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Recommendations for Conservative Clergy and Synagogues

May 2012

The inescapable reality of increasing rates of interfaith marriages in the Jewish community command the need for clergy to explicitly express a welcome to interfaith couples. Often those who grow up in the style and values of the Conservative movement want to continue to live in that tradition with their partners and children, even if their partners are not Jewish. They are eager to see signals of welcome from Conservative clergy and synagogues so they can introduce their partners and children to the Judaism they love.

While you may not endorse intermarriage, reaching out to honor and value existing relationships recognizes the principle of lechatchilah and bedieved and allows the building of a strong and deep synagogue relationship with the interfaith family. Bringing those Jews and their families closer to Judaism will not only benefit these families, but will also bring their gifts of time and talents to your synagogue and publicize your welcoming culture to the wider Jewish community.

We have gathered the practices of Conservative clergy across the country who have adapted customs and created opportunities for interfaith couples and their extended families. Some of these potential changes may seem insignificant but their impact will be felt strongly by intermarried families.

Recommendations for Conservative Clergy

  • Congratulate interfaith engaged couples from the bima, in a bulletin or weekly mailing.
  • Congratulate all the parents of adult children who are engaged, whether their fiancé(e) is Jewish or not.
  • Congratulate interfaith couples that are new parents from the bima, in a bulletin or weekly mailing.
  • Develop a respectful way of explaining why you do not officiate at interfaith weddings that will not feel wounding to the couple (or their parents).
  • Offer to refer interfaith couples to a rabbi who will officiate interfaith marriages.
  • Create a working arrangement to counsel the interfaith couple and have a partner rabbi officiate the ceremony. (This builds a relationship with the couple.)
  • Offer to come to the wedding reception and offer your congratulations to the couple and their parents.
  • Develop a birth ceremony for children of interfaith parents that includes elements from the other grandparents’ tradition.
  • Allow halachically non-Jewish children to attend religious school until 3rd grade, when they must commit to Judaism.
  • Allow both partners of an interfaith couple to be on the bima for an aliyah when the Jewish partner reads the blessing.
  • Create an ecumenical grandparents prayer for bar/bat mitzvah.
  • Offer a meeting with congregants who are not Jewish where they can both ask questions about Judaism and ask questions about synagogue policies.
  • Hold public conversion ceremonies during Shabbat services in which the new Jew recounts their Jewish journey.
  • Create a mentoring system for interfaith couples raising Jewish children with knowledgeable older couples.
  • Create a welcoming message for interfaith families on your website.
  • Clarify your synagogue’s policies pertaining to membership and ritual status of partners who are not Jewish. Publish them in a brochure or add them to your website.
  • Create a welcoming culture in your community by preaching about the need to welcome and integrate interfaith couples who are raising Jewish children.
  • Acknowledge in sermons and bulletin articles those who are not Jewish but are supporting their Jewish spouses and raising Jewish children.
Hebrew for "Jewish law," halacha is 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. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") 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. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well.
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