The Last Taboo: Intermarried Rabbis

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“In the Mix” is the name of a monthly column by Julie Wiener, carried by the NY Jewish Week. Ms. Wiener describes herself as “married to a lapsed Catholic — one who has encouraged me to become more involved in Jewish life.” But in her most recent column, she nonetheless grapples with her own discomfort at the thought of a Rabbi entering into a relationship exactly like her own. As she puts it, “there’s something that feels, well, not kosher to me about intermarried rabbis.”

I am tempted to joke that I have been gifted with prophecy for the following prediction, but it is no laughing matter. I do predict that the HUC will be ordaining intermarried Rabbis within the next decade — and my main concern, in terms of accuracy, is that I’m giving them too much time by half — but that just stems from common sense and seeing the writing on the wall. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a deviance from Jewish law and tradition concerning which “a debate has swirled in progressive Jewish circles” which has not become normative “progressive” Judaism sooner or later, and usually sooner.

While Ms. Wiener’s husband may be a “lapsed” Catholic as she claims, she is more influenced by her husband’s Catholic view of religion than she may realize. In Catholicism, of course, there are very serious differences between the conduct expected of their clergy versus the laypeople. Rabbis, on the other hand, don’t have more Mitzvos to follow than anyone else. While we obviously expect, as Rabbi Adlerstein put it, the behavior of a Talmid Chacham to change as a result of his Torah, the basic requirements are the same.

The converse, of course, is also true. There are no dispensations for laypeople in Judaism. Perhaps, in some measure, this explains why the misdealings of a person who dresses and carries himself like an observant Jew are pounced upon by the media — because there really is no such thing as a Jewish layperson. We are a mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh — a Nation of Priests and a Holy Nation — and anyone dressing the part is expected to play the part… ready or not.

Ms. Wiener’s evaluation of intermarriage is, in some ways, refreshing in its honesty. “The fact is,” she writes, “intermarriage is complicated and challenging, and in such unions Judaism loses out as often, if not more often, than it wins.” But here, most of all, it makes no sense to differentiate between clergy and laity. Marriage isn’t just about love, it’s about the next generation, and transmitting a mixed message to the next generation is never a good idea.

This is, of course, why the Jewish discomfort with intermarriage is not a matter of ethnic bias — it’s about preservation of our unique nation, and the values we wish to transmit. Those fully committed to other religions happen to share this position — even a devout Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant might find too many points of contention to truly provide their children with a single, clear message about religion.

So Ms. Wiener is right to be distressed about the prospect of intermarried clergy, but not simply because she wants “the ultimate representatives and teachers of Jewish tradition to be more respectful of Jewish law and more immersed in Judaism” than she is. It has already been reported that among Reform Temples, as many as half of the sisterhood presidents are not Jewish by any measure. If even the clergy are not committed to Jewish partners, the next, logical, inevitable step will be a majority non-Jewish laity.

At what point will “progressive” Judaism cease to be a religion practiced, in the majority, by Jews? That turning point is probably far sooner than we think.

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11 Responses

  1. David says:

    In response to #’s 9 and 10.
    Nobody ever claimed that Orthodox Jews or Orthodox Rabbis are perfect.
    The big difference is that when O rabbis committ acts of sexual abuse or are involved in money laundering or other illegal activities, nobody says that these things are OK. However, for the most part, the Reform and Conservative movements give official instituational approval to breaking Shabbos, homosexuality, homosexual marriage under Jewish auspices, homosexual clergy, intermarriage and intermarried clergy. No Orthodox beit din comes out with a ruling that money laundering is OK, becuase it is modern times and everyone is doing it.

  2. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Menken, Somehow it all feels a tad misdirected with new breaking stories alledging sexual abuse, widespread money laundering and organ dealing to add to the spectacle in Israel. I wonder where our outrage has more impact.

    And Garnel Ironheart, do you have suggestions about what title we ought use with the parade of individuals on their way to a courthouse in newark?

    a young, rightish CO rabbi has his compass lined up correctly; he tells people to be machmir to a fault in business dealings because of the aspect of chillul haShem.

    [YA – And an old, centrist (for Haredi) gadol hador beat him to it. Decades ago, Rav Moshe zt”l pithily put it this way, “Those who are machmir in Orach Chaim have no business even asking questions in Choshen Mishpat.”]

  3. The Contarian says:

    I think that Money Laudering Rabbis are no great shakes either.

  4. Zach Leiner says:

    “Of all people Jews know that language is sacrosanct”

    Mr Cohen is on to something. Perhaps we should exercise caution in referring to these movements as “progressives”, in that it implies “progress” which colloquially means betterment.

    Is is not unrelated that Western radicals (International Soldarity Movement) who provide safe homes and sanctuary to Islamic terrorists are referred to as “peace groups”, while Arabs who have tipped off Israeli security to planned suicide bombings are called “collaborators” which was the term used for locals that helped the Nazi Germany invaders?

  5. Martin says:

    Hey, wait a minute- it can get even worse(or better, depending on your point of view). The intermarried “Rabbi” that Ms. Julie Weiner forsees in the (near)future could very easily also be a member of a same sex or homosexual marriage. Who says intermarried couples must be heterosexual? Why not let your imagination run wild.
    After all,it’s only those primitive,unprogressive, Orthodox Jews who insist on following the Torah that G-d gave to Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisroel 3,300 years ago.

  6. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > I do predict that the HUC will be ordaining intermarried Rabbis within the next decade

    Really? They haven’t done it already? Wow.

    At any rate, the real way to prevent intermarriage is to live an observant life. After all, people marry partners they’re compatible with. She might be the nicest girl in the world but if I can’t eat her cooking, or her mother’s cooking, or worship in her church, or even hold her hand while dating, how long is a relationship like that going to last?

    As for calling Conservatives and Reformers rabbis, that’s no different than calling chiropractors doctors. They have gone to a recognized college and earned a degree that confers the title. Maybe if we call ours “rav” to distinguish, it’ll remove some of the difficulties.

  7. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    I am reminded of something that happened 40 years ago. One of the local reform rabbis was our neighbor, and he was washing his car one shabbos afternoon. A mechalel shabbos neighbor objected strongly. If she did violated shabbos, it was ok, but for a rabbi to do it? He was supposed to be better than the rest of us.

    It’s the same debate, but a diffent issue. Then as now, the non-Orthodox world pays its rabbis to be yotzei them in their yiddishkeit, to be Jewish for them.

  8. Bob Miller says:

    At some point, these inventive minds will decide that the non-Jewish spouse or roommate can be a “rabbi”, too.

  9. L. Oberstein says:

    One of the reasons we don’t understand our Reform and Conservative co-religionists is that our assumptions are not the same as theirs. A few years ago , the Provost of the JTS sent out a note that it was inappropriate for rabbinical students of different genders to live together . He was forced to recant as students protested that this was an unwarranted interference in their private lives. I recall the letter in the NY Jewish Week. The rabbinical student said that he and his female colleague shared an apartment, they were engaged to be married once their were both ordained and that the cost of two apartments was prohibitive.
    Such cohabitation is normal and not in the least frowned upon outside of our orthodox world. Lots of young people have this living arrangement for years and their parents know and accept it as normal.
    The point is that what we think is a “shanda” they think is normal.
    If you don’t allow an intermaried rabbi, then you are being “judgemental”, and that is a cardinal sin, in their eyes. We frummies live or at least claim to live by another standard.

  10. Leonard Cohen says:

    > “…the HUC will be ordaining intermarried Rabbis within the next decade — and my main concern, in terms of accuracy, is that I’m giving them too much time by half…”

    >> Enough already! How can one be concerned with “terms of accuracy” yet call these Reform and Conservative clergy persons “Rabbis?” Conservativism and Reformism are NOT Judaism; they are derivative religions (no less so than the various streams of Christianity) whose spiritual leaders are perhaps ‘Reverends’ or “Ministers.” To refer to them as Rabbis is not only inaccurate, but intellectually dishonest. Bnai Torah should have absolutely no concern with what these Conservative and Reform clergy concoct. Our only interest should be with continued last-ditch kiruv efforts aimed at the (increasingly shrinking) body of misled Jews who identify with these pseudo-Jewish religions.

    Of all people Jews know that language is sacrosanct. Language can reflect emes/truth only to the extent that it is characterized by a cohesive integrity, when its ‘words’ are recognized as having a universally accepted meaning. When the opposite prevails, when language is corrupted, truth — the seal of the Ribbono Shel Olam — is undermined. “Judaism” means Torah mi’Sinai and taryag mitvot. Reform-Judaism, as the other hyphenated “Judaisms” are oxymorons. They are a derogation of the integrity of language.

    The corruption of language is a major theme of George Orwell’s classic tales “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm.” As the fictional character Syme — an employee of the nominal Ministry of Truth — says: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” As Orwell wrote in the introduction to his famous 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Langauge’: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity…Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful…and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orthodox Jews should not lend credence to such a corrosive process. Intermarried “Rabbis” indeed!

  11. mb says:

    4 or 5 years ago whilst running the Los Angeles Marathon, I encountered , like myself, a couple of kippa clad runners. Intrigued at the rarity I joined them for a short while. It happened that both these runners were then attending the local Reform rabbinal seminary, and I assume by now are practising Rabbis. One did not have a Jewish mother! So I presume there are other non-Jewish Rabbis in that movement. Oh, and both those kippa clad runners were women.