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June 26, 2013

Why Reform rabbis should marry other Jews

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/why_reform_rabbis_should_marry_other_jews/

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Current policy states that applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program.  – “Admission Requirements” page for the Rabbinical School at Hebrew Union College   

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If you want to become a rabbi, marry a Jew. That is the clear message – an unobjectionable message, one would think -- that Hebrew Union College sends to its prospective and current rabbinical students. If someone wants to apply to HUC’s rabbinical school, he has to be either single or partnered with a Jew. This policy seems a no-brainer to this interested outsider, since a rule requiring a future rabbi’s partner to be Jewish communicates the same message that a rule requiring a future rabbi to be Jewish does: Being Jewish is important.

Given that only 12% of Mormons marry outside the faith, more than one Jewish commentator (including, most recently, Naomi Schaefer Riley) has suggested that Jews look to see whether there is something Mormons are doing to promote intrafaith marriage that can be imitated or adapted by Jews.

One thing that church leaders do to promote temple marriages, the Mormon ideal, is to call men to lead congregations as bishops (= rabbis) who have been married in an LDS temple. I have never met a bishop who was not a partner in what we call an eternal marriage. When bishops discuss the importance of marrying in the temple with teenagers or young single adults, they have instant credibility because they have shown by example how important it is to them. I’m trying to imagine how a similar presentation on temple marriage would be received if it were made by a bishop who was married to a non-Mormon.

You could make the case (as a Reform rabbi does) that Mormons who have married outside the faith might view a bishop who is married to a non-Mormon as more approachable. However, since most Mormons I know in this situation would give anything to have their spouses convert and then be sealed to them in a temple marriage, I think it helps to have someone to guide them during that process (if and when it happens) who has already done what they would like to do.
  
Another message that is transmitted by a bishop who is married in a temple is that it’s important to be a Mormon. There are wonderful people of all faiths (and none), and there are good Mormons who have married outside the faith. However, a bishop who has married his wife in an LDS temple shows his congregants by his actions how necessary it was for him to marry someone who could be “sealed” to him in a Mormon temple. Had he chosen to marry, say, a nice Jewish girl instead, it would then become a difficult case for him to make that being a Mormon is very important. In addition, it is important, especially for young Mormons, to see that the leader of their congregation could have dated and married a wonderful Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Buddhist girl, but chose not to.    

By way of contrast, it is difficult to find a compelling reason – besides making his mother happy -- for a man who is Reform to limit his wife search to Jewish women, as long as the prospective spouse agrees to raise their children as Jews. After all, the Reform movement accepts patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent, so a child doesn’t need to have a Jewish mother in order to be considered a Jew. Religious practices that might turn off a Gentile spouse, like keeping a kosher home, are not normally a problem for Reform Jews, who can usually find a level of observance (and an accommodating synagogue) that is comfortable for them. As long as the children are raised as Jews, I’m unaware of any Jewish religious teaching that says that Jews who are married to non-Jews are entitled to fewer blessings in this life or in the olam ha-ba.

As someone who fervently believes that there should be more, not fewer, Jews in this world, I hope and pray that HUC retains its policy. It’s not too much to ask that someone who aspires to be a spiritual leader in the Reform Jewish community, one that is struggling to deal with a high intermarriage rate, should show his commitment to Judaism by marrying/partnering within the tribe.

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