First rabbinical school to allow students with non-Jewish partners

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Deborah Waxman, speaks with students. Photo courtesy of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Reconstructionist Rabbinical College President Deborah Waxman, center right, speaks with students. Photo courtesy of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

(RNS) The rabbinical college of the Reconstructionist stream of Judaism has revoked its “non-Jewish partner” policy, becoming the first major Jewish movement to welcome seminary students who are in committed relationships with non-Jews.

“Today’s announcement is a decision by our faculty about what should or should not hold someone back from becoming a rabbi,” said Reconstructionist Rabbinical College President Deborah Waxman, of last week’s faculty vote, which was announced Wednesday (Sept. 30.)

“Our deliberations, heavily influenced through consultation with alumni, congregations and students, have simultaneously led us to reaffirm that all rabbinical candidates must model commitment to Judaism in their communal, personal and family lives,” said Waxman. “We witness Jews with non-Jewish partners demonstrating these commitments every day in many Jewish communities.”


READ: At Yom Kippur, a blessing for the congregation’s non-Jews


Reconstructionism, the smallest of the major movements in American Judaism — after the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox — includes about 100 affiliated synagogues in North America. But it has long taken a leading role in changing Jewish minds on cultural issues, particularly those involving women and gays. Based in Wyncote, Pa., outside Philadelphia, Reconstructionists were the first to celebrate girls’ bat mitzvahs, a coming-of-age ceremonies previously reserved for boys.

The debate over the “non-Jewish partners” policy within the school, also in Wyncote, Pa., began more than two years ago and included discussions of Jewish law, studies of Jewish demographic trends and consultations with Reconstructionist rabbis. The faculty’s vote to change the school’s policy — Waxman would not reveal the actual number who approved and disapproved of the change — affects both incoming students and those already enrolled in the school.

The revoked policy had stated: “The RRC does not ordinarily admit or graduate as a rabbi a student married to, or in a committed relationship with, a non-Jew.”

Though the school graduates, on average, eight to 10 students a year, and the policy change may affect few personally, it is based in principle, said Waxman, and should inform the debate on Jews and interfaith relationships beyond the college.

The subject of intermarriage is particularly touchy within the Jewish community, given that one-third of the world’s Jewish population — now around 14 million — was lost in the Holocaust and because intermarriage for American Jews now approaches 60 percent. Studies, including the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Portrait of American Jews, show that, as a group, children of intermarried couples are far more likely to shed their Jewish identities compared with the offspring of couples where both partners are Jewish.

The debate over intermarriage extends to the Reform movement — which accounts for about 35 percent of U.S. Jews — and where it is up to an individual rabbi to decide whether to officiate at the marriage of an interfaith couple. Conservative rabbis are prohibited from officiating at interfaith marriages, though a few have said they would like to. Neither Reform nor Conservative seminaries allow their students to be in committed relationships with non-Jews. In both streams of Judaism, gay marriages are blessed.

Orthodox Judaism prohibits both gay and interfaith marriage.


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Rabbi Mychal Copeland, who graduated from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2000, is now married to a Jewish woman with whom she was in a serious relationship when she was in rabbinical school. Copeland wishes her spouse could have converted without RRC’s old “no Jewish partners” policy forcing the issue.

She is glad for its revocation.

“RRC’s policy change recognizes that leaders who are part of religiously diverse families could be the best models for other interfaith families exploring Jewish life,” said Copeland, who heads InterfaithFamily/Bay Area, which helps deepen Jewish practice within families where one partner is not Jewish.

“A rabbi’s choice of partner does not reflect that leader’s religious life or commitment to Judaism,” Copeland continued. “Welcoming such rabbis sends a message to the large numbers of Jews partnered with people of different backgrounds that they, too, can lead rich and meaningful Jewish lives without feeling like second-class citizens.”

Said Rabbi Waxman: “The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to police; we want to welcome Jews and the people who love us to join us in the very difficult project of bringing meaning, justice and hope into our world.”

LM/MG END MARKOE

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  • It would have been worth noting that Secular Humanistic Judaism, whether or not it is considered a “major” movement, has welcomed intermarried rabbinic candidates since the inception of the rabbinic program of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in 1992.

    Rabbi Adam Chalom
    Dean – North America, IISHJ

  • Lauren Markoe

    Glad you mentioned it, Lauren

  • This “reconstructionism” sounds a lot more political than religious. It sounds like they just make it up as they go without regard to God and His Word. That’s not a good idea. Today many are politicizing religion. For those who are actually concerned about what God wants and commands, we can find His Words in the Holy Scriptures. They point us to Yeshua/Jesus who’s sacrificial atonement allows us to have our sins forgiven. He will return one day and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords from Jerusalem. And He will put in order the many things that man has corrupted. Shalom

  • hiho

    It is fashionable today to deny the divinity of the Bible and even to mock those who believe in God. Whereas the Bible does view homosexuality as perversion that can bring the death penalty, modern mores accept homosexuality and therefore religious movements that are rooted in the holy books reject contemporary ethics and moral and lose constituents.

    Other liberal leaning organizations accept the contemporary moral values and try to enhance themselves while rejecting the Biblical teachings.

    What will be in the end? Christian rabbis married to Muslim women? We will have to wait to see.

  • Garson Abuita

    This really puts the Reform movement out on a limb on this issue. Reform rabbis are permitted to perform interfaith marriages — but not themselves to be married to a non-Jew. The Judaism of those with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers is recognized. It doesn’t seem like a tenable situation in the long term.
    Not that the Conservative movement’s position is so tenable in light of demographics. Its solid “no” has already started fading and you see more acceptance of interfaith families (which is a good thing). My prediction is that CJ will devise a marriage ceremony that does not involve kiddushin [marriage by Jewish religious law] within the next several years to allow Jewish and non-Jewish spouses to marry under their auspices.

  • Larry

    “This “reconstructionism” sounds a lot more political than religious.”

    But it isn’t. Your ignorance is duly noted.

    It is in very poor taste to make your proselytizing pitch about Jesus when the subject article is Judaism. A religion which has been on the receiving end of prejudice and persecution by people calling themselves good Christian folk.

    “For those who are actually concerned about what God wants and commands, we can find His Words in the Holy Scriptures. They point us to Mohammad and the Koran” See how that works. 🙂