Question: Can an Intermarried Jew become a Rabbi?
I am a Jewish man who is married to a Catholic woman. She is very supportive and participates in all of my holidays and traditions, however she is not interested in converting. I am currently a lawyer, but have great interest in becoming a Rabbi myself. Is there any way for me to do this with my interfaith marriage?
Answer: Thank you for your question about the possibility of studying for the rabbinate as an intermarried Jew.
Different movements in Judaism take different approaches toward intermarriage. In orthodoxy, intermarriage is entirely rejected and intermarried Jews are regarded as having violated an important Torah prohibition. Orthodox rabbinic seminaries would no more consider accepting an intermarried student than they would consider a student who rejected observance of Shabbat or the laws of eating kosher food.
In contrast, the Reform Movement embraces interfaith families and welcomes them in the Jewish community. Intermarried Jews are included in every aspect of synagogue life. However, the Reform Movement regards in-marriage -- Jew married to Jew -- as the Jewish ideal. The Reform Movement takes seriously the fact that interfaith families have a much lower rate of raising children with strong Jewish identities than families in which both parents are Jewish.
The Reform Movement holds that a rabbi married to a non-Jew would model the wrong message to young Jews considering their own futures. For this reason, the Reform Movement is very dubious of admitting interfaith students to its rabbinic program at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This position has resulted in a de facto policy: HUC-JIR does not admit intermarried Jews to its rabbinic and cantorial programs. However, I would encourage you to discuss your situation with HUC-JIR's admissions officers, especially if you are particularly interested in serving Reform Jews.
None of the movement-affiliated rabbinic seminaries accept intermarried students, including the seminaries of the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements. However, some independent rabbinic seminaries may. Look carefully at these schools. Some are not accredited educational institutions; the graduates of some have difficulty finding positions in movement-affiliated congregations.
Of course, marital status is not even close to being a major consideration for admission to rabbinic school. Rabbinic students must be well qualified in their academic skills and achievement, in the depth of their experience in the Jewish community, and in their desire to serve the Jewish people.
Finally, I would add that the rabbinate is not the only way to serve. Communal service professionals, Jewish educators and administrators also play vital roles in our communities. You didn't mention in your letter why you are interested in becoming a rabbi. It would be worthwhile for you to reflect on your goals and what unique skills you have to bring to the Jewish people.
I wish you well in your journey.
Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser