Thursday, March 26, 2015

Non-Jewish Members of the Synagogue?

From: Robert Tobin <>
Subject: Re: Question
Date: March 24, 2015 at 1:25:51 PM EDT
To: [omitted]

The topic is a live one among Conservative rabbis to be sure.

Since “shul" is a made up category, there is no biblical, rabbinic or halakhic authority to clearly define the term “shul membership” and who it applies to.  Therefore it is a matter of policy, not religion in that sense.

Basically, non-Jews making decisions about the form of religious expression would be inappropriate. Jewish people should not determine who the priest in church is, or if the mass is in latin or not, even if their spouse is Catholic.  This is no different.  Therefore, non-Jews voting on which rabbi to hire (or fire), cantors, religious school directors, etc., is to be avoided in the opinion of most Conservative synagogues.  Since synagogue membership carries with it voting rights, they draw the line at the word “member,” only allowing Jews to be members and thereby maintaining that all members have the right to vote and hold office.

That is the simplest, but not the only way to handle the situation.  Many synagogues allow the non-Jewish spouse to serve on committees. What if they are president of the sisterhood, and by laws say that sisterhood gets a voting seat on the board? The dominoes fall quickly.

Probabably best, give the rate of intermarriage and the movement’s need to attract people to our form of Judaism, would be a “Jewish Membership” and a “non-Jewish membership” which would clearly delineate the priveledges and responsibilities of each category, kind of like a country club with “social” “golf” and “tennis memberships.”

But it is a live issue to be sure.

Robert Tobin 
B'nai Shalom
Office: 973-731-0160
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On Mar 24, 2015, at 12:57 PM, "T" and "H" ...... wrote:
Hi rabbi,
"T" here. My bro-in-law had a question for me that I must pass to you for a reliable answer. This is in regard to some sensitive proposed changes to our SHUL in upstate ny. (If that info makes a diff). Here's the question:
"What authority is there for the premise that Conservative synagogues do not admit non-Jews as members?"
Thanks in advance for your attention. 
Ps. A sweet and kosher pesach to you, "L" and the kiddies! 

Sent from my iPhone

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