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Ask a Jew: Can a woman become a rabbi if her mother is not Jewish?

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By Neal Schindler

Can a woman become a rabbi if her mother is not Jewish?

In Reform Judaism and other progressive denominations, such as Reconstructionist and Renewal, Jewish identity can be passed down patrilineally. In other words, Reform Jewish communities like Spokane’s Congregation Emanu-El recognize my son as Jewish even though his mother isn’t Jewish, because I, his father, am Jewish. Conservative communities such as Temple Beth Shalom and Orthodox communities would not recognize my son as Jewish; he would have to convert in order to be recognized as Jewish, since his mother isn’t Jewish.

Thus, if a particular denomination allows women to be rabbis (I believe all but Orthodox do), and a particular woman meets that denomination’s definition of Jewish identity, then she can be a rabbi (once she completes all the requisite training). So if a woman wants to be a Conservative rabbi, she must either have a Jewish mother or she must convert. If a woman wants to be a Reform, Reconstructionist, or Renewal rabbi, she must have one Jewish parent or she must convert according to the criteria of the denomination of the community she wants to serve and lead.

 

About Neal Schindler

A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

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