Rabbinical School and the Interfaith Marriage, Part 2

Last week Ruth Abrams blogged about an important article by Jeremy Gillick in New Voices, The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi, about men and women seeking to attend and be ordained by rabbinical schools that will not accept them because they are intermarried.  Shortly before the New Voices article came out, we published Why I’m Not A Rabbi, in which Edie Mueller explained her experience of this rejection 15 years ago. I’d like to now explain our position on this issue, prompted in part by a parallel discussion that is taking place on the Jewish Outreach Institute‘s JOPLIN listserv.

Years ago when David Ellenson, whom I respect tremendously, became president of Hebrew Union College, the Reform movement’s seminary, he was quoted in a publication as affirming the policy not to admit or ordain intermarried students because rabbis are “role models.” I wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that there could be no better role model for interfaith couples than an interfaith partner who is so Jewishly engaged that he or she is a rabbi.

For denominations that consider traditional Jewish religious law (halachah) binding, it may make sense to require rabbis to live in halachically recognized marriages. But the seminaries training rabbis for other denominations are free to consider that their graduates will be serving constituencies with many interfaith couples and families. Those rabbis presumably want to inspire their constituents to more Jewish engagement. Intermarried rabbis would be particularly inspiring to the interfaith couples who they served — and there is no reason they could not be inspiring to in-married couples as well.

When congregations hire rabbis, lay leaders are the ones who select them. Many congregations that want to promote in-marriage won’t hire rabbis that they perceive to encourage interfaith marriage. Presumably these lay leaders would chose not to hire an intermarried rabbi. Congregations that want to promote conversion as a solution to the issue of interfaith marriage presumably would chose not to hire a rabbi whose non-Jewish partner had not chosen to convert. But congregations that are focused less on these boundary lines and more on supporting the Jewish engagement of all community members might well welcome an intermarried rabbi. Congregations are diverse, and rabbis could be as well.

Over the years at IFF we have talked with a number of exceptional people who would have made great rabbis who were frustrated because they couldn’t be accepted at the seminaries because they were intermarried. David Curiel, the lead subject of the New Voices article, is one of them. Edie Mueller is another. We believe that turning these people away is a mistake.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.