26 April 2013

Should Rabbis Date Non-Jews?

Should rabbis date non-Jews?  asks the Forward.

Um, no.

That's my answer to one of the latest issues to distract the Jewish community from more pressing issues at hand, like making Torah relevant, preserving the Hebrew language, engaging Israel in a meaningful way, connecting to God, and strengthening people's connection to Jewish history, culture and civilization where spirituality doesn't satisfy.

But using the pulpit to say that rabbinical students are being discriminated against because their spouses have not converted to Judaism?

Give me a break.

Rabbi-to-be Dan Kirzane has been making the rounds with this argument which frankly, embarrases me as a rabbi who represents both an open approach to intermarried families as well as a principled approach to representing the Jewish tradition more broadly among all the Jewish people--not only Reform Jews.  More succinctly, Kirzane's position makes us look bad.

Like a lot of people who choose the rabbinate, Kirzane confuses his role as a Jewish leader, not able to avoid the pitfall wherein lay leaders and clergy live by the same rules.  We don't.  Rabbis are supposed represent the aspirations of the tradition and living Jewish lives as Jews is one of them.

One core principle of his argument--that there exists a "double-standard" between Reform synagogues that allow lay leaders to be intermarried and HUC-JIR, which trains rabbis, cantors and educators and does not--is most illustrative of the flaws in his thinking.

While it's true that Judaism's core values of Shabbat, Torah, Hebrew prayer, and mitzvot can, in theory, be performed by anyone in a family regardless of religious status, the rabbi is expected to model another value:  the Jewish people.

A potential rabbinical student married to or dating a non-Jew needs to have the courage and the principles to state unequivocally to his or her partner, "Please become a Jew.  Being a Jew is the most important thing in the world to me and I want you to share that destiny with me."

That statement to a loved one is, to my mind, the most compelling form of "outreach" we possess.


Unknown said...

I completely agree with you Andy, in this case, but your reasoning worries me. Rabbis are certainly "symbolic exemplars" but all kinds of pulpit rabbis talk about how that designation leads to feelings of isolation and disconnect with their own communities. Rabbis must be with people in their deepest, darkest most vulnerable moments so some people feel most comfortable creating a kind "kavod harav" wall. I get it. I also get the idea that rabbis should build that wall, should live exactly like their congregants so they can better relate. Saying that rabbis should live up to higher standards just because they are rabbis complicated. Does that come down in questions of observance as well? What about business/fundraising and administration in synagogues or in the movement? In practice, what other higher standards are there for rabbis? And why shouldn't everyone abide by them? Intermarriage happens. We need to be welcoming. And I agree that rabbis shouldn't be dating or marrying non-Jews. We just need a better reason than because they are rabbis (rabbinical students). And I think we should let it go and focus on the other issues you mention that the beginning of the blog, which are so much more pressing for our tribe.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. We cannot compromise principles in the name of inclusiveness. Though frankly I think too much attention is being paid to this discussion. I think Mr. Kirzane has been misguided.