An Open Letter to Rabbi Lippmann

Dear Rabbi Lippmann,

Over the past weeks, a wonderful dialogue has emerged surrounding your polarizing “open letter” to the Reform Movement in which you propose that HUC-JIR admit intermarried students. Though I found your letter extraordinarily disheartening and problematic, I commend you, Rabbi Lippmann, on engendering a relevant and sensitive conversation regarding the future of American Jewry. I respect the courage it took to put yourself out there, and make yourself vulnerable in the name of Jewish continuity. American Judaism will certainly need courage as we progress into future generations.

I remain convinced, however, that your conclusion is dangerous and may ultimately undermine the Judaism you seek to protect. I find your central claims extremely problematic on sociological, historical, and religious grounds. I acknowledge and agree that Judaism must re-imagine our engagement and integration of the increasing number of intermarried Jews, yet the solution you propose is unreasonable. You articulate a position incompatible with any semblance of traditional Judaism, and express positions that subvert core tenants of the Jewish faith.

Intermarriage is a symptom of a much broader trend towards assimilation. General apathy towards Judaism is rampant in America, and intermarriage is but one manifestation of this unfortunate trend. Jewish leadership must, indeed, think of innovative ways to shift this paradigm, and engage the unengaged. Rabbis, regardles of denomination, must remain steadfast leaders in this quest, modeling Jewish ideals and living Jewish commitments.

Still, amongst all of my disagreements, it was a subtle proposition, a nonessential connotation, that I found particularly perplexing. You wrote: “intermarriage is a fact of American Jewish life. […] If a rabbi is a Jew like all others, we should welcome rabbis who are married to non-Jews just as we welcome Jews who are married to non-Jews into our congregations.”

I am struck, Rabbi Lippmann, by your irresponsible presupposition. Since when is adherence to lowest common denominators an acceptable barometer for rabbinic competence?

I do not suppose that normative Judaism ought to construct a spiritual hierarchy, but it is undeniable that the rabbi, our spiritual leader, must be held to a higher standard. As a young rabbinical student I know that I have often failed to live up to ideals; I too must beat my chest as I consistently pray for G-d’s repentance. Certainly, no one can be perfect. But, for any rabbinical school to sanction such an egregious departure from traditional wisdom on the grounds of common practice is ludicrous.

Intermarriage is certainly a complicated, sensitive subject. You note that you are nogeya bdavar (have a personal interest), and I cannot imagine the pain that you feel as you meditate on the notion of your current marital status prohibiting you to attend your Alma Mater. But, Rabbi Lipmmann, that was your choice. It is an unfortunate choice that too many of our brothers and sisters are also making. It is a choice predicated on the willingness to put personal interests over established religious convictions. I agree that we must work to connect and inspire intermarried couples, but we must simultaneously, and with equal vigor, fight intermarriage in our community.

I accept your letter as a springboard for deep conversations about engaging all different kinds of Jews. If that is what comes from it, I think you have done a wonderful service to the Jewish people. If, however, your letter promulgates a validation of this alarming trend, I fear you may be complicit in causing irreparable damage to our community. I reach out my hand to you, Rabbi Lippmann, willing to work together, through real and genuine dialogue, to ensure the former.

About the Author
Rabbi Jordan David Soffer is the Head of School at Striar Hebrew Academy. He received smicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and a Master’s Degree in education from Yeshiva University, where he is currently an EdD candidate. Rabbi Soffer was awarded the 2020 Pomegranate Prize and is a Wexner Field Fellow. He is currently the Rabbinic Mentor for the Day School Leadership Training Institute. Rabbi Soffer lives in Sharon with his wife, Dr. Marti Soffer, and their four children Maayan, Reiut Shoshana, and Roey.