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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi

How the reform movement has reached the ultimate diversity.

Angela Buchdahl was born to an Ashkenazi, Reform Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother, yet on her path to the rabbinate did not take the time to convert to Judaism.

Angela Buchdahl was born to an Ashkenazi, Reform Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother, yet on her path to the rabbinate did not take the time to convert to Judaism.

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Over the past few years, Reform and Conservative Judaism have been struggling so much with the notion of ordaining women rabbis and gay rabbis, that we, the spectators (innocent bystanders?) of those struggles have completely lost sight of an even more challenging notion: can they ordain gentile rabbis?

To cut a long story short: they can and they have. The Reform movement has done, and as a result, I believe, has placed itself outside the Rabbinical Jewish tradition regarding the fundamental notion of who qualifies as a Jew.

I became aware of this complete and, presumably, final split between Jews and the largely American Reform movement after receiving a link to Seth Berkman’s piece in the Forward: Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. The article praises Angela as an example of diversity, who “walks among the pews, greeting congregants before Friday night services at Manhattan’s venerable Central Synagogue,” where she faces “a mélange of Jewish faces, including blacks, Asians and Hispanics,” in a “diversity that reflects the emergence of an American Jewry of unprecedented ethnic breadth.”

Had I known nothing more about the above paragraph, I would have been beaming with pride over it. In the shuls I attended on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, spotting an African or a Hispanic face was always such a source of pleasure. As a tiny nation and an even tinier religious group, we prize every gentile who embraces our faith and goes through the sometimes grueling process of becoming one of us.

Except that Berkman cuts to the chase right at the opener, making clear that no such grueling effort was involved in Angela Buchdahl’s joining the Chosen People: it turns out that the diversity she so praises at that Reform gathering is “embodied” by Buchdahl, who was “born to an Ashkenazi, Reform Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother.”

Exactly 30 years ago, in 1983, the Reform movement in America adopted the bilineal policy: “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.”

It should be noted that outside the U.S. the Reform moevement is yet to adopt the sweeping “presumption of Jewish descent” doctrine, but they do, by and large, offer “accelerated conversions” to children of a Jewish father.

Hadassah Magazine, which Berkman quotes in her story, featured a profile of the Korean born Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor or rabbi and the first woman to attain both positions.

For Buchdahl, according to Hadassah magazine, key Jewish values include “a spirit of genuine inquiry and multiple opinions; our whole method of study and nondogmatic spirit; the dignity of every person and the fact that we are all created in the image of God; the ability to know what it is to be a stranger and to have been a slave—and to force ourselves to embody that understanding in every generation.”

Far be it from me to criticize such fine and noble notions, but it is difficult to recognize in that amalgam anything uniquely Jewish. Absent is the idea of fulfilling the mitzvot as a divine agenda. It’s all about getting along with others and respecting them, not so much about applying Torah laws to one’s daily life.

Indeed, the more the Reform movement is reinventing itself, the closer it gets to Christianity. She’s been active, among other things, at Auburn Theological Seminary, “an interfaith platform to address global issues and build bridges across religious traditions.”

“Angela is an extraordinary religious leader,” Rev. Katherine Henderson, Auburn’s president, told Hadassah. At a gathering for a Presbyterian group last year, Buchdahl “led worship that was completely authentic for her as a Jew and yet completely accessible for this group of Christians,” says Henderson. “We were all able to praise God together!”

This reporter is known to be flippant, so I very much want to avoid being flippant about this story. I don’t think we should denounce people like Angela Buchdahl, or condemn the Reform movement for its straying so far out of the Rabbinical Jewish tent. But we should remain steadfast in not calling any of these people and the nice things they do “Jewish” in any way at all. We’re already not permitted to set foot inside their houses of worship. We should probably stop calling their religious teachers “Rabbi” – perhaps “Reform Rabbi” will do. And we should look forward to the time when calling someone “Reform” would simply mean a really nice non-Jew.

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About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.


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123 Responses to “It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi”

  1. GregLauren says:

    i attended a wedding of two Jews (not to be confused with a Jewish wedding) that she officiated.
    treif cocktail hour.
    at least she gave a nice vort for Bereishis.

  2. Alexis Worlock says:

    Step by incremental step…Reform Judaism replaces Judaism with Basic Liberal Platform.
    Reminds one of a liberal Protestant church with a Jewish accent.

  3. Lou Averbach says:

    is anyone surprised?

  4. YoriYanover says:

    GregLauren Did they break a glass — and why?

  5. Dan Silagi says:

    Anna Buchdahl is Jewish. Her father is Jewish and she obviously considers herself Jewish, being as she's a rabbi. If that doesn't meet with your approval, or with the approval of your Haredi friends who don't consider Reform and Conservative Jews as Jewish to begin with, tough.

  6. Eli Celnik says:

    Wow…another step clsoer to the edge. How about we jsut make the Pope a Rabbi.

  7. Ben Yosef Shomer says:

    are you a Jew ? today all the crazy x-ians consider themselves real Israel, you the reform apostates, you are worst.
    Hashem yerachameinu

  8. Shira Louis Yashin says:

    A person who moves to the US at the age of 2 and lives there all his life but never takes the citizenship test is NOT a citizen. Declaring yourself a Jew is meaningless if you do not go through a halachic conversion. If I "consider" myself a Catholic could I become a priest? And Dan, I am a Bat Torah, not hareidi, and your words show your anti-orthodox bias.

  9. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi · It doesn't meet with the approval of the vast majority of Jews. This is not a popularity contest, this is the very notion of what it means to be Jewish. If you don't get it, that's ok.

  10. Dan Silagi says:

    Yes, Bin Laden Shomer, I'm Jewish, and proud of it. It's intolerant jerks like you who give Judaism a bad name. We're all the same under God. I'm very proud of Rabbi Buchman and will make a special point of driving into Manhattan this Friday to attend her service at Central Synagogue of NY.

  11. Shira Louis Yashin says:

    You know what they say – reform Judaism is liberalism with holidays.

  12. Can someone tell me why they claim to be Jewish? call yourselves Christians , Jewish your'e not….

  13. Larry Kenigsberg i'm sure you will have something to say ….

  14. Shemayah Shiloh Phillips says:

    I know there have been changes to Judaism regarding matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent but I have more problem with the looseness of Reform, worshiping with Christians, etc. Too much.

  15. Dan Silagi says:

    The vast majority of Haredim wouldn't approve. Probably most MO Jews as well. But less than 20% of Jews are orthodox.

  16. @Dan Silagi: "Anna Buchdahl is Jewish… she obviously considers herself Jewish…"

    So the fact that a person considers oneself Jewish makes that person Jewish? Do you actually believe that?

  17. Dan Silagi says:

    Yours, Shira, is the typical attitude of orthodox Jews, haredi and otherwise. Those who aren't orthodox are somehow "lesser" Jews than those who are, and to those who'd question why you say that, you'd answer, "Well, God said so." Not correct. Halaicha said so, and God isn't Halaicha.

  18. Dan Silagi says:

    The reason I don't call myself a Christian, Natan, is because (1) I'm Jewish (100% on both sides) and (2) I don't believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. For that matter, I don't believe Jesus did either; it was his followers who elevated him posthumously to divinity status. On the other hand, I believe Jesus of Nazereth was a great prophet, and it behooves all of us to pay close attention to what he said, particularly when he was speaking of what comes OUT of your mouth rather than what goes into it.

  19. @Dan Silagi: "We're all the same under God."

    In what manner does that proposition constitute an argument that Anna Buchdahl is Jewish? Are you saying that all people in the world are Jewish?

  20. Dan Silagi says:

    She's an ordained rabbi, Moisheleh. She's Jewish. And who are you, Moisheleh, to say otherwise? Show me your smicha.

  21. Dan Silagi says:

    Moshe Z. Matitya Yes.

  22. Menachem Rephun says:

    Dan Silagi You're not Jewish if you're mother isn't Jewish. It doesn't matter what you think, nothing is going to change that, not now, not in a thousand years from now

  23. Menachem Rephun says:

    Dan Silagi "Ordained" by who? Other non-Jewish "rabbis"? This is a farce

  24. Menachem Rephun says:

    she is not Jewish

  25. Yori Yanover says:

    Dan Silagi – You're mixing "Haredi" and "Orthodox" for "Jewish." It turns out that even non-American REFORM Jews don't accept the nonsense you've stated here. The gimmick invented by the American Reform movement, that no matter which of ypor parents is Jewsih, you are a Jew, will, finally sever them from the body politic of the Jewish nation. As to yourself — you may still hold on to some Jewish customs, but I doubt your children will, if you don't marry Jewish. It's not because there's anything wrong with you — you actually belong with the majority.

    Historically, every century or so we lose about 80% of the nation to all kinds of bad choices. Your case is extremely ordinary.

  26. Isabel Etkind says:

    Very Very Strange world that we live in!!!

  27. Menachem Rephun says:

    Dan Silagi He was a false prophet. Malachi was the last of the Nevi'im. Prophecy had been extinct for 200 years at the time when jesus appeared on the scene, assuming he actually existed at all considering that the personality of jesus has been so submerged in pagan mythology.Yes he said what goes out of the mouth defiles it in order to abolish the laws of kashrus which is explicitly stated in the verse right after that

  28. Menachem Rephun says:

    Name one "prophecy" of that man that has come even close to being fulfilled. He claimed the Beit HaMikdash would be destroyed and not even one stone would remain. Obviously that is not true because the Wall is still standing and there are still other parts of the Temple that remain intact. He also said that his followers would be immortal and promised them immense material wealth for following him. Big surprise, that never happened either.

  29. @Dan Silagi: "She's an ordained rabbi, Moisheleh. She's Jewish. And who are you, Moisheleh, to say otherwise? Show me your smicha."

    (1) My name is not "Moisheleh". Do you believe that you boost your position by mocking people's names?

    (2) I never "said otherwise". I simply asked you a question about what your opinion is. You responded by attacking me.

  30. @Dan Silagi: "Yes."

    Yes what? Yes that you believe that a person is Jewish simply by virtue of considering oneself to be Jewish? Or yes that all people in the world are Jewish because "we're all the same under God"?

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