Conservative day schools to admit children of non-Jewish mothers?

There’s some exciting news from Florida today. According to a JTA story by Sue Fishkoff, the Conservative movement’s Solomon Schechter day schools are considering changing their rules to admit the children of non-Jewish mothers.

It’s not a full sea change in thinking; the schools won’t accept all patrilineals, only those who convert by Bar/Bat Mitzvah age. That’s not the same as the Reform and community day school policy, which accepts children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers without any conversion conditions.

But it is a very positive development, nonetheless, showing there’s some substance behind United Synagogue Executive Vice President Jerome Epstein’s speech last year announcing a movement-wide initiative to welcome and engage intermarried families.

In Jonathan Tobin’s recent column on the debate over outreach, he set up a dichotomy between inreach and outreach, which is a common tactic of outreach opponents and skeptics. But a development like this collapses the categories; it shows that an exalted form of inreach, the Jewish day school, can also be a form of outreach. It simultaneously socializes Jewish kids together while giving the children of intermarried parents a strong Jewish identity.

We will keep you updated on the progress of this story, because it’s not set in stone that the Solomon Schechter schools will decide on the issue. In March, the former head of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, urged the movement’s summer camps to change their policy on patrilineals but no action has been taken.

Sue Fishkoff also wrote a sidebar on how this potential decision would affect Reform and community day schools. The general conclusion? Not much.

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