ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal – now among the largest of the rigorous liberal Jewish seminaries – warmly welcomes the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s historic decision to admit and graduate rabbinical students who have non-Jewish partners.
Quietly and experimentally over the last decade, ALEPH has accepted applications from prospective students who have non-Jewish partners, recognizing the spiritual gifts and potential of individuals who have found love and committed partnership with another who has deep resonances with Judaism but is not a Jew. We welcome RRC in this important trajectory for the future of Jewish spiritual service in the 21st century. ALEPH takes this position with some nuance, borne from our decade of experience in this area, that we hope will serve RRC and the broader Jewish world in navigating this moment with wisdom.
ALEPH’s Decade of Experience
Every contemporary liberal seminary, within the parameters of its boundaries, must grapple with the reality of the growing number of Jews who partner with non-Jews, and see that among them are individuals of exceptional talent who feel called to offer inspired and inspiring organizational and spiritual leadership in the Jewish world. The Jewish community navigates this emerging reality with deep concern for the Jewish future – a profound concern for assimilation on the one hand, and on the other hand a desire to embrace and cultivate the talent and dedication of those whose leadership gifts and passion to serve can and should be engaged.
We also recognize that the blend of unique life-circumstances, skills, gifts, sensibilities and intentions, character, maturity and network of relationships is critical to discerning the rightness of a Jewish clergy path for any given individual. For this reason, ALEPH evaluates applications from all prospective students including students who have non-Jewish partners on a case-by-case basis. The ALEPH Ordination Program does not automatically exclude intermarried applicants and indeed has accepted some of those students into our program, and ordained some who have a non-Jewish spouse/partner.
That said, our experience is that it can be exceptionally challenging to serve as Jewish clergy with a non-Jewish partner. The life of Jewish clergy requires a caliber of dedicated commitment to Jewish practice, education, ritual, lifestyle and community that can be difficult to undertake and sustain without the integral involvement of one’s partner. Thankfully, in many cases the non-Jewish partner feels so included and enthused by the spiritual vitality of our ALEPH community that they choose to “join the Tribe,” and we have warmly welcomed them. Yet we also see that upon occasion the non-Jewish partner or spouse might not officially join the Jewish people but is able to be a vibrantly dedicated ally. We are exploring how these partnerships can become models for the possibility that Jewish clergy who have non-Jewish partners and spouses can live passionate Jewish lives and bring inspired Jewish leadership to congregations, communities and families. Indeed, we see that in certain environments those clergy can be especially suited to serve.
In each case, we engage in protracted dialogue and deep discernment to reveal the suitability or unsuitability of a clergy path for each applicant and student.
We hope now to explore and learn along with RRC and share this trajectory of experience. May we all keep our focus on the future of the Jewish people and together explore all the authentic and inclusive ways that we can best serve our people and the world in this time.
Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean & Director of ALEPH Ordination Program
Shoshanna R. Schechter-Shaffin, Executive Director, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Evan Markus, co-chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal<
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