Rabbis and Their Non-Jewish Partners

intermarriageThe message is that, although the Reform Movement tolerates [intermarriage] in our communities, they wish it would go away

By Lizz Goldstein

I have felt misled by the Reform Movement.

I was raised in the Reform Movement, a child of an interfaith couple who has always been committed to Judaism and who has known since adolescence that I wanted to follow a path to the rabbinate. I am now in my fifth and final year of rabbinical school at the Academy of Jewish Religion.

Recently, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) announced that it would now admit/ordain students in committed interfaith relationships. Other rabbinical schools (besides the Jewish Renewal Aleph Program) have a policy that students may not engage in interfaith relationships, and HUC even requires a signature on the application itself already promising that the applicant is not currently in an interfaith relationship and will not engage in one henceforth. I was disturbed when I learned of this, and in thinking about the news from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I realized that I need to articulate why this policy and HUC’s relationship waiver is so upsetting to me. Because, yes, I am defensive on behalf of interfaith families, but even more I feel duped by the Reform movement.

The Reform Movement’s stand on rabbinical students’ interfaith relationships says to me that my family was begrudgingly accepted because it was better than losing members completely; that they really believed my family was Jewish enough or that I would or could grow up a committed Jew; that they certainly never imagined that I might feel empowered by this Judaism that accepted my family so much so that I might aspire to leadership in this Jewish world. This says to me that this acceptance is an illusion, that my family and way of life is not Jewish enough; that the non-Jewish parent who brought me to Hebrew school all those years is still just another non-Jew to you, and you can’t trust that any other non-Jew might really do that or that their children could learn to be Jewish. It tells me that you don’t care that I want to be a rabbi and that my partner has committed to me and my life as a rabbi, because you can’t really be sure that we are properly committed to Jewish family values, as long as only one of us is Jewish and that no matter how we raise our children in your eyes they will not be considered appropriately Jewish. It tells me that everything I was raised with is wrong and I shouldn’t even consider for one second it’s worth modeling my own life, partnership, or family values on, and that if I did I would be immediately disqualified as a worthy role model or Jewish leader.

This personal insult is matched by the institutional message. If the Reform movement believes what it says, interfaith families are welcome and that patrilineal Jews are Jews that we accept and cherish the interfaith families in our communities, the powers that be need to be aware that the children of those families may grow up with strong Jewish identities, commitment to the Jewish people, a desire for leadership and maybe even the rabbinate. When I learned about the “waiver” on the HUC application I argued that it was hurtful to applicants coming from interfaith families. I was told it’s different for rabbis because “we’re projecting an image” and that requires a stronger Jewish home life than what is expected of our congregants. The message is that rabbinical students and rabbis are “projecting an image” and thus are expected to have Jewish spouses in order to teach better Jewish family values than we from interfaith families learned at home. The message is that, although the Reform Movement tolerates it in our communities, they wish it would go away, so its rabbinical school enforces a policy that our leaders not participate in such unholy unions. I grew up having been taught that love is love, regardless of religion, and I would be proud to model my own healthy relationships after that of my parents’. The message of the HUC waiver is that my family is wrong, and that is hypocritical, shameful, and, well, wrong.

I have been misled by the Reform Movement.

Lizz Goldstein is the Holder of The Jacqueline Smith Memorial Rabbinic Internship at Temple Beth Emeth in Brooklyn.