By Simon Rocker
August 2, 2013
Equality laws may be having more effect on Jewish life than many anticipated.
As we report in this week’s paper, Leo Baeck College, the progressive rabbinical training institute has changed its entry rules, which would have previously disallowed intermarried candidates for its ordination course.
Anti-discrimination laws do give religious groups some leeway: synagogues can still demand that their rabbi is Jewish.
But, after taking legal advice, the college decided that it could not longer stipulate that a rabbinic student’s wife or partner had to be Jewish.
In the meantime, Hebrew Union College, in the United States – the largest Progressive rabbinic academy in the world – is also reconsidering its entry rules, although not because of legislation.
The HUC has embarked on a lengthy consultation over whether it should continue to deny entry to intermarried students.
In a recent debate in the American journal Reform Judaism, one HUC student in favour of change, Daniel Kirzane, argued: “Outreach is no longer about ‘turning the tide of intermarriage’, as it was 35 years ago. Today it is about embracing both Jewish and non-Jewish members of Jewish families, affirming their positive contributions to our congregations and religious schools.
“I am a child of one of these families, as are many of my classmates. My parents modeled how to build a Jewish family with non-Jewish members, and I have followed their example by building a home committed to the Jewish values of activism, spirituality, and prayer. But had I chosen to build this home with a non-Jewish partner, I would not have been allowed even to apply to be a rabbinical student.”
But, putting the opposing view, fellow student Brandon Bernstein said that leaders had “a covenantal responsibility to God, Torah, and Israel that extends beyond the self. I do not think it is unreasonable to ask a future Jewish exemplar to choose a Jewish spouse or partner for the sake of this covenant.”