RRC REMOVES BAN ON ADMITTING / GRADUATING
INTERMARRIED RABBINICAL STUDENTS
After years of debate, faculty vote for another first in a long line of historic firsts
WYNCOTE, PA (September 30, 2015) – The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) has revoked its “Non-Jewish Partner” policy, which previously stated: “The RRC does not ordinarily admit or graduate as a rabbi a student married to, or in a committed relationship with, a non-Jew.” After an extended process, RRC faculty voted on September 21, 2015, to remove the barrier barring otherwise qualified candidates from applying to become rabbis. Simultaneously, RRC will cease the practice of disallowing current rabbinical students in good standing who are in relationships with non-Jews from graduating.
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., president of RRC, stated, “Today’s announcement is a decision by our faculty about what should or should not hold someone back from becoming a rabbi. Our deliberations, heavily influenced through consultation with alumni, congregations and students, have simultaneously led us to reaffirm that all rabbinical candidates must model commitment to Judaism in their communal, personal, and family lives. We witness Jews with non-Jewish partners demonstrating these commitments every day in many Jewish communities.”
Waxman explained that Reconstructionism approaches Jews and Judaism not simply as representing a culture or a religion, but as a people and a civilization. Its borders and boundaries are porous and constantly evolving. “The Jewish present and Jewish future depend on our shifting focus toward Jews ‘doing Jewish’ in ways that are meaningful to them rather than on ‘being Jewish’ because of bloodline or adherence to mandated behaviors,” noted Waxman. “The issue of Jews intermarrying is no longer something we want to police; we want to welcome Jews and the people who love us to join us in the very difficult project of bringing meaning, justice, and hope into our world.”
Reconstructionism has had an outsized influence on Jewish life from its inception, leading where other movements have eventually followed. It is the first movement to celebrate girls becoming bat mitzvah and has been committed to egalitarianism in countless ways. It led the way in acknowledging and including queer Jews, as valued members of our congregations, and as Jewish leaders and rabbis.
The fourth largest movement of American Judaism, the Reconstructionist movement is headquartered outside Philadelphia and has more than 100 affiliated congregations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Reconstructionist Judaism teaches that Judaism is the continuously evolving civilization of the Jewish people (encompassing sacred texts, culture, art, prayer, music, food, etc.), and that it is incumbent upon every generation to reconstruct Judaism to be relevant and meaningful for their time. RRC is the only Jewish seminary with a social justice organizing track of study for rabbinical students, and it has a strong multi-faith department that builds working relationships with faith leaders of all communities.
Josh Peskin, Vice President, Strategic Advancement
215.576.0800 ext. 307 (o)
Timeline for RRC’s New Policy on Non-Jewish Partners for Rabbinical Students and Graduates
Concerned students and some faculty at RRC raise the issue of the policy regarding non-Jewish partners.
The RRC faculty votes to reaffirm the partner-status policy, keeping the policy in place.
The policy issue is raised once again, followed by eighteen months of extended deliberation by the RRC faculty about the ideological, sociological and religious underpinnings of the policy. They also begin a process of revising RRC curriculum, to strengthen the way Jewish formation and Jewish practice are fostered.
RRC leadership begins conversation about the policy change with the executive committee of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA).
The RRC Board of Governors is informed of the faculty’s discussion, with many updates to follow. Members of the faculty submit opinions on the principles of the proposed policy change. A Day of Study is held at RRC, on the topic “Non-Jews in our Families of Origin, in our Relationships, and in our Community.”
Continued internal conversation leads in October to a preliminary vote by the RRC faculty and based on this, RRC begins a process to gather opinions from across the Reconstructionist movement.
The RRC Board of Governors revisits the Partner Status Policy. Faculty-produced materials are presented to the RRC Board of Governors, and the issue is addressed through a panel presentation with extended discussion.
February - April 2014
The rabbis of the RRA are invited to submit responses regarding the potential removal of the policy. More than 110 rabbis chose to participate in this process, nearly one third of the RRA.
Spring 2014 to Spring 2015
The Partner Status Policy issue is discussed at the “Plenum Meeting” of the Reconstructionist-affiliated congregations, and congregations are invited to debate the matter internally and to submit opinions to RRC. The process produces extensive generation of materials and position pieces, and RRC responds with continued conference calls and consultation.
Materials shared with congregational leaders are also distributed to Reconstructionist rabbis, and additional opportunities for feedback are offered. RRA members offer feedback with a diversity of opinions to the RRC faculty. Of the rabbis who respond, many hold strong opinions but a majority agree.
Congregations submit responses to questions regarding the policy. The majority of congregations are in favor of the change.
After a year of congregational conversation, and feedback from the RRC Board and from the RRA, the RRC faculty vote to remove the Partner Status Policy, on September 21, 2015. They also make public the admissions criteria regarding an applicant’s need to demonstrate commitment to Jewish continuity in their personal, familial and communal life.
September 30, 2015
RRC announces the change to their partner status policy in a letter from Rabbi Deborah Waxman. This move is part of an overall update to RRC's admissions policies.
Judaism on the Cutting Edge
(an excerpt from the conversation on Reconstructionism and Innovation titled "Cutting Edge Judaism")
by Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D.
My own experience embodies the essence of a Reconstructionist approach: fostering individual growth, mediated by committed engagement with Jewish communities both past and present. It reflects the Reconstructionist movement’s commitment to both celebrating the richness of Jewish history and ensuring a vital Jewish future by honing a cutting edge. I write as a trail blazer—the first woman rabbi to head a seminary and movement, an “out” lesbian, partnered with a passionate Jew by choice. I am the grateful beneficiary of the Reconstructionist movement’s commitment to expanding the boundaries of the Jewish community and the nature of its leadership without lowering standards. I am deeply honored by the opportunity to work with movement members as well as our allies in the wider Jewish world to continue this essential, intentional work.
The Reconstructionist movement's fearless innovation and pragmatic spirit laid the groundwork for significant changes in North American Jewish life. In our 90-year history, Reconstructionist contributions include:
- Giving modern Jews the expansive vocabulary of “peoplehood” to speak about our Judaism, freeing us from such incomplete descriptions as “religion,” “ethnicity” and “nationality";
- Insisting that Jewish belonging connects us with other Jews even when we differ in belief or practice;
- Integrating democratic practice into religious and communal structures;
- In a world of radical individualism, promoting with non-Orthodox and post-halakhic modes of communal decision-making.
- Forging the way for true egalitarianism in Jewish life, from bat mitzvah (1922), counting women in minyan (1950), recognition of patrilineal descent (1968), and cultivating women’s leadership as rabbis (1968);
- Pioneering non-supernatural religious thinking that helps Jews harmonize science and religion, and contributes to process theology and feminist theology;
- Penning innovative and influential religious texts, including the first creative haggadah in North America (1942), two sets of siddurim widely emulated by other movements (beginning in 1945 and 1994), and the award-winning website Ritualwell.org;
- Grappling with the role of Jewish particularism in a globalized world, while championing a Judaism that repudiates chauvinism and pursues universal justice;
- Welcoming non-Jews who are committed to a Jewish future into our communities;
- Demonstrating deep commitment to Israel’s Jewish and democratic future while accommodating diverse viewpoints about the best way to bring that future about;
- Welcoming openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews as members and leaders of our communities; and
- Exploring a variety of communal structures adapted to promote engaged Jewish living in the new conditions of 21st-century society.
There is a tremendous need today for a Reconstructionist approach to innovation, and ample space for that approach to continue to inspire and lead the larger Jewish community. The new cutting edge builds on the core commitments that drove those influential Reconstructionist innovations that are now taken for granted.
At the heart of the Reconstructionist concept of Judaism as a “civilization” is an embrace of diversity. Reconstructionism recognizes there are multiple ways to be Jewish, including but not limited to religion. This approach affirms cultural and secular expressions of Jewishness that may never find a comfortable home in a synagogue, even as it seeks to draw from the power and richness of Jewish religion to inform the entirety of Jewish living. As the North American Jewish community increasingly moves toward new and uncharted models of Jewish life, leaders and lay people alike must recognize that Judaism and Jewishness look different for each person and emerge from different sources. We are all, to a certain extent, “Jews by choice” in an open society. When we foster a welcoming Jewish community that is diverse in expression and approach, we increase the possibility that members of the next generation will choose to be Jewish even while we are all intensely exposed to other options.
As both fundamentalism and secularism rise simultaneously in our society, Reconstructionism challenges both extremes. Modelling a progressive religious approach that is inclusive and non-authoritarian, Reconstructionism provides a path that melds our historical commitments to democracy and pluralism with an activist approach to Jewish living. We embrace Jewish particularism. Our commitment to the ideal of minyan, tending to the needs of community beyond individual desire, stands in counterpoint to emerging cultural norms of radical universalism and autonomy. Yet in our abiding commitment to tikkun olam and multifaith work, we are resolutely engaged with the wider world.
Perhaps most importantly, the Reconstructionist approach embodies an intentional optimism amid this period of intense anxiety. Understanding the ongoing evolution of all things, including the Jewish community, we accept that change is inevitable. Rather than despairing about change, we take steps to harness it, both to improve ourselves and to repair a broken world. We foster connections with other peoples out of the belief that we are better Jews when we deepen our shared humanity. We believe that the North American Jewish community—wealthier and enjoying greater freedom than any other Jewish community during any other period of our history—can work together to create a vital Jewish future in the 21st century.
The Reconstructionist movement has consistently been small, in spite of and perhaps even because of our outsized influence. We have insisted that every generation is entitled and even obligated to reconstruct Judaism to ensure its relevance. This stance has felt like a rewarding challenge to some, and a demanding or confusing burden to many others. The Reconstructionist innovations listed above are now widely adopted, but they were initially received as controversial and disruptive. For the organizations sponsoring Reconstructionist thought and programming, being on the “cutting edge” has meant generating new ideas on a shoe-string budget, encountering fierce criticism at their introduction, and receiving inadequate recognition once those ideas become mainstream. Yet our principled and affirmative approach, and the extraordinary people who are drawn to it, demonstrate how Jewish life and the Jewish people can flourish in an open society.
Mordecai Kaplan taught that preserving the past does not itself justify the continuation of the Jewish people and Jewish civilization. To remain vital, Jewish communities must invite and nurture their members living their complex lives, helping them to find Judaism a source of meaning, support and inspiration. Our challenge today: to create and refine the 21st-century Jewish storehouse, articulating Jewish values and then moving to responsive practice. We pursue this work in conversation with Jewish communities and authorities of the past; with present-day Jewish communities in North America, Israel and around the world; with fellow travelers committed to progressive religious and humanist values. We draw deeply from the rich and varied legacies of Jewish teachings and traditions, to appreciate them for their own sake and with an eye toward the future. We hone cutting edges not for the sake of radicalism or novelty, but for the promise of engaging a new generation in the holy work of furthering the millennia-old enterprise of Jewish life.
The ideas of the Reconstructionist movement came from Mordecai M. Kaplan. Born in Lithuania in 1881 he immigrated to America with his family in 1889. He grew disenchanted with orthodox theology and became more interested in non-orthodox approaches to Judaism.
As a young man, Kaplan pursued Jewish studies and graduated from City College of New York. Later, he was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary (of the Conservative Movement). He earned a master's degree from Columbia University and went on to serve as associate rabbi of Kehillath Jeshurun, an Orthodox synagogue in New York.
Kaplan was profoundly influenced by the new field of sociology and its view of civilization as characterized not only by beliefs and practices, but also by language, culture, literature, ethics, art, history, social organization, symbols and customs.
In 1935, Kaplan expressed his concerns of an embittered Jewish America and wrote Judaism as a Civilization, a seminal work that became the foundation of the new Reconstructionist movement. Kaplan taught that Judaism must be reconstructed so that it remained ever-changing, evolving to meet the needs of Jews in the New World. He promoted democracy in the synagogue community and advocated voluntary membership, elected leadership and respect for the religious opinions of individuals.
Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (FRCH) / Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF)
In 1940, congregations from the Reconstructionist movement created the Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation to publish a magazine called Reconstructionist. Congregations from New York City, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Skokie created a branch of the foundation in 1955 called the Reconstructionist Fellowship of Congregations (RFC). In 1983, the organization changed its name to be the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (FRCH), which became the official congregational arm of the Reconstructionist movement. The movement had close to 5,000 affiliated households.
In 1995, FRCH became the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF). Over the next 5 years, JRF membership had increased by nearly 50 percent. The organization began to take the lead on many social action initiatives from accepting LGBT rabbis and families in Jewish communities, supporting same-sex marriage, affirming reproductive choice, protecting the environment and fighting against racial discrimination and genocide.
In 2012, JRF merged with RRC.
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC)
As the Reconstructionist following grew, many of Kaplan’s supporters, including Kaplan’s son-in-law, Ira Eisenstein, felt the need to create a rabbinical college in order to promote a framework for Reconstructionism in American Judaism. Though Kaplan was hesitant to the idea of creating a rabbinical college and starting a movement, there was overwhelming support from rabbinic leaders.
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College opened in 1968 on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, Pa. Eisenstein served as the school’s first president.
RRC became a unique and progressive rabbinical college in many ways. Alongside a very progressive rabbinical curriculum, the school admitted its first female student in 1969, who graduated in 1974 as the second female to be ordained in the US. The movement began to incorporate women’s studies into the course offerings.
In 1984, after much study and discussion among students and faculty, RRC adopted an admission policy barring “age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation and race” as determining factors. In 1993, a joint coalition of RRC, RRA and JRF affirmed these welcoming policies for the rest of the movement.
By the early 1980’s, the college had relocated to its current location, formerly the mansion of John Charles Martin, on Church Road in suburban Wyncote.
David Teutsch became president in 1993. Under his leadership, the college strengthened its financial base and expanded its programs, publications, and facilities. The new series of Reconstructionist prayer books, Kol Haneshamah, was published. RRC began to offer cantoral and master’s programs in Jewish studies. New academic centers were established including The Center for Jewish Ethics (1994); Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies (1996) and Hiddur: The Center for Aging and Judaism (2003).
In 2002, Dan Ehrenkrantz became the first graduate of RRC to become president. During his tenure, RRC and JRF merged into one unified organization to better serve affiliated congregations.
In 2013 Rabbi Deborah Waxman, also an RRC graduate, was elected as the President of RRC. She is the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish movement and seminary.
Today, RRC still maintains its reputation as a thriving rabbinical college and a progressive movement supporting more than 100 affiliated congregations.
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D,
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
RRC President's Inauguration, 2014
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D,
President, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Rabbi Waxman with students, 2014