(JNi.media) On September 21, the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) voted that having a non-Jewish partner would no longer bar qualified applicants from admission to RRC, or from graduating as rabbis, according to the movement’s website, which notes that “the policy change is the result of many years of discussion within the Reconstructionist movement.”
Reconstructionist Judaism, aka Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, which originated in the 1920s as a branch of Conservative Judaism, views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. Halakha-Jewish Law is not considered by the movement to be binding, it is only a valuable cultural remnant that should be kept unless one has a reason not to. The movement cultivates communal decision making through a process of education and distillation of values from traditional Jewish sources.
Its website, recruiting candidates for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), features a page titled “Interested in RRC’s New Entry Standards?” offers the movement’s brass tacks requirements of people wishing to become Reconstructionist rabbis:
Jewish: Born of at least one Jewish parent and raised as a Jew, or a Jew-by-choice. For Jews-by-choice, conversions by all denominations accepted.
Jewish Commitments: Actively demonstrates engagement with God, Torah, and the Jewish people. Models commitment to Jewish community and continuity in one’s personal, familial, and communal life. Engages in Jewish practice thoughtfully and with respect for tradition.
In conclusion, the recruitment page declares: “Age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, color, ancestry, national origin, handicap and disability will not be determining factors in the considerations of the Admissions Committee.” With that spirit in mind, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities, sent out an email adding yet another step back from adherence to classical Jewish Law, namely the RRC’s vote “to no longer ban RRC students in good standing from graduating as rabbis, because they have non-Jewish partners.”
“Why have we taken this step? We no longer want to prevent very wonderful and engaged Jewish leaders from becoming rabbis. After years of study, research, and discussion with many members of the Reconstructionist community, we have concluded that the status of a rabbinical student’s partner is not a reliable measure of the student’s commitment to Judaism—or lack thereof. Nor does it undermine their passion for creating meaningful Judaism and bringing us closer to a just world.”
The bombshell explodes in the second half of Waxman’s paragraph, as she declares:
“The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to fight or police; we want to welcome Jews and the people who love us to join us in the very difficult project of bringing meaning, justice, and hope into our world.”
The email stirred some negative reactions even in a movement that appears to have left most legal Jewish standards behind. Rabbi Lester Bronstein of Bet Am Shalom Synagogue in White Plains, New York, told the NY Times he was very disappointed with the change. It’s one thing to accept intermarried couples—which his community has been doing—but Bronstein sees his job as encouraging intermarried couples in his community who “generally are looking for a very clear model of commitment for making a Jewish home, which you generally see when both partners (rabbi and spouse) are Jews,” Bronstein said.
Waxman begs to differ, as her email states that the decision to accept rabbis with gentile spouses “reflects some of the realities in Jewish communities today. Our congregations have members with non-Jewish partners, and we need rabbis who can provide them with role models for vibrant Jewish living.”
It remains to be seen whether this dispute over whether being intermarried constitutes a proper role model for vibrant Jewish living would bring about another split in a movement that was born from a split and only three years ago, in June of 2012, has restructured itself yet again.