Inclusivity Threatens Jewish Continuity

Modern society has embraced the concept of inclusiveness with a vengeance.

Millennials have signed on to the concept of inclusiveness which values the perspectives and contributions of all people, and strives to incorporate the needs and viewpoints of diverse communities into all aspects of every organization, community and enterprise.  While this may be desirous in the general community, in the workplace and in the educational sphere, when it is applied to Jewish continuity it simply spells disaster.

Witness the recent decision by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) in Philadelphia to allow individuals to study for the rabbinate even if they are either married to or in a committed relationship with a non-Jew.  To quote RRC President Rabbi Deborah Waxman:  “At this point the Jewish future in North America depends, in part, on our ability to engage intermarried Jews, unless we are willing to write off so many of us. If we continue to alienate them by saying that their partnering with a non-Jew means that they are no longer legitimate in some way as Jews, then we create a self-fulfilling prophecy and drive them away.”

My Zadie would be turning over in his grave if he heard this balderdash.  We are not speaking about your average middle of the road American Jews here.  We are speaking about individuals who make a life choice to be spiritual leaders for their Jewish communities and, by association, to be role models of individuals committed to Jewish continuity.   No one is saying that partnering with a non-Jew means they are no longer legitimate in some way as Jews (although there will be people who support that position, as well), but rather that if one chooses to study for the rabbinate that choice, by definition, must imply the commensurate choice that the candidate not be involved romantically with a non-Jew.

But the insanity continues. Cindy Skrzycki, the Catholic mother of a woman who is studying for the Rabbinate, in an article posted on the website of The Forward, writes:  “As a Catholic woman married to a Jewish man, and as the mother of a daughter who is studying to be a Reform rabbi, I see the value of the Reconstructionist decision to reset the criteria. It may encourage more applicants and it would create a pool of interfaith rabbis who will experience the challenges that intermarried couples face, while eliminating the sense that choice of partner matters more than outcome.”

So there you have it. Because the rate of intermarriage in the U.S. among the non-Orthodox is now about 58%, in order for rabbis to effectively serve that community they need to be intermarried so that they can properly empathize with their congregants.  Really?

Carrying this to the extreme, I guess we should make sure to have a cadre of attorneys who are crooks so that they can properly empathize with their clients. After all, if you have never committed a crime how can you possible know how the perpetrator feels?

There are those, of course, who say that the Reconstructionist movement is small with less than 100 congregations and its impact will be minimal.  But the issue was already raised a couple of years ago by students at the Reform’s Hebrew Union College and, no doubt, it will eventually be raised at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary as well.

Jane Eisner, the Editor in Chief of The Forward said it best when she opined: “Clergy don’t reflect their congregations. Clergy lead their congregations – and do so not as leaders who bow to the fashion and trends of the moment, but as vivid exemplars of our best norms and intentions, as strong aspirational figures.”

There are many external threats to Jewish continuity and they are well known.  In many cases there is little we can do to protect ourselves from them.  But the last thing we need is to create internal threats that undermine traditions that have held us together as a people for over 3,500 years.  Inclusivness in the religious sphere, taken to the extreme, is clearly a life-threatening virus that needs to be checked before it destroys whatever is left of diaspora Jewry.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.