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Rabbinical School and the Interfaith Marriage

New Voices, the National Jewish Student Magazine published a well-reported story on The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi, mainly about David Curiel, a friend of ours. Curiel forwarded us the URL to the article. Here’s an excerpt:

His path to rabbinical school was roundabout indeed. It started in 2003, when he met Amberly Polidor, who grew up worlds apart from Curiel in a conservative Christian family. Polidor had left the church, and soon after they started dating, the couple began attending services regularly at Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Beyt Tikkun, a synagogue in Berkeley, California. It was there, Curiel says, that he “found God.” He began taking classes with Lerner and other local rabbis. Shortly after he and Polidor were married in 2005, Curiel felt that he’d finally found his calling.

So he was shocked when Hebrew College (HC), the non-denominational, Boston-based rabbinical school that appealed to him because it seemed “progressive and forward-thinking,” told him he would not be welcome at its seminary because his wife was not Jewish.

Neither Curiel’s situation nor HC’s policy is unique. The Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) all refuse to admit or ordain students in relationships with non-Jews. “Because we believe in the importance of Jewish family modeling,” reads the policy at HUC, the network of seminaries for America’s largest Jewish denomination, “applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program.”

As you might imagine, the issue of rabbinical schools admitting students who are in interfaith marriages is very interesting for us at IFF. You probably realized that when we published Edie Mueller’s personal story, Why I’m Not A Rabbi, about her experience applying for rabbinical school. Like Curiel, Mueller also discovered a connection to Jewish spirituality and religion after she married someone who wasn’t Jewish and was prompted to examine her attachment to Judaism.

Both the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Moment linked to this on their blogs, without comment.  Andrew Silow-Carroll quoted the article at length in a post cleverly named after the Chaim Grade novel Rabbis and Wives. It’s kind of ironic, to me, that the issues of what the role of a rabbi is and should be continue to be just as fraught and difficult as they were in the turn of the century setting of Grade’s books.

Ruth Abrams


Author: Ruth Abrams