Almost six years ago, when I became a Conservative rabbi, I knew there were certain expectations placed on me by my new professional organization, the International Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism (the RA). Specifically, they expected that I would follow the few rules they had or face expulsion from the Assembly. These rules were:
- Not officiating at a commitment ceremony or wedding between two members of the same sex;
- Not recognizing patrilineal descent (Jewish lineage from the father instead of the mother);
- Not officiating at an interfaith wedding;
- Not officiating at a wedding in which a divorced bride didn’t have a Jewish bill of divorce (get) from her ex-husband, or in which a divorced groom hadn’t given his ex-wife a get.
Well, with the acceptance of a religious ruling allowing Conservative rabbis to officiate at same-sex commitment ceremonies three years ago, it looks like #1 is no longer on the books.
Further, studies have shown that some 80% of Conservative Jews recognize people as Jewish who are the offspring of Jewish dads, but not Jewish moms (just as the Reform movement has officially done since 1983). My sense is that this will be the next significant change in Conservative Judaism, so rule #2 can’t be far from being passé too.
Privately, I’ve heard there are Conservative rabbis officiating at interfaith weddings under the RA’s radar screen. However, from my vantage point, most rabbis still firmly hold by rules #3 and #4 above.
The one RA rule I hadn’t foreseen when I became a rabbi is that I must agree to stay in good shape and maintain a healthy diet. So, I was surprised to get an e-mail earlier this week from RA executive vice-president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld and two marathon-running rabbinic colleagues telling me to get to the gym pronto. Although, I must say that I do agree with the Shalem Campaign, urging us rabbis to make fitness a part of our daily lives and to eat healthy. The campaign, which is based on the President’s Fitness Challenge, was picked up by the JTA in an article titled “Eat right and exercise, Conservative rabbis told.”
At least now when I’m spotted at the gym in the middle of a workday, I can just explain that I’m following orders and trying to be a good rabbi.