For as long as rabbis have been arguing Talmud, their wives have been at home preparing Shabbat dinner.
Yet that image, along with expectations for clergy spouses, has evolved. For one, they’re no longer all women. They’re no longer always hovering in the background; they’re not even always a different gender from their partner.
Modern rabbis’ spouses don’t fit into any single mold.
Peni Bouskila is a major player in helping her overburdened husband run their synagogue; David Light balances comedy writing with care of his two daughters; Rachel Bookstein partners with her husband to reinvigorate Jewish life on a college campus; Bruce Ellman brings his psychology training to benefit his temple; Marjorie Pressman served as a fiery force throughout her now-retired husband’s pulpit career; and Brian and Deborah Schuldenfrei share the title of "Rabbi Schuldenfrei."
They all share their spouses’ life of public service. They are all subject to public scrutiny and have to protect their privacy. And at the most family-oriented moments of the Jewish calendar, they have to share their spouses with the rest of the community, as much on Shabbat as holidays. Most days, they cannot expect their lives to proceed without interruption: Rabbis are on call for emergencies at all times.
Even as I did my research over the past year, lives changed: Peni Bouskila’s kids got older. The rabbis Schuldenfrei gave birth to their first child and Rabbi Sharon Brous became pregnant with her third. And, along the way, I became involved with a rabbi of my own, because as it turns out, God is not without a sense of irony.
The night the man I am now seeing was ordained, he asked me whether I could see myself marrying a rabbi. I hesitated to answer. I didn’t think I could bear missing someone so much. I wondered whether a rabbi could ever love their spouse as much as they love their work — a tough choice when your business partner is God.
But if I found any truth in the writing of this, it’s that none of these people chose to marry a lifestyle. As Marjorie Pressman put it, "I didn’t marry a rabbi. I married the man I fell in love with."
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