Married couple to serve as co-rabbis at Tulsa's Temple Israel
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2013
2/16/13 at 5:52 AM
For the first 4,000 years of Judaism, only men served as spiritual leaders of the community.
Forty years ago, the Reform Jewish tradition began ordaining women as rabbis.
And the next spiritual leader of Temple Israel will be an even more recent and rarer phenomenon: a married couple, both ordained, serving as co-senior rabbis.
Rabbi Micah Citrin and his wife, Rabbi Karen Citrin, will become the new leaders of Temple Israel on July 1, replacing Rabbi Charles Sherman, who will retire after 37 years at the temple.
The idea of a couple sharing co-rabbi responsibilities developed within the last decade, the Citrins said in a phone conversation from California this week.
They know of three other couples who are doing it.
"We consulted with them a lot in terms of how it works for them," Karen Citrin said.
Temple Israel leadership also talked with them.
"Women as rabbinic leaders is a new and welcome development in Jewish tradition," Micah Citrin said.
"We both think of ourselves as competent, good rabbis, but we believe that what we do together, joining in leadership and vision, brings a synergy that is better than each of us alone."
Karen Citrin said that while both she and Micah feel strong and comfortable in their roles, "there are some areas where we feel we each bring strengths that complement and balance the other."
Their partnership, she said, can be a model of partnership that extends to the community.
The Citrins now work together as rabbi/educators at Peninsula Temple Beth El near San Francisco, an experience they believe has been a good test of whether they would enjoy partnering professionally, as well as personally.
She had been at that synagogue for a decade, and he left another synagogue to join her there three years ago because it offered them an opportunity to be together as a family in one synagogue.
They have twin boys, age 6.
The Citrins met in Los Angeles at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the main seminary in the Reform Jewish movement, where both of them were studying for the rabbinate.
They both served as student rabbis at the same Jewish congregation in Visalia, a small town north of Los Angeles, at different times.
They were married in 2003, a week before she was ordained. He was ordained two years later.
She is from Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston, and was raised in a committed Jewish home. She is her family's first rabbi.
He was raised in Albuquerque, N.M., where his father was the rabbi of a century-old synagogue, Congregation Albert.
Karen Citrin said she never thought about being a rabbi as a child.
"It didn't occur to me. I grew up with an all-male clergy. I didn't meet a female rabbi until college."
At Brandeis University, she became excited about learning and teaching, and "how to make Judaism relevant to young people and families," she said.
"I sought out the Jewish community. I found power and strength in being part of it.
"And I began to see it as something I could do full time."
Micah Citrin said he knew from an early age that he was interested in the rabbinate.
"I wanted to be involved in people's lives, to bring them to Judaism, to teach about the Jewish tradition and to be present for Jews in times of joy and sorrow," he said.
"As I graduated from college, I felt the path to the rabbinate was clear."
Karen Citrin said they began to look for a new position last summer, "the next step for us professionally and personally."
Neither of them had been to Tulsa.
On an interview visit in November, Micah Citrin said the city reminded him of Albuquerque, "a good blend of a city with a lot going on, but down to earth."
Karen Citrin has never lived in a state that is not on a coast, but she found Tulsans warm and welcoming, and the Jewish community dedicated and committed.
"We feel honored to be following in the legacy of Rabbi Sherman," she said. "We're starting to understand his impact. ... We recognize that this is a moment of huge transition for the community."
Micah Citrin said they are looking forward to engaging and partnering with other Tulsa clergy as "we work together to make the world a little better."
The modern concept of rabbi as teacher, preacher and spiritual head of a congregation emerged in the Middle Ages. Until the 20th century, they were always men.
The first woman rabbi was ordained in the 1930s in Berlin.
In the United States, the Reform Jewish movement ordained its first woman in 1974, and the Conservative movement in 1985.
The Orthodox movement has not officially accepted women rabbis, but a few Orthodox women have been ordained in some seminaries.
Source: Jewish Virtual Library
Original Print Headline: Couple to serve as co-rabbis
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Rabbi Micah Citrin and Rabbi Karen Citrin will be co-senior rabbis of Temple Israel, replacing Rabbi Charles Sherman, who will retire June 30 after 37 years. Courtesy