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    Married spiritual leaders – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why do Judaism and Christianity have such different ideas about spiritual leaders being married?

    “A Jewish wedding” – painting by Jozef Israëls, 1903

    A. The Torah takes it for granted that the patriarchs and prophets were married. Their family situations were sometimes difficult but no-one argued against marriage and family life in principle.

    From Adam and Eve through the Chumash to the prophetic books, marriage was axiomatic. Even when Hosea had problems with his wife, no-one said that life without a wife was a better idea.

    Moses had to face criticism from and about his wife and Aaron was challenged by young kohanim who refused to get married, but the principle was always that of the Mishnah Yoma which said that a kohen could not officiate if he had no wife.

    The Codes of Jewish Law advise a community not to prefer an unmarried over a married prayer leader.

    Marriage was not only the way to national continuity, but it enabled the leader to understand from within how life could and should be lived.

    Classical Christianity generally declined to think of Jesus having a wife and children, though there are writers who take a different view.

    One of the cultural dilemmas of Christianity is why medieval religious art made a feature of Jesus’ genitals whilst later scholarship preferred the notion of Jesus being almost sexless.

    A Jew wonders how a celibate spiritual leader can give marital advice.

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