The Rabbi’s Wife

Is there any significance at all to the religious views of the wife of one’s religious leader? What if an Orthodox Rabbi is married to a Reform or Conservative rabbi? Is that acceptable?  The argument goes something like this:

  1. What difference does it make what his wife believes or does outside of the community in which the rabbi serves? As long as the Rabbi’s duties are not affected, it’s none of our business. She can be a Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform Rabbi… or even an atheist. It doesn’t matter. We should stay out of their private lives. She is not the rabbi. He is. End of discussion.
  2. How can you have as a Rabbi someone whose wife has theological views that are in stark opposition to the values you preach and teach? His life and dreams are intertwined with hers. A loving couple in a successful marriage will have mutual respect for each other’s views. How can an Orthodox rabbi respect a view that is in diametric opposition to the core values a Rabbi holds most dear – belief in the Torah and its requirement to follow Halacha? Can an Orthodox rabbi who respects a wife’s view that does not believe in Torah or Halacha as binding be loyal to his own views? How do you explain to your congregation that your wife is a Conservative or Reform rabbi? And if she is an atheist – Is it even possible to preach against atheism as false and still respect it? Is tolerating heresy in your home not detrimental to your own beliefs and how you teach Judaism?

This issue was addressed by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in his recent essay in Cross Currents about ‘Looting the Kodesh’  where he strongly espouses latter view.  In a footnote to criticism of controversial innovations proposed by Open Orthodox (OO) rabbis and their flagship institution, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) – he said the following:

It should be noted that this rabbi, who was one of the first people ordained at YCT, is married to a cantor and that a current YCT rabbinical student is married to a student enrolled in Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. As noted in an earlier article… a recent YCT graduate, who is now a rebbe there, is married to a Conservative rabbi.

Rabbi Ysocher Katz who is the chair of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s Talmud Department lashed out at Rabbi Gordimer and wrote the following on his Facebook page (republished at Cross Currents):

Another peeping RCA rabbi. R. Gordimer, like his colleague R. Freundel, is peeping into people’s bedrooms (who sleeps with whom and who’s married to whom) and perversely sexualizes the important conversations in our community.

 

These abusive Rabbis need to be stopped from further corroding our communal fiber. We can’t allow them to continue trespassing boundaries and trample on our standards of tznius and kedusha.

First let me say that I found Rabbi Katz’s response abhorent. As Rabbi Gordimer points out in his response to Rabbi Katz,  he must have touched a raw nerve.

It might be understandable for people to react the way Rabbi Katz did when  a raw nerve is touched. But not when you are in a position of leadership and respect. His noxious comments severely undercut any arguments he might have had with Rabbi Gordimer on the merits.

Even if you don’t agree with Rabbi Gordimer at all – and agree entirely with Rabbi Katz, that does not make his comments any less egregious. Is this the kind of people that YCT chooses for its department chairs? And that OO produces? Is this the kind of person you want leading your congregation? Or setting examples for your children?

Regardless of how Rabbi Katz feels about Rabbi Gordimer’s views, I believe he owes him an apology for even thinking these comments – let alone making them public on social media.

I am also disappointed that no one in OO or YCT has come out with a condemnation of Rabbi Katz’s remarks. There is some very loud silence about this over there.

Leaving aside Rabbi Katz’s response – the question remains. Who is right here? Is Rabbi Gordimer right? Or is Rabbi Katz’s umbrage the correct response?

For me it’s a no brainer.  I believe Rabbi Gordimer is right. I don’t see how anyone can approve of a rabbi that is married to someone whose religious values are at odds with what he is supposed to stand for. Saying his wife’s beliefs and activities outside of Orthodoxy will have no effect on the rabbi or his image is at best a very naïve view.

I really don’t like making analogies because they are always flawed, but for purposes of illustration, let us take it a step further ask if it is appropriate for a rabbi to be married to a ‘Messianic Jew – a Jewish woman who may be meticulous in her observance but believes in the deity of Jesus. (Believe it or not, Messianic Jews are often observant to one degree or another.)

I submit that the same argument can be made. She may be an exemplary mother and loving wife – separating her beliefs from her role as wife and mother. Is it really any of our business what she believes and does in her spare time? Does it reflect on the rabbi that he is married to an apostate?  Can we not say that as long as the rabbi does his job it doesn’t matter what his wife does?

The answer is obvious to me. It matters.If one has reservations about a rabbi’s wife that is a messianic Jew, there should be reservations about a rabbis’ wife that is a member of heterodox movements or an atheist. Any rabbi who marries an individual whose views are the antithesis of what he stands is in my view flawed as a rabbi, preacher, and teacher in Israel. This is not the ‘role model’ couple of rabbi and rebbetzin one should strive for.

I should add however that I am in no way judging anyone’s marital choices. There are all kinds of scenarios where such a relationship may work out. I know couples where one spouse if observant and the other is not. It isn’t ideal. But it works because an effort is made. I also know couples where one spouse is an atheist and the other a firm believer in the Torah. This too works because the effort is made. In no way would I advocate divorce.

But when it comes to a job that is based on promoting the tenets of Orthodox Judaism  –  where being role models as a couple is part and parcel of teaching Judaism  –  I don’t see how you can separate a man from his wife.  For me an Orthodox rabbi whose wife is a Conservative rabbi or in any other public way shows herself not to be Orthodox should never be hired by an Orthodox Shul.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.
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