I recently read Rebecca Blady’s blog post on the website of New Voices, a Jewish student magazine. Blady’s post discusses the National Council of Young Israel’s (NCYI) 2007 policy that restricts member synagogues from having converts to Judaism or women as congregational presidents. Blady and others have also discussed several other policies which demonstrate how NCYI likely has moved to the right of Modern Orthodoxy.
According to Quinn’s article in the Yeshivah University Commentator two years ago, the NYCI gave only a vague reason for its 2007 restriction on synagogue presidents. They cited a ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a major 20th century Orthodox rabbi, that converts or women should not be in a position of coercive authority over other Jews. It’s not clear that presidency of a local synagogue in the United States is a position of coercive power, and I fear that this interpretation violates a major Torah principle of accepting the convert. In fact I had been taught it was downright rude to call attention to a convert’s background.
I began to wonder why the NCYI would choose to implement this policy in the 21st century. Perhaps,they were influenced by the United States constitution, which prohibits an immigrant from being president? Or maybe the NCYI feels that being the president of a synagogue gives one real coercive power over their fellow synagogue members. (I hope not!) I fear that for most people, the take-away is a message that converts may be somehow less Jewish, less committed to the performance of mitzvot. InterfaithFamily.com readers can attest to the opposite. Those who choose Judaism may be more cognizant to the details of a Jewish lifestyle.
As someone who has enjoyed praying at Young Israel synagogues in the past, I hope they will reconsider some of their policies. Meanwhile, I can think of a lot more welcoming Orthodox institutions both more traditional and more liberal than the NCYI that I will support instead.
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