Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Reform Says No To Ordaining Intermarrieds, Reiterating Long-Standing Position

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2002

The top legal committee of Reform Judaism has reaffirmed the movement’s little-known ban on ordaining intermarried Jews as rabbis or cantors.  

Ami Eden, writing in The Forward (Feb. 8, 2002), states that, “The opinion is bound to surprise observers of the denomin­ation, generally considered to be liberal on intermarriage issues. Though the rule has been on the books for decades, it only recently became a subject of public debate when a rabbi in Pittsburgh raised the issue with the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis.”  

“We do not in the least regret our welcoming attitude toward the mixed married and our efforts at outreach to them,” the conference’s rabbinic guidance, or Responsa, committee stated in its opinion. “But we should never forget that the ideal toward which we rabbis strive, teach, and lead is that Jews should marry Jews. Since one of the ways in which we convey our teaching is through personal example, a rabbi’s life and home should embody this ideal.”  

The Forward reports: “The rabbi who raised the question, James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh, declined to comment on the ruling. According to the committee, Rabbi Gibson asked about the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s policy after one of his inter­married congregants complained that she did not qualify for the college’s rabbinic program. The movement’s main ordaining institution, HUC, historically has prohibited intermarried Jews from becoming clergy. In recent decades, however, the movement has launched major outreach initiatives to intermarried families, and in 1983 adopted the controversial policy of patrilineal descent, which amended the Jewish legal tradition to say that a child born to either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father is considered Jewish. Just last year, the Responsa Committee, which issues rulings on Jewish law, published an opinion stating that an intermarried Jew should be allowed to serve as a synagogue religious school teacher. Even in cases where the movement has adopted a stringent stand, the position has usually been trumped by Reform’s theological commitment to rabbinic autonomy. For example, Reform clergymen are free to perform intermarriages even though the conference has spoken out against the practice.”  

In The Forward’s view, “In the case of the ban on ordaining the intermarried, the commitment to individual religious liberty and outreach to the intermarried is taking a back seat to what Reform leaders describe as a need to promote the value of endogamy, or marrying within one’s group.”  

Egon Mayer, former director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a group that advocates outreach to intermarried and unaffiliated families, objects to the ban. “I would say that personal lifestyle choices shouldn’t be the sole test of whether somebody is qualified to be a leader and a teacher and a role model,” said Mr. Mayer, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate School at the City University of New York. “You have too many examples in real life when unpredictable characters become enormously beneficial to the Jewish community,”  

The Forward reports that, “Critics of the policy complained that it would actually work against preserving Jewish continuity by potentially robbing the rabbinate of candidates who could serve as effective ambassadors to the intermarried community.”  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.