Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Intermarried rabbis? Please!

Quite the tempest in the teapot has been brewing as of late at The Times of Israel. It all began with Rabbi Mark Miller’s quite sensible criticism of Daniel Kirzane’s demand that Reform rabbinical students be empowered to intermarry. Kirzane, a student at Hebrew Union College, seized the moment to reiterate his demand, advancing the notion that allowing for intermarried rabbis will actually “advance the mission of the people of Israel” and citing no less than the prophet Isaiah for backup.

Meanwhile, “the Jew in the street” chimed in, with Aliza Worthington describing her own marriage to a Catholic and citing Jewish inflexibility, not Jewish intermarriage, as the real threat to Jewish continuity – echoed by high school student Adin Feder citing his own pro-intermarriage survey results at his school as proof that the Jewish “peanut gallery” is causing grave insult when it presumes to oppose intermarriage (and in his case, citing the prophet Ezekiel for backup).

For all of the heat in these exchanges, as is so often the case when the emotionally charged subject of intermarriage comes up, there is precious little light. And in the end, all the flying sparks are still a tempest in a teapot – it’s fair to say that, even if Kirzane’s proposal were adopted, intermarried rabbis would be no more than a statistical blip on the screen.

So why bother adding my voice to this already crowded, noisy and strident field? Because when Jews make the choice to become Jewish leaders, their actions leave the realm of private decisions rendered for their personal benefit and become public decisions that carry deep symbolic and practical significance for us all. When Kirzane demands “marriage freedom” for Reform rabbis, he is saying that, as an aspiring public Jewish leader and role model, his private actions don’t really matter. Above all, he should be able to do whatever he pleases. If the future Rabbi Kirzane were to marry a fundamentalist Muslim calling for Israel’s destruction, or an evangelical Christian seeking to convert Jewish souls, or just an everyday person who follows a faith that is not Judaism, he’s saying that it should not matter and it’s nobody business.

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