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.