betrayed by Judaism and it makes me question my commitment to any community or religion that would support this kind of bigotry.

  9. Rabbi Jack Nusan Porter
    April 24, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    As an ordained rabbi, my second job at a shul in Chelsea, Mass was to replace a rabbi who had married a black woman who eventually converted to judaism. The Congreagation totally accepted him and her, so the religious establishment should hold a door open to conversion but I understand if there is no conversion and the spouse let’s say goes to church and believes in Jesus, i don’t think that the rabbi should be hired. There has to a limit somewhere but it should allow conversion. So, what is the problem with that?

  10. a rabbi
    April 25, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

    I’m a rabbi- hopefully not a condescending one- and it breaks my heart to read stories of pain born of the experience of feeling rejected. One doesn’t have to be able to say “yes” to every request to be nice to and accepting people.
    Having said that- there’s a piece missing here, in my view. Being a rabbi is not just about loving and teaching Judaism- it’s also about loving Jews and building up the Jewish people.
    You might disagree about that definition of “rabbi,” but I think it’s fair to say it’s one that many, if not most Jews carry around with them, consciously or not. To that end, the rabbi’s family choices are seen as of a piece with his or her values – and I’m reasonably certain that for many Jews, an intermarried rabbi would be semi-consciously perceived as not fully loving and supporting the Jewish people- after all, how can you claim to love the Jewish people if you couldn’t even find one to love at home?
    Like it or not, even many intermarried Jews (and I know lots and lots of them) want their rabbis to be Jewish role models, and I think having a non-Jewish partner would for many people be a stumbling block in seeing that rabbi as fully committed to the welfare of Am Yisrael.
    I could be wrong.

  11. Ben
    April 25, 2009 at 10:31 pm #

    If some one wants to devote his or her life to being a rabbi, he or she should love Jews enough to marry one. End of story.

  12. Josh
    April 27, 2009 at 8:20 am #

    I almost never write comments online but I could not help myself this time. This article, and many of the comments, has perhaps the most preposterous thesis I have ever seen postulated by the Jewish left. I am not an Orthodox fanatic – I come from a family of non-Orthodoz rabbis – but it seems that there are reform, reconstructionists etc. who have already watered down Judaism to liberal social action but now seem determined to actually elimiate Judaism, period.
    Every study has shown that a majority of children, and especially grandchildren, of intermarried couples leave the fold. What Hitler couldn’t do to the Jewish people we are doing to oursleves through the dark side of acculturation – intermarriage. To even suggest that it is ok for rabbis to marry non-jews is to put the final nail in the coffin of removing such liberal groups from any semblance of connection to the religion of our ancestors, who sat shiva for an intermarriage b/c they knew that this likely meant the end of that Jewish family. Perhaps they could call the religion prophetic social action, or prophetism, but it is certainly not Judaism.

  13. Mira Colflesh
    April 28, 2009 at 9:30 am #

    David, and other readers,
    You might be interested to know that there will be a conference of adult children of interfaith families in Philadelphia on May 17. This conference is ONLY open to Jewish adults who have one parent who was not born Jewish. It is a chance to explore our identities and dual heritage. It is also a chance to find ways to bring our voices to the Jewish community, to add our perspective on ways to create a inclusive *and* authentic Jewish community to serve the future of Judaism.
    This conference is co-sponsored by InterFaithways: Interfaith Family Support Network and Birthright Israel NEXT.
    Details can be found at http://www.interfaithways.org/jewsinhues.pdf
    Register at http://www.birthrightisrael.org/jewsinhues
    Contact me directly at mira@interfaithways.org
    Mira Colflesh,
    Program Associate, InterFaithways

  14. Miriam Jerris
    April 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm #

    Secular Humanistic Judaism has never refused an application to the rabbinic seminary or prohibited someone becoming a rabbi based on their marital choice. Since the founding of our rabbinic seminary in 1992, our policy has been to admit candidates and ordain rabbis based on their academic and personal skills and accomplishments. I am honored to be part of a movement that understands that my choice of life partner does not dilute or compromise my commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people. I serve on the Faculty of our Seminary and am the President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis. Rabbi Miriam Jerris, Ph.D.

  15. Robin Margolis
    April 30, 2009 at 11:18 pm #

    Dear Friends:
    To refuse to accept intermarried rabbis and cantors is to imply that the interfaith couples in our pews — and the soon-to-be majority of our young adults with one Jewish parent — currently 48% of all college age Jews — aren’t “as good as” Jews with two Jewish parents.
    If rabbis and cantors are to “set an example” and be “role models” — to use language I hear all time as a rabbinical student — it would be very helpful to outreach if more rabbis and cantors were modeling happy and respectful intermarriages and parenting Jewish-identified children of intermarriage.
    Once more rabbis and cantors have a large number of their own “who is a Jew?” children, the entire controversy, except among the Orthodox, will evaporate, at least in the U.S. (Israel will take longer because of its official policies of discrimination against members of interfaith families, which unfortunately appear to be increasing.).
    Also I receive many complaints from adult children of intermarriage that they dread taking questions about Judaism or their personal identification problems to rabbis and cantors, who are often perceived as “not getting it” by the adult children of intermarriage who consult them.
    Once there are more intermarried rabbis and cantors, they likely will “get it” better about the problems of interfaith families. Also, their inmarried rabbinical colleagues will “get it” better due to intra-rabbinical socializing and consultations.
    There is also a critical need for more adult children of intermarriage to become rabbis and cantors, for the same outreach reasons.
    Speaking as an adult child of intermarriage who is a rabbinical student, it is unreasonable to ask adult children of intermarriage clergy candidates not to intermarry — we are living representatives of a love which crossed cultural, ethnic, religious, and sometimes racial boundaries. We would not exist if that love had not occurred.
    So forbidding us to intermarry — if we wish to become rabbis or cantors — can be construed as compelling us to symbolically denounce our intermarried parents. That causes us to violate kibud av, the duty of honoring one’s parents.
    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    http://www.half-jewish.net

  16. Ahava
    May 1, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    For the folks who posted that they are in same-sex relationships that are also interfaith, I just want to make sure you know about an LGBT Jewish org that has programming that is inclusive of (and sometimes specific to) interfaith couples and converts:
    Nehirim
    http://www.nehirim.org
    There are upcomign retreats on both coasts in May

  17. Deena Glass
    May 1, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    On the one hand, I wouldn’t want to tell anyone whom they should love, but on the other hand, to say as a teenager you had already enough life experience to choose a life partner, is rather naive.
    My husband considered himself an agonistic verging on an atheist when we married over 37 years ago, but he knew that my practising Judaism was central to who I was and am. He would never have said no if I wanted to become a rabbi or cantor. I know because he encouraged me to do so, but my path went other places.
    We are a shrinking group. What I found interesting among other things, was that after years of living with a Jewish partner, the non-Jewish partner still hadn’t considered conversion.
    It’s lovely to say the Kiddush and cook matzoh balls, but if the belief in the relgion isn’t there than one is merely reciting a play and cooking foreign food.
    I sing Christmas carols as part of my being a music therapist with seniors, yet I know I am not a Christian and do not feel the slightest urge to become one.
    I respect my clients’ religion and sing these songs with feeling because I do understand them.
    That sense of acting a part will be present until or unless the non Jewish partner converts.
    And the persons closest to them will sense this.
    Why become a Jew if your parent isn’t one?

  18. Rebecca
    May 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    want to echo Mira’s invitation for children-of-intermarriage (like me) to come to our workshop may 17 in philadelphia.
    i think that at the heart of this are three things mentioned by others that i want to highlight:
    1. kibud av. asking people to implicitly or explicitly reject their parents is wrenching and not in the spirit of our tradition. i have had the incredibly painful experience, repeatedly, of sitting through really condescending and demonizing talk from others about families like mine. not in the spirit of ahavas yisrael at all, and hurtful!
    2. who is a rabbi? exemplary, the jew-est around, the legalist, the spiritual guide? i think that the model of rabbinical education and employment is messed up. the heads of the schools want to act like political kingmakers, dictating who are the (potential) future leaders and ideologies of their movements. ridiculous. as the real-life examples in the story indicate, regular jews want a variety of kinds of rabbis and will throng to those who exemplify rich jewish life and complex, layered thinking and identities, as we all have these days.
    3. annihilation? a LOT of people are driven in their thinking on this issue by a submerged (or not-so) fear that jews are dying out or assimilating out. (handing hitler his victory.) i don’t think that endogamy is the answer to this problem–lots of both-parents-jewish people are bored sick with what jewish life has to offer. thank g-d that we live in a time of dynamism and change, in which jews of all backgrounds have the chance to shape lives and communities of meaning. g-d willing, these communities will include ‘purebloods,’ mixed-background jews, converts, and nonjews.

  19. Amberly Polidor
    May 7, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    Jeremy, thanks for this thorough and thoughtful piece. I did, however, want to clarify a slight mischaracterization. You wrote that I “had left the church,” which suggests that I’ve abandoned Christianity — but that’s not the case. Rather, I consider myself a practicing Christian who finds her faith and spirituality tremendously enriched by a shared Jewish practice with her husband.
    Thanks again,
    Amberly Polidor

  20. JB
    May 7, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    I am a child of intermarriage. My father was born and raised Lutheran, while my mother grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. At age 15, I decided to reinvestigate my Jewish roots and eventually joined the Orthodox Jewish movement. While I am opposed on principal to intermarriage, I certainly know that intermarried families can raise very normal and Jewishly connected children. I do not wish to delve into the complex issue of intermarriage, why it worked in my family, and why so many other families struggle endlessly to find connection with Judaism (or whatever religion the non-Jewish partner brings to the table). I will target my response solely to the issue of intermarried Rabbis in movements which allow intermarriage.
    There exists in the current policy of not ordaining intermarried Rabbis an extreme level of cognitive dissonance. While there has always been an understanding that Rabbis are (or should be) held to higher standards, these standards have always been simply a more rigorous observance of existing and agreed-upon norms or laws. Intermarriage was not allowed, and where an intermarried individual might be permitted to attend synagogue and participate communally, an intermarried Rabbi would not be accepted. The same applies to the issues of kashrut, Sabbath observance, homosexuality, etc. Once a behavior or practice previously forbidden became acceptable for the general Jewish public, however, a Rabbi was also allowed the same privilege (such as using milk unsupervised from milking to bottling – cholov yisroel).
    One of the beauties of Jewish tradition is an understanding that all members of the community are bound by one set of laws. While there are laws in traditional Judaism which target one group or another exclusively, these are quite singular and raise endless questions and objections throughout the rabbinic literature. Unless a Rabbi was, by birth, part of one of these unusual groups, his Jewish obligations were no different than those of the general community.
    To ask a Rabbi to perform intermarriages while disallowing him/her the same privilege is an unusual approach to the complex issue. It strikes me more as a Catholic-style policy (where Priests are expected to perform marriages while they themselves cannot engage in the “sinful” practice of sexuality) than a Jewish one. Judaism, in all its movements, must strive for consistency in all sectors of its society. The policy on intermarriage, as with all other issues, should be identical for Rabbis and laypeople alike. I know having an intermarried Rabbi as a child would have been an asset to me while trying to lay my roots in Judaism. To paraphrase Yoda, “do or do not intermarry.” There is no place for blatant cognitive dissonance within Judaism.

  21. David
    June 5, 2009 at 5:56 am #

    This policy seems exclusionary, and if I wonder if at all discriminatory.
    It is ironic; us Jews all the time think we are victimized and discriminated against, yet here is another example of how we discriminate to others, and in this case within our own ranks.
    I wonder also, if this is somehow unconstitutional. I mean this is America, right. We should have the freedom to decide how to live our personal lives, and not be declined opportunities to be educated.
    I know it is a private institution, but the courts have ruled that private institutions cannot discriminate. Men’s only clubs have been forced to allow women, etc…
    What if I wanted to go to medical school, but the medical school would not accept people who are pro-choice for abortion, or people who support elective euthinazation, so I was declined admission?
    What if I wanted to go to law school, but the law school would not accept someone who has broken the law in the past?
    Universities and colleges are known for strong arming students and enforcing rules within their communities that are often unconstitutional and limiting for students. It is encouraging when the brave students fight back and takes them to court, the student usually wins.
    I will not be donating to Hebrew College in the future. They are currently in financial distress; it is no surprise, if this is an example of the poor leadership at that institution.
    Hopefully, they will change their policy.

  22. Phil
    February 2, 2010 at 1:25 am #

    “When he confessed that she was not (Jewish), the administrator reminded him of the school’s policy: RRC “does not ordinarily admit or graduate as a rabbi a student married to, or in a committed relationship with, a non-Jew.”
    According to Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, the seminary’s 47-year-old president, the school has not admitted any such candidate in the past and is unlikely to do so in the future.
    Harris got lucky. After meeting with the administration, the school decided to treat him as if he had begun the program before entering into the relationship (the seminaries do not explicitly prohibit interfaith dating among enrolled students). ”
    What is that word “ordinarily” doing there? Does this mean that sometimes they do admit students who are in an interfaith relationship? Or is it never (like Rabbi Ehrenkrantz says), unless they do some sneaky machinations.

  23. Ben Pincus
    February 2, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    See if I get this right: all the rabbinical seminaries listed here will ordain homosexuals as rabbis, but not intermarried Jews. Does that mean that a homosexual partnered with a non-Jew would not be considered? How long will I have to wait before they allow me to marry my pet? Then I can go to Rabbinical school: “I’d like you to meet my Rebbitzen. Yes, we are very proud of her. Shaina is AKC registered and is a champion English Sheepdog.”
    Once you go away from the Torah, you might as well keep on going. Why have any limits? Who are you to question my love for Shaina?!

  24. Israel_B
    November 8, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    “Curiel envisions a Jewishness free from the exclusive, tribal inclinations that history once mandated for the Jews”
    It exists and is called Christianity.

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