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Reform Allows Hebrew Schools to Hire Intermarried Teachers

This article originally appeared in, and is reprinted with permission of, the Forward. Visit www.Forward.com. For subscription information, call 1-866-399-7900.

The top legal committee of Reform Judaism has ruled that intermarried Jews can be allowed to serve as Hebrew-school teachers.

Candidates' "Jewish depth and family life," not their marital status, is the key question in hiring teachers, according to the recently published opinion.

The committee also acknowledged that many Reform temples are suffering from a shortage of qualified teachers and would suffer from a blanket ban on hiring intermarried Jews.

"Mixed marriage may be evidence that an individual is not the sort of Jew we want as a religious school teacher, and then again it may not. Each case must be judged on its own merits," according to the opinion by the Responsa Committee of the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis, which was posted recently on the CCAR web site.

The decision is the opposite of an opinion published three years ago by Conservative Judaism's top law-making body. It indicates that intermarriage remains a significant fault line between liberal movements widely seen to have been moving towards one another on several theological and liturgical fronts. Both movements oppose intermarriage, but, as demonstrated by the recent decision, Reform rabbis tend to favor a more welcoming approach to mixed couples.

The Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards ruled that intermarried Jews, by definition, are unfit to serve as rabbis, cantors, youth workers, educators or executive directors.

"Ideally, congregations and day schools should only engage individuals for positions in which they will serve as role models if they reflect the institution's value system," according to the Conservative opinion, authored by Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. "The Conservative Movement has determined that intermarriage is destructive to the fabric of that which we hold dear, that which we value."

The Conservative movement also bars non-Jewish spouses from receiving traditional ritual honors and assuming leadership positions in synagogue life, and Conservative rabbis are not allowed to perform intermarriages.

While the national Reform bodies have spoken out against intermarriage, its rabbis are allowed to set their own standards on such issues, and an increasing number of congregations are opting for more open policies.

Perhaps the most significant dividing point is patrilineal descent: The children of intermarried couples are considered Jewish in Reform congregations; in Conservative synagogues, as in Orthodox shuls, children are only considered Jewish if they are born to a Jewish mother.

The CCAR opinion said its decision on intermarried teachers reflects the movement's commitment to "loving outreach" and could draw intermarried educators and their families closer to Judaism.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Ami Eden

Ami Eden writes for the Forward.

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