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Recommendations for Creating a Welcoming Policy Document

Updated December 5, 2011

Each synagogue is different in terms of boundaries and limitations on the participation of those who are not Jewish. Interfaith couples and adult descendents of intermarried parents or grandparents have concerns about their status in your community, and appreciate learning what they can expect before they encounter one of the boundaries. InterfaithFamily.com recommends that every synagogue clarify their limits for themselves and create a document which explains their policies to potential congregants in language that does not inadvertently imply rejection or disdain.

We solicited and searched for policy statements from synagogues, and have selected excerpts from across the denominational spectrum. It is not our intention to dictate to you, but to inspire you to create a policy statement that works for you. We suggest that you begin a process that helps to clarify your policies, solicits opinions from your members and allows for discussion and presentations from your interfaith families. The Union for Reform Judaism has a very helpful guide for congregations beginning this process: Defining the Role of the Non-Jew in the Synagogue. The Reconstructionist Federation report on Boundaries and Opportunities outlines an eleven-step process in making these decisions.

Below are recommendations for creating policy with samples from Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative congregations.

Recommendation 1: Start the welcoming policy document with a statement of inclusion.

  • Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot (Reform)
    Irvine, CA
    Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot warmly opens our doors and hearts to our non-Jewish members. We are committed to couples with one Jewish partner to welcome them as a couple within our community, to embrace them and their children, and to offer support and education for their extended families.

 

  • Or Hadash (Reconstructionist)
    Fort Washington, PA
    Our congregation warmly welcomes all families as a unit, including households where one partner is not Jewish. An interfaith couple who makes the decision to join a synagogue is making a statement of commitment to the Jewish people. In affording synagogue membership to non-Jews, we are acknowledging this commitment and are recognizing their support of the Jewish partner and of the Jewish people.

 

  • Netivot Shalom (Conservative)
    Berkeley, CA
    Welcome to Netivot Shalom! Anyone seeking a connection to God, to Torah, or wanting to learn more about Jewish customs or people will find a warm, friendly and supportive home here. Netivot Shalom has been at the forefront of the movement to create an inclusive community, encouraging all who seek a spiritual and communal home to join with us.

 

Recommendation 2: Let interfaith families know what their membership status will be in the congregation.

  • Shir Hadash (Reform)
    Los Gatos, CA
    Membership at Shir Hadash includes adult Jewish members, their spouses or partners and their children. If a Jewish spouse dies, or a couple is divorced, the non-Jewish partner is welcome to continue participating as a member. The parents or guardians of Jewish children are always welcome to join our congregation.

 

  • Congregation Agudas Achim (Reconstructionist)
    Attleboro, MA
    Membership at Congregation Agudas Achim is on a household or familial basis. Any family or household with Jewish members is welcome to join the community.

 

  • Congregation Beth Shalom (Conservative)
    Northbrook, IL
    A non-Jewish spouse will be treated as a member of the Beth Shalom family with few limitations, even though at this time, according to Conservative Judaism and the present Congregation Beth Shalom by-laws, only individuals of the Jewish faith can hold formal membership. All programs and services are open to the entire family, and mail is always addressed to both husband and wife.

 

Recommendation 3: Partners who are not Jewish want to know if they can take leadership positions. If there are restrictions, they need to be explained in sensitive language.

  • Congregation Beth Israel (Reform)
    North Adams, MA
    A Jewish community must be able to make decisions and plan for its future in the context of Jewish values and tradition. All members of the congregation are encouraged to participate in our decision-making processes and are eligible to serve as members of the Board and most synagogue committees. Non-Jewish members are asked to abstain from voting on issues that deal with specifically religious issues-such as hiring a rabbi or the conduct of services. Only Jewish members may serve on the Religion Committee or as president and vice-president of the congregation. All other positions are open to all members.

 

  • Adat Shalom Congregation (Reconstructionist)
    Bethesda MD
    Adat Shalom by-laws place no restraints on what Board of Directors positions may be held by non-Jews. Since Adat Shalom's inception, there have been non-Jewish Adat Shalom committee chairs. Adat Shalom continues to encourage non-Jewish members to fill these roles.

 

  • Beth Am Synagogue (Conservative)
    Baltimore, MD
    We are happy to have non-Jewish spouses or partners actively participate in all Beth Am committees except those with ritual responsibility. Presently, this includes the Board of Trustees and the Religious Services Committee.

 

Recommendation 4: Interfaith families need an explicit invitation to attend worship services together.

  • Congregation Beth Israel (Reform)
    North Adams, MA
    Community worship is one of the cornerstones of Jewish life. Congregation Beth Israel is committed to the creation of worship experiences that are meaningful, authentic and inclusive. Everyone — Jews and non-Jews — is welcome to attend all of our services. Non-Jews often feel uncertain about how to participate appropriately in services. At CBI, non-Jews can feel comfortable reciting all prayers and singing all songs along with the congregation. Non-Jews can stand with the congregation and wear a kippah (yarmulke) if they so choose.

 

  • Congregation Agudas Achim (Reconstructionist)
    Attleboro, MA
    Yes of course! As the prophet Isaiah says: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (56:7). You are welcome at all services. While many of our prayers are in Hebrew, our prayer book contains translations, transliterations, commentary and interpretations. Please join in as much or as little as you feel comfortable to do so. Our Board Hosts will be wearing nametags and will be happy to assist you in finding your place in the prayer book.

 

  • B'nai Abraham Northern Hills Synagogue (Conservative)
    Northern Hills, OH
    Attendance at religious services is open to everyone, regardless of religion. While only Jews may be called to the Torah, or lead certain parts of the services, there remain many opportunities for the non-Jewish family member to participate in meaningful ways such as reading certain passages. Following the Hebrew service can be quite challenging for some Jews and for some non-Jews alike, so transliterations and explanations of services are available in the lobby. Many visitors and new members feel “out of place", fearing a mistake will be made. Follow the crowd, so what if you are a half beat off! Please feel free to ask someone to explain what is happening.

 

Recommendation 5: Interfaith families want to know that their children will be accepted in the community.

  • Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot (Reform)
    Irvine, CA
    Since 1983, the Reform Movement has recognized the children of either the Jewish parent (mother or father) as Jewish if they are raised and educated as Jews. There are many children in our congregation's Religious School who have other religions in their extended families and our teachers have been trained to be sensitive to this.

 

  • Congregation Dorshei Emet (Reconstructionist)
    Montreal, QC
    In addition to the traditional definition of “anyone born of a Jewish mother,“ the Reconstructionist movement recognizes as a Jew anyone born to a Jewish parent and is raised and educated as a Jew, initiated into the covenant and desires a continuing involvement in the life of the Jewish people.

 

  • Beth Meyer Synagogue (Conservative)
    Raleigh, NC
    Jewish law says that membership in the Jewish people is matrilineal, that is, passed through the mother. Therefore, if the mother is a Jew (by birth or by conversion), the children are automatically Jewish. If the father is Jewish but the mother is not, the child would need to go through a formal conversion process in order to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

 

Recommendation 6: Interfaith families want to know if there are restrictions to their ritual participation at a baby naming.

  • Temple B'nai Or (Reform)
    Morristown, NJ
    When your child is named at Temple, both parents are on the Bimah (pulpit) for the naming. There is a prayer in English both parents can recite, expressing gratitude for the new life and the intention to link this child with the Jewish people. Either parent has the option to say something about the names that have been chosen.

 

  • Adat Shalom (Reconstructionist)
    Bethesda MD
    The child is brought into the Covenant Community of the Jewish people through two Hebrew prayers. The first is a prayer over the wine (that) may be said by either parent. The second reads: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made us holy through the commandments and has commanded us to enter our child into the covenant of the Jewish People." Since the Jewish parent is the one actually "commanded" in this sense, s/he says this prayer. Joyous celebration knows no religious boundaries and we welcome non-Jews to participate in the services in appropriate ways from the bimah when they are celebrating a simcha. In the case of life cycle events such as a Bat or Bar Mitzvah, wedding, or baby or child naming, non-Jewish friends or family members are invited to offer appropriate personal blessings to the children or couple from the bimah. The formula of commandment in saying some particular brochot is discretionary for the non-Jew, assuming the individual can recite it in good conscience. It is entirely appropriate for non-Jews to use prayers from the Jewish tradition to express joy, gratitude, etc., in a private or communal setting.

 

  • B'nai Abraham Northern Hills Synagogue (Conservative)
    Northern Hills, OH
    A Brit Milah (Bris or ritual circumcision) and baby naming ceremony for a girl mark the parents' commitment to raising the baby as a Jew. Both parents in an interfaith marriage may participate in the blessing ceremony. Please contact the Rabbi for further information concerning this important life cycle event.

 

Recommendation 7: Interfaith families want to know if there are restrictions to their ritual participation when their child becomes bar/bat mitzvah.

  • Temple B'nai Or (Reform)
    Morristown, NJ
    When a child celebrates becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the participation of both parents is especially important. It is crucial that youngsters see BOTH parents as standing totally behind the decision to raise them as Jews in order to reinforce unambiguous Jewish identities. There are certain parts in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony in which non-Jewish parents are encouraged to participate. There are other parts which are given to you as options, while there are those prayers and rituals which would only be appropriate for the Jewish parent.

    Non-Jewish parents are encouraged to be on the Bimah for the following:
    • The Aliyah: Generally, we call up the Jewish parent for an aliyah (saying the blessings over the Torah reading) “accompanied by" the non-Jewish parent, who stands next to the Jewish parent who recites the blessing. Others who are not Jewish do not come up to the pulpit when a spouse is reciting these blessings. Non-Jewish relatives can be given the honor of dressing the Torah.

      Both parents then remain at the pulpit, standing behind their child when s/he recites these blessings and reads the Torah.

      The blessings over the Torah reading are done only by those of the Jewish religion. This blessing is an essential statement of the Jewish faith: "...who has chosen us from all peoples by giving us the Torah... thereby implanting within us eternal life." The Torah is the Jewish means of salvation. Someone from another faith background saying them would not be unlike a Jewish person taking the Eucharist without believing in Jesus as the Christ.
    • The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Blessing: During the Rabbi's address and blessing of your child, both parents stand in back of him/her, as well as when s/he is leading the blessings over the wine and challah.
    • The passing of the Torah: During the ceremony, the Torah is passed from the parents to the child, signifying the passing on of the Jewish heritage through the generations. A parent addresses the child at this time about what this moment means to the parents. While it is the Jewish parents who physically passes the Torah, the non-Jewish parents may give the address.
    • Friday evening blessings: At the Friday night service during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekend, the parents take part in the blessings over the Shabbat candles and the wine. Generally, the mother lights the candles, reads a prayer in English, then recites the blessings over the candles. Non-Jewish mothers may light the candle and read the English introduction to the Hebrew blessing. Those who recite the Hebrew blessing at home when lighting Shabbat candles are encouraged to do so at Temple. Otherwise, another Jewish family member may recite the Hebrew blessing. Fathers, Jewish and not, generally recite a prayer before the Kiddush in English, after which the Bar/Bat Mitzvah chants the full Kiddush.

 

  • Congregation Agudas Achim (Reconstructionist)
    Attleboro, MA
    Yes. As a supportive parent, your role in your child's Jewish education is extremely important and we honor your commitment to raising your child in an unfamiliar tradition. While certain rites and rituals surrounding the Torah service are reserved for Jews, you will be encouraged to participate by offering an English reading, coming up to witness your child read from Torah, offering remarks to your child and or in other appropriate ways. You will be invited to participate in pre-B'nai Mitzvah family workshops and be encouraged to play an active role as your child takes this journey.

 

  • Beth Am Synagogue (Conservative)
    Baltimore, MD
    Honors are awarded to people celebrating a life-cycle event. These events involve a core family as well as the community at large. We wish to have every member of the core family share in the joy. In these situations, the non-Jewish family member often accompanies the Jewish family member to the Torah, as someone who enables this moment of joy to take place. While the Jewish family member recites the covenantal bless, the non-Jewish family member is very much part of the occasion. Beth Am also creates opportunities in the service that are not strictly Jewish ritual. These may include readings, the presentation of the tallit to a child or saying some words to the child that do not have covenantal significance.

 

Recommendation 8: Partners of Jews want to know if they will be pressured to convert if they join the congregation.

  • Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot (Reform)
    Irvine, CA
    No. We are grateful for the support given to the Jewish spouse/partner and the participation at SHM. Conversion is a personal decision made only after heartfelt consideration. Our Rabbis will guide you through the conversion process and the congregation will joyfully celebrate if and when the decision is made to convert to Judaism.

 

  • Congregation Agudas Achim (Reconstructionist)
    Attleboro, MA
    No. We are grateful for your support of your partner's Judaism and your participation here. We understand that conversion to Judaism is a personal decision that can only be made after heartfelt consideration and exploration. If conversion is something you would like to explore, our rabbi would be happy to talk with you.

 

  • Beth Meyer Synagogue (Conservative)
    Raleigh, NC
    Our Rabbi is always willing to explore the possibility of conversion. However, we will never pressure you to convert. You are welcome in our synagogue as a friend of the Jewish people. Please note that our dues structure does not differentiate between intermarried and in-married couples.

 

Recommendation 9: Interfaith couples want to know if you will officiate at their wedding/commitment ceremony and congregants want to know if you will officiate for their children.

  • Oseh Shalom (Reconstructionist)
    Laurel, MD
    Interfaith weddings using Jewish rituals, symbols and ritual objects may be conducted at Oseh Shalom — i.e., in any part of our building or on our grounds.

    Only our rabbi may officiate at an interfaith wedding conducted at Oseh Shalom. Exceptions due to the rabbi's unavailability may be granted on a case-by-case basis by the rabbi in consultation with the Religious Vice-President and/or Religious Committee, as appropriate.

    Our rabbi may include Jewish co-officiants in an interfaith wedding held at Oseh Shalom. A clergy member of a different religious faith may not co-officiate at an interfaith wedding conducted at Oseh Shalom. Such co-officiation would be in violation of current Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association policy.

 

  • Beth Am Synagogue (Conservative)
    Baltimore, MD
    There are many ways that the Rabbi and the Synagogue provide acceptance and support, even though the Rabbi cannot marry an interfaith couple. The Rabbi provides counseling support for the couple as well the extended families. He helps them work through religious and spiritual issues. He also provides source material for couples to work out their own wedding ceremonies that will represent the aspirations of both parties.

    There are two reasons why the Rabbi cannot conduct the wedding ceremony of an interfaith couple. The first is that the Jewish wedding creates a contractual relationship through the ketubah (contract) under Jewish law, and Jewish law can have no authority over non-Jews. The second is that while Beth Am is supportive of the people in an interfaith marriage, it is not appropriate to give religious sanction. As expressed above, however, withholding religious sanction does not mean withholding acceptance and support.

 

Recommendation 10: Interfaith families want to know if they can count on your support when there is a death in the family.

  • Shir Hadash (Reform)
    Los Gatos, CA
    Shir Hadash, your community, and the clergy are here for you in your hour of loss. Whether your loved one is Jewish or a non-Jewish relative, we will seek to provide comfort during your time of need. Contact the clergy to advise them of your loss when the time comes.

    Our clergy will officiate at all funeral services for burial or cremation for partners of Jews if the wish of the deceased is to have a Jewish service. Congregants are encouraged to clarify this desire with their loved ones while they are living. Funeral or Memorial Services for members may be conducted at Congregation Shir Hadash.

    Our clergy also will participate in the non-Jewish funeral of a non-Jewish partner in a way that is religiously appropriate and which supports the Jewish family members.

 

  • Adat Shalom (Reconstructionist)
    Bethesda MD
    Adat Shalom will support traditional mourning practices for Jewish members in mourning for non-Jewish family members, as well as for non-Jewish members in mourning for Jewish family members. This will include support for shiva minyanim as the member requests. Non-Jewish mourners may, at their discretion, say Kaddish.

 

  • Beth Meyer Synagogue (Conservative)
    Raleigh, NC
    The Rabbi is available for comfort and support to all mourners. Our congregation will also be there for you in times of need. Please contact Rabbi Solomon for advice on burial arrangements and mourning customs specific to your situation.

 

Recommendation 11: Interfaith couples want to know if they can be buried together in your cemetery.

  • Congregation Beth Israel (Reform)
    North Adams, MA
    Paying honor to the dead is a central value in Jewish tradition. Honor is given to the memory of all our loved ones, Jewish and non-Jewish. The congregation maintains a cemetery in Clarksburg for the burial of our members. Distinct sections of the cemetery are maintained — a section in which both Jews and non-Jews may be buried and a section in which only Jews may be buried. Non-denominational funeral services for non-Jewish members may be conducted in the synagogue and at our cemetery.

    We find that it is appropriate for Jews to recite the Kaddish in honor of their non-Jewish relatives, and also for non-Jews to recite Kaddish in honor of their Jewish relatives, if they so wish.

 

  • Congregation Dor Hadash (Reconstructionist)
    Pittsburgh, PA
    A person who is not a Jew who is a member of the congregation may be buried in the congregational cemetery. A non-Jew who is a member of a Jewish family who are members of the congregation may be buried in the congregational cemetery. The funeral service may include psalms, prayers, hesped, the El Maley Rachamim, and the recitation of Mourners' Kaddish.

 

  • B'nai Abraham Northern Hills Synagogue (Conservative)
    Northern Hills, OH
    The cemeteries designated for members of Northern Hills Synagogue are considered hallowed Jewish ground so only Jews may be buried there. There are cemeteries within the Greater Cincinnati area that permit burial of a Jew and a non-Jewish spouse. Contact the Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Cincinnati, Inc. for more information. Mourners Kaddish, recited as a memorial prayer during the mourning period and on the anniversary of a loved one's death, may be recited for non-Jewish Relatives.
Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." 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." Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." 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." Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. Hebrew for "holy," a prayer found in Jewish prayer services. There are many versions of the Kaddish, the best known being the Mourner's Kaddish, said by mourners. Hebrew for "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. 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.") 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.
Hebrew for "eulogy." Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "gladness" or "joy," it is often used to refer to a festive occasion or celebration, like a wedding, bat mitzvah, or bris. Hebrew for "prayer shawl," a ritual item that is worn and has knotted fringes (tzitzit) attached to the four corners. 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. 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. Hebrew for "seven," refers to the seven days of mourning following the funeral of a family member. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."
Karen Kushner

Karen Kushner is a consultant to, and past Chief Education Officer for, InterfaithFamily. She is known for the workshops, trainings and booklets of the Jewish Welcome Network, which provided outreach consultation and resource to synagogues, Jewish schools and agencies of all denominations and affiliations.

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