Twenty Reconstructionist rabbis, including Montclair resident Rabbi Daniel Brenner, have formed their own group in response — at least in part — to the movement’s recent decision to allow ordination of intermarried rabbinical students.
The group, known as Beit Kaplan: The Rabbinic Partnership for Jewish Peoplehood, announced its formation April 7. They describe themselves in a statement as “an educational consortium and resource for rabbis, congregations, and lay people wishing to continue the work and vision of Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan.” Kaplan (1881-1983), a Conservative rabbi, was the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, which developed from the late 1920s to the ’40s.
In the statement, Rabbi Shoshana Hantman, the group’s spokeswoman, is quoted as saying the new group will represent those “who adhere to a more traditional Kaplanian reading of Reconstructionist Judaism.” She said the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s recent decision to accept intermarried rabbinical students made it the only denomination outside Secular Humanistic Judaism and Jewish Renewal to do so; the move, she said, “muddled the definition of what it means for a rabbi to have a Jewish family.”
As a result of that decision, Brenner, who is chief of education and program at Moving Traditions, a nonprofit organization that runs educational programs for teenagers, resigned from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. He wrote in his blog, “Wisdom for a Broken World,” of his disappointment in the movement’s process that led to the “rush” to a decision and added that the decision “potentially undermines one of the very institutions we seek to bolster — the Jewish family.”
He takes issue with the message the decision sends. “We may be setting up a scenario that leads indirectly to thousands of Jewish folks saying: ‘I’d like to encourage my non-Jewish spouse to consider becoming a Jew but I’m not really sure I’d get support from my rabbi.’”
He offered a suggestion diametrically opposed to the stance of the RRC: “What if every first year student who was partnered was required to bring their partner to an RRC Shabbaton, an RRC community Shaharit, and a selection of classes? How would that change rabbinic education? What if there were training for all partners in couples counseling and the role that partners play in supporting the rabbi in the family?”
And for those in interfaith relationships, he added, “What if we offered a conversion class at RRC?”
Brenner will participate in a panel on the issue to be held at Bet Am Shalom Synagogue in White Plains, NY, on May 1.
The Beit Kaplan statement also mentions Israel, with an oblique reference to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, saying the group “supports the State of Israel as the historic and contemporary homeland of the Jewish people, and supports the rights of those who are critical of the policies of Israel’s current government.
“But we unequivocally reject any movement to delegitimize Israel in the community of nations.”
While the Reconstructionist movement has made no statements in support of the anti-Israel BDS movement, several Reconstructionist rabbis are active in Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports BDS. Rabbi Linda Holtzman, an RRC faculty member, serves on JVP’s board of directors.
Locally there are two Reconstructionist synagogues, Bnai Keshet in Montclair (where Brenner is a member) and Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit. Bnai Keshet’s Rabbi Elliott Tepperman is on sabbatical and could not be reached; Rabbi Hannah Orden of Beth Hatikvah was not ordained by RRC and therefore declined to comment.
With reporting by JTA