Mark Cohn on the Reform Movement and Intermarriage

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For years, the Reform movement in America has allowed marriage between a Jewish and non-Jewish spouse, as long as the couple commits to raising their children as Jews. But a cultural taboo against intermarriage remained for Reform clergy, a taboo reinforced by admissions and ordination standards at the Hebrew Union College, the movement’s main seminary. Applicants who were in a long-term relationship with a non-Jewish partner were denied, on the grounds that modeling a Jewish home was expected of rabbis.

That changed this year. “Moving forward,” a recent letter from the president, provost, and board chair of the seminary announced, “the religious identity of a student’s or applicant’s partner will no longer disqualify students for admission or ordination.” The letter goes on to explain that this decision is the result of a process of internal deliberation, and that it brings what’s expected of the clergy in line with the reality of the broader Reform community.

In reaction, the longtime Reform rabbi Mark Cohn took to the Times of Israel with an article, called “The Anguished Dilemma of a Reform Rabbi,” lamenting the decision. In today’s conversation, Cohn joins Jonathan Silver to discuss the Reform movement’s attitude toward interfaith couples, the relation between clergy and congregation, the purpose and nature of religious leadership, and in this case, who is leading whom, why this decision was made, and what it could mean for the future of Reform clergy in America.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

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