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At Last Supportive Spouses Are Welcomed in Conservative Synagogues

Review of "The Role of the Supportive Non-Jewish Spouse in the Conservative/Marsorti Movement" by Rabbi Charles Simon. The pamphlet can be ordered for $6 a copy plus $2 for shipping and handling at  www.fjmc.org, or by calling 212-749-8100.

At last, a Conservative rabbi who thinks about intermarried families in a positive light! Almost every congregation can point to a non-Jewish member who cooks for the holidays, shleps the kids to Hebrew School, uses some of his/her hard-earned money to pay for Jewish education for the kids or temple membership, and/or volunteers his/her expertise to balance the synagogue's books or write the synagogue's newsletter. Yet, the Conservative movement has held these people apart. It has put up barriers to welcoming them into our midst.

Rabbi Simon's pamphlet, "The Role of the Supportive non-Jewish Spouse in the Conservative/Marsorti Movement," recognizes the great contributions these spouses make to our communities. He urges us to welcome them. He feels we must be pro-active in doing so.

In keeping with the Conservative movement's loyalty to text, he summarizes documents that illuminate past Conservative attitudes toward intermarried families. He then comments on these documents, highlighting how they might be interpreted to allow for a welcoming attitude. One way this could happen is by recognizing the power the Conservative movement gives to local rabbis in deciding matters of community practice. Simon stresses the role of the "m'raa d'atra (the local rabbi) in making decisions that serve his/her community. He points out the difference between halakha (Jewish law) and the wish to merely keep boundaries. He suggests creating a category of synagogue membership for these non-Jewish partners, or even giving newlywed mixed couples free synagogue membership for a year. He urges the movement to review its policies created in the 80s and 90s--which excluded non-Jewish partners and, in some cases Jews married to non-Jews, from participating in synagogue committees. He suggests we welcome these supportive human beings to our auxiliary groups, the sisterhoods and brotherhoods. He urges synagogues to recognize how crucial life-cycle events are to families and to be more flexible about non-Jewish family members' participation in them. Again he suggests that we allow participation that is not specifically denied by halakha.

Rabbi Simon is to be congratulated for continuing the dialogue started by the Conservative men's groups, FJMC, who endorsed this pamphlet, discussed it, and encouraged Rabbi Simon to write it.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "Jewish law," it's the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Dr. Ruth Nemzoff

Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, a resident scholar at Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, is author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family.

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