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May 10, 1991 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-05-10

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Should Intermarried Jews
Be Community Leaders?


/ Editor

Should a quali-
fied professional
in the Jewish
community be
denied a top ex-
ecutive position
on the grounds
that he or she is
married to a non-Jew?
In New York, the ap-
pointment of Judith
Ginsberg as executive direc-
tor of the newly formed
Covenant Foundation,
which provides funds for
Jewish education, has
touched off a controversy be-
cause she is a married to a
non-Jew. A letter of protest
was signed by leaders of both
an Orthodox and a Conser-
vative educational group.
Rabbi Marc Angel, president
of the Rabbinical Council of
America (Orthodox), advised
Orthodox educators not to
accept money from the foun-
Admirable and principled
or naive and futile?
Critics called the appoint-
ment of Ms. Ginsberg an im-
proper signal to the Jewish
community, regardless of
her attributes, particularly
since the organization she
heads is involved in pro-
moting Jewish education.
Detroit has had similar
controversies in recent
years. A woman who had
taught three years at a Con-
servative congregation's
nursery school was fired last
year when it was learned
that she had married a non-
In Baltimore, particularly
the Orthodox community
opposed the appointment of
the top professional of the
Jewish Family Services on
the same grounds. While ad-
vocates argue that she was
the most qualified candidate
for the job, critics contend
that is not the point. Leaders
in the Jewish community
who marry out of the faith
are poor role models, the
critics say, and on a symbolic
level, the message should go
out that those who inter-
marry will not be rewarded
with top executive positions.
When I mentioned this
issue to a colleague in San
Francisco this week, he was
surprised, rattling off a list
of names of the top lay
leaders of the organized Jew-
ish community there who
are intermarried.

"It would be suicidal to
raise that question here," he
said. "It's simply a non-
The controversy
underscores the fact that
intermarriage has made
such inroads into the Jewish
community that we face
situations unheard of in ge-
nerations past. Until recent-
ly, intermarriage was often
a sign that the Jewish part-
ner was opting to separate
himself from the Jewish
Nov, though, more and
more people marry out while
still maintaining strong ties
to Judaism and the commun-
Just because they fell in
love with and married a non-
Jew doesn't make them any
less of a Jew, they contend.
For the most part, we as a
community, prefer to avoid
the issue. The longtime

Those who oppose
intermarried Jews
in leadership
positions are not

editor of a federation-owned
Jewish newspaper in a large
city is married to a non-Jew
and belongs to a Unitarian
church. To avoid em-
barrassment, the federation
deals with the situation by
denying him the title
"editor" and instead calls
him "managing editor."
At the core of the dilemma
is our response to the reality
that intermarriage is in-
creasing. Do we make a
communal stand against it,
drawing a line and refusing
to back down? In that way
we signal to our children
that we will not tolerate
such actions, the argument
goes, and perhaps they will
see we are serious and re-
spond accordingly.
But it's a lot easier to ad-
vocate such a policy hypo-
thetically than to carry it
out on a personal level.
What's required is to look
professionals in the eye and
deny them a job for which
they are otherwise qualified
simply because we disap-
prove of their marriage
Is that legal? And what if
they're married to a Jew
who is unethical and im-
moral? Is that all right with

us, as long as they're Jew-
The alternative is to ac-
commodate the statistical
increase of intermarriage,
shrug our collective
shoulders and say, in effect,
"if we can't beat them, let
them join us."
That's what the Reform
movement did a few years
ago when it accepted as Jews.
the children of Jewish
fathers and non-Jewish
mothers, rewriting biblical
law. A cynic could suggest
that the Reform resolution
was based on keeping the
movement alive. Even
Reform leaders acknowledge
that the decision legalized
what had been going on, de
facto, for years. But their
argument that it is more
productive to reach out to
intermarried couples and
encourage Jewish conver-
sion should give pause to
traditionalists who prefer to
write off such couples.
So what should we, as a
community, do about Jewish
leaders who intermarry?
If we disqualified them, we
would lose some of our big-
gest philanthropists around
the country and some of our
most dedicated profes-
sionals. If we continue to ac-
cept them, the trend is cer-
tain to continue.
I wish I had the definitive
answer here, but I don't. I
can think of no policy that is
at once moral, practical and
At the very least, one may
suggest that in reviewing
candidates for a top position
in the Jewish community,
the religion of the can-
didate's spouse should be an
important factor. But should
it be the determining factor?
Clearly, Jewish life has
changed dramatically in re-
cent years. For centuries,
the central concept of
Judaism was its sense of be-
ing chosen. There was a
sense of exclusivity about
being Jewish, whether that
meant being blessed or
But today, the paradigm
for Judaism is its meaning.
If we feel a sense of
historical or spiritual
, we main-
vaguely defind
tain our Jewish identity.
Otherwise, we let it drift.
Those who oppose inter-
married Jews in leadership
positions are not bigots.
They are fearful about the
prospects of Jewish survival.

But intermarriage is the
result, not the cause, of the
problem. The cause is our
diminishing commitment to
Jewish values. And in this
struggle against assimila-
tion, negativism is not

We need to create reasons
to be Jewish, to maintain a
family environment where it
is only natural to want to

share one's life with a Jew-
ish mate.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, we
do not employ a religious
police, enforcing our
adherence to Jewish prac-
tice. We are on our own.
That is the price we pay for
living in a free, open society.
This is an issue that our
rabbis should address —
provided, of course, they are
married to Jews. ❑



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