RRC Allows Rabbinical Students with non-Jewish Partners (Yay!)

"On September 21, 2015, RRC’s faculty voted that having a non-Jewish partner would no longer bar qualified applicants from admission to RRC, or from graduating as rabbis. The policy change is the result of many years of discussion within the Reconstructionist movement." For more, read this Article on the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College's Website

I used to be such a stickler about who was a Jew and who wasn't.

  • I'd flinch if a non-Jew even tried to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah. 
  • I'd sigh judgmentally when a non-Jewish parent of a bar or bat mitzvah wanted to participate in the more sacrosanct rituals of the ceremony. 
  • I argued in front of our synagogue Board that non-Jews shouldn't be allowed to serve. I am so ashamed of that now. Seriously -- who sets up rules to prevent people from joining a synagogue board? 
  • I'd count up how many of my aunts and uncles and cousins married non-Jews and didn't participate in synagogue life. And I was self-righteous about my own choices.

But I never really thought about how I was contributing to the problem. Why did Judaism "lose out" to the arms of other faiths and religions?

Would you want to join a religion that was so prickly about your identity? Where people consistently thought of you as an outsider, and at some services, for some prayers, you didn't even count? Oh sure, you're the 10th person in shul this morning, but we don't have 10 Jews so we can't do a Torah service and we have to skip these important prayers. You. Don't. Count.

And now, if you're a passionate lover of Judaism who wants to go to rabbinical school but fell in love with and chose a non-Jewish mate, you can now say I. Still. Count. And so does my partner.

Think of all the times you've felt left out -- just go to Facebook and look at all the cool vacations and parties your friends went to without you. Think back to middle school and high school. It's a terrible feeling, and we as a Jews do this all the time. Worse, we do it to the very people who are brave enough to show up at our door and say
"I'm interested."
"I want to learn."
"I want to participate."
"I want to help."
"I think I might fit in here."
"Can I come in?"
We should respond with enthusiasm. Yes! Of course you can come in.You are welcome here. We're glad you came. Tell us about yourself. Want a bagel?

So Who's a Jew?

Don't panic. We don't have to get rid of the old to embrace the new. I'm confident that Judaism will keep lineage Judaism, for now. In the future, I'd like to see a real acknowledgement that we are all Jews by Choice these days, and we honor people who choose to be Jewish.

I "passed" my Judaism on to my kids just by giving birth to them, but that one connection of DNA doesn't really matter. I've really passed my Judaism on to them over the past 14 years.
We have:
celebrated major and minor holidays,
lit candles on Shabbat,
sent them to religious school,
taught them Jewish values,
kept a kosheresque diet,
said mourner's kaddish together for people they'd never met,
and studied and talked about Torah together.

All to help them move toward meaningful b'nai mitzvah celebrations and, I hope, meaningful and connected Jewish lives. They are Jews, but they also do Judaism.

My husband was raised Unitarian Universalist, and he converted to Judaism before we got married. But even if he hadn't, all those activities above would still have happened. I'm guessing that a Jew serious enough to consider rabinnical school would do the same.

Are people worried that a rabbi with a non-Jewish partner wouldn't do all of those things? Would not raise Jewish children? I predict the exact opposite. What a wonderful example they could set for the interfaith families in their community. You can do this! Follow us. We will lead you and help you, and we know what you're going through.

If I hadn't followed a Jewish path, my children would still be "technically" Jewish. Jewish mother = Jewish kids. What good is that? It gets you into Israel. You don't have to convert if you choose to join a more religious congregation -- but that accident of birth does not always make Jews who feel like Jews. Neither does a perfunctory bar or bat mitzvah about which they will always say, "That was he last time I walked into (and out of) a synagogue."

Naysaying the Naysayers

You only have to read the comments on an article like this to see that people are afraid. The Forward

What if we water down Judaism so much that it isn't Judaism any more?
We no longer have temple sacrifices. We survive and thrive.
Judaism has always (always!) been a changing, constantly evolving religion, absorbing and shedding traditions and rules since the very first days. Why stop adapting now?

If the rabbi is married to a non-Jew, everyone will think it's OK!
Exactly. Say it again without the sneer. "Hey! If the rabbi is married to a non-Jew and is still super-Jewish, I can be too! And my spouse will be accepted here."

How can the rabbi's spouse participate if he/she isn't Jewish?
You might be surprised at how many of the regular faces you see at synagogue, volunteering at events, shlepping chairs and siddurim, are not Jewish.

Also, maybe this can be the first step in including more non-Jews in meaningful ways, ways that make them feel like they belong, because they do.

No one will convert if we allow this!
Oh, you might be surprised. There might be more people converting to Judaism once they find out that it's not a place that pushes them away. Not only that, how many more Jews will stay involved if their entire family is welcome? A good book that addresses this: Opening the Gates

Mazal Tov, RRC! Well done. I can't wait to see where this goes.

(Thanks also to Julie Silver for writing her blog piece a few years ago that really got me thinking about this topic. Julie Silver's Blog)

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