The Ballad Of The Single Female Rabbi
Jewish Week Online Columnist
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 There are so many amazing aspects to being a rabbi. It is a privilege to join people during their most special lifecycle moments (those of joy and of sorrow), to help draw them closer to our heritage and to the divine, and to mark the Jewish year with meaningful ritual. I truly love it, and my life is enriched because of being a rabbi. I have never once regretted taking part in this holy work, except…

… when it comes to dating. Holy moly, it is so tough to date when you are a single female rabbi. My friends and I bemoan this often, and we’ve all shared similar experiences. Most of my colleagues who are married met their spouses either before they began rabbinical school, or during. Thus, the relationships were established long before they entered the rabbinate itself. For those of us who are single, it’s really hard to find someone who will willingly embark on this journey with you, through all of its ups and downs. It’s virtually impossible to find someone suitably brave in a bar, and it’s difficult to lay it all out honestly and candidly in a dating-site profile.

In my case, I began the first year of rabbinical school engaged to my “college sweetheart.” The realities of my chosen career path didn’t set in until halfway through my second year of school. That’s when he decided that he couldn’t imagine living his life married to a rabbi. He told me that he wasn’t interested in being so intensely involved in the Jewish community, and he didn’t want to live in a fishbowl, as clergy life often requires.

So, I was single for about a year before I began my next major relationship. I was still in rabbinical school, and the boyfriend was also in graduate school. We shared the trials and tribulations of academic life, and discussed the challenges of the rabbinate in abstract. Yet, abstract notions only go so far, and things changed once I was ordained a few years into the relationship. I started to hear the same refrain – “I don’t want to live my life in the synagogue. I don’t want the scrutiny of the congregation. I don’t want to have to go to large events all the time.” He wished that my work could remain work, and that home was home. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which the rabbinate is a 24/7 job, and it is often more of a lifestyle than a career.

Additionally, I came to understand that he was experiencing a significant feeling of inferiority, based on my success as well as my position. It’s often easier, in our society, to picture men in powerful, executive roles. We aren’t always ready to deal with women in these jobs. I have heard similar complaints from women who work as doctors, lawyers, or other professionals.

Even though we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women rabbis this year, there is still much to learn about the experiences of being a woman rabbi. The boyfriend was ultimately unable to celebrate my achievements without feeling bad about himself, and this made me very sad at the time. He also viewed the synagogue as “the other man,” and I couldn’t do anything to change this. The relationship ended three years into my life as a rabbi.

Since then, I dated on and off, without anything lasting longer than six months. Each time, the “rabbi issue” became a deal breaker, and I desperately hoped to find someone who was confident and comfortable enough with himself that he could stand by my side no matter what. Someone who was social, kind, wise, compassionate, patient, loving, and forgiving. I knew that this wasn’t too much to ask; I saw that many of my women colleagues had such a partner. Yes, I would find the occasional guy who thought it was cool to date a rabbi, merely for the uniqueness of it, but he would inevitably lose interest once the novelty wore off and reality of my job set in. This only became more challenging once I transitioned from being an assistant rabbi to being a solo rabbi in my own congregation.

Until Seth.

Seth didn’t even blink when he learned I was a rabbi. We met online, talked about it, and he was totally comfortable. He and I are both “others-centered” people, and so we enjoy nurturing and caring for others. He understands the demands of my work, but also feels honored to be a part of it. He kvells over me, enthusiastically reads all of my Jewish Week articles, chats with my congregants, and loves attending services.  I’m still having a hard time getting used to it – I keep expecting him to get fed up and walk away. Seth looks forward to helping me make all my dreams come true, just as I do for him.

So, I’m very happy to announce – we just got engaged. In true rabbinic-life fashion (this would be perfect if we were part of a reality show), Seth proposed about seven minutes before the start of Erev Shabbat services. I was totally flabbergasted, said yes, but then said, “but I still have to run things off before services!!” We laughed, and I had to try to switch into “rabbi mode.” Instead, I walked onto the bimah in a daze, sang the opening song, and then paused the service.

“Did you hear the one about how to make a rabbi totally ferklempt right before services? You propose to her!” I said, right before the entire congregation broke out in song and applause. It’s been a whirlwind since then, and we are appreciating the outpouring of love and good wishes from the extended Jewish community. Part of me worried that I would never find someone for me, but now I realize that I just had to wait for my beshert.

So, as I’m often asked, if you call the wife of a rabbi a “rebbetzin,” what do you call the husband of a rabbi? LUCKY.

Last Update:

04/29/2013 - 17:36
dating scene, Rabbi Marci N. Bellows, Reform, Shabbat services

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I belong to a Conservative congregation with a female Rabbi. Her husband is the Rebbitzman. Much joy and happiness to you and Seth (I listened to your video in the NY Times).

Mazel Tov, Marci! I'm so happy for you!

Mazal tov! I love hearing about how some things actually do work out!

I have been following the Rabbi's articles and they always provided conversation for me and my lucky. Her articles usually have a tie-in to Torah, Judaism and society. This one was all personal and I found it fascinating. However, I am a taken aback by her calling all men lucky.

In a true loving and caring relationship both partners need to be lucky and say it.

I went to various secular and Jewish resources and while her definition of rebbetzin is correct nowhere did I find a definition of lucky that matched hers. Perhaps the Rabbi could have used this opportunity to create a fitting title. She still can.

Frankly given that she could not find a lasting relationshp becuase of her career, it is she who is lucky to finally find someone who shares her joy of her career choice. Rabbi Bellows problem, of a spouse or life partner having a 24/7 job is not unique, by the way. The wife of a Rabbi or doctor or.......... sacrafices too.

I wish them well.

I read your article with both joy for you and Seth and with great relief as what you wrote made a lot of sense to me, but I could never use works to express my feelings.

I married my husband who was already a Rabbi for 12 years. I identify with Seth and I thank you for identifying some of my own feelings about marrying a Rabbi.

I wish you both as much joy and love that I have shared with my husband for the past 25 years.

Mazel Tov Marci. I'm so happy for you and Seth!

Congratulations Marci!

Rebbetzer Glenn S. Cohen

Mazel tov!
I am so glad this column has an happy ending! You were keeping me on edge with its premises, and I was so relieved when I learnt of Seth! Blessed be the katan and the kallah! I do not know you both, but your story got to me and touched me a lot!

CONGRATULATIONS!!! As members of your temple family ,steve and I are thrilled for you. Hope to see you soon.
Mabel tov!
Linda & Steve Nussbaum

Mazal Tov. Absolutely beautiful article.

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