Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Orthodox Rabbi Whose Wife is Not Orthodox

Sally Priesand, America's first female rabbi (Reform)
One of the issues addressed by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in his recent Cross Currents essay  Looting the Kodesh is whether the spouse of a religious leader should be Orthodox as well. Is that important? Or is it OK if his wife is an openly Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist Jew? This takes the ‘Open Orthodox’ idea of embracing heterodox clergy to a new level.  

It was this that raised YCT’s Rabbi Ysocher Katz’s ire and caused him to lash out against Rabbi Gordimer in the coarsest of ways. To be precise it was in the following footnote to that essay: 
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. 
This was obviously stated as a criticism. Is Rabbi Gordimer right? Or is Rabbi Katz’s umbrage the correct response?

To me the answer is clear. I side with Rabbi Gordimer. Leaving aside the insulting manner in which Rabbi Katz responded (which I dealt with previously) I don’t see how anyone can approve of a rabbi being married to someone whose  religious values are at odds with what he is supposed to stand for.

The argument given in favor of acceptance of such a rabbi goes something like this. It is none of our business what his wife believes – or doesn’t believe. What is important is that the rabbi is Orthodox and preaches Orthodoxy. (I think that is what Rabbi Katz was trying to say.)

I must say that this is at best a very naïve view. Let us take it a step further. For purpsoes of illustration, let us say that the rabbi’s wife is a Christian minister. (For purposes of argument let us further say that intermarriage was permitted.)

I submit that the same argument can be made. She may be an exemplary mother and wife – separating her ‘job’ form her role as wife and mother. Is it really any of our business what she does for a living? Does it reflect on the rabbi that he is married to a Christian minister?  Can we not say that as long as the rabbi does his job it doesn’t matter what his wife does?

While the analogy is imperfect, I think it demonstrates that it does matter. It serves to undermine the tenets the rabbi preaches to his congregants when his own wife does not live by them.

Rabbi Katz took umbrage at this and characterized it as follows: 
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. 
That is a breathtakingly distorted comparison. Although I dealt with how disgusting his comment was yesterday -  I did not deal with the substance of what he said. What he said could not be further from the truth.

Rabbi Gordimer was not ‘peeping’ anywhere. He was merely implying what I said above. Those Orthodox rabbis whose wives are not Orthodox present a problem that ought not to be glossed over. Especially when they are so public about it as was the case with the rabbis’ wives. One being a cantor and the other a Conservative rabbi!

I agree with Yeshiva University when a few years ago they refused to grant ordination to a rabbinical student (even though he successfully completed all of their requirements) precisely for this reason.

This is my considered opinion. I don’t see how you can say anything else.

Post revised to eliminate an objectionable analogy.