What is Your Synagogue’s Policy on Who Can Be a Member?

By InterfaithFamily

February 4, 2015

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The national InterfaithFamily/Your Community staff and the directors of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community projects in BostonPhiladelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Cleveland worked together to gather information about the ritual policies of synagogues in their communities. All rabbis were asked the same question, below, and their responses follow. The opinions expressed do not reflect a policy of InterfaithFamily, but are meant to be an educational resource to be shared and discussed with the greater Jewish community. Read the previous column, What is Your Synagogue’s Policy on Opening the Ark?

We have asked the rabbis from synagogues of different denominations about their policies and they differed by synagogue.

In your synagogue, what is the policy on who can be a member? What roles can someone who is not Jewish play in synagogue leadership?

Draw Members Closer

Temple Sholom of Broomall, PA (Reform)

I believe we are enriched by Jews by birth, Jews by choice, and Jews by association. In our community, key provisions note that “any Jewish Person, partner of a Jewish Person, or person who is willing to embrace the Purposes and Principles of the Congregation can be a member.” Keeping with that message, “Officers must be Adult Members who embrace the purpose/principles of the Congregation.”

We have been blessed with a diverse community which includes rey’im ahuvim—beloved companions— those who are not interested in converting to Judaism but would like to know more about Judaism or wish to be supportive of Jews in their family. The Hebrew word keruv means “drawing near.” By drawing these members closer, the benefit has been a stronger and more vibrant community!

-Rabbi Peter Rigler

Membership by Household

Congregation Beth Judea of Long Grove, IL (Conservative)

Given the rapidly changing demographics of Jewish America, synagogues are having to find new responses to the growth of interfaith families, same-sex couples, Jewish singles and many other non-traditional households. A basic issue is who is accepted as a member of the community. At our synagogue, we are moving toward a system of membership by household, defined as any family configuration with at least one Jewish member; in other words, the household is a member by dint of even one Jew in it. All of its members, whether Jewish or not, are invited to take part in social, educational and fundraising events, and to serve as volunteers on committees and in support of programs, but only the Jewish member holds the right to vote in important communal matters or hold elected office.

-Rabbi Jeff Pivo

Balance Inclusiveness with Jewish Tradition

Kol HaLev of Cleveland, OH (Reconstructionist)

Kol HaLev has always been a kehillah mekabelet (welcoming community). Our founders in 1992 included intermarried couples, and we have always been open to a diverse membership. While we have always encouraged our members who aren’t Jewish to participate actively in Kol HaLev, we are a Jewish community. Thus, we strive to balance our goal of inclusiveness with the voice of Jewish tradition, which, at times, moves us to reserve certain types of religious leadership and ritual roles for Jewish members of Kol HaLev.

Members who aren’t Jewish are considered full-fledged, voting members of our community and may serve in a variety of leadership capacities including the roll of member-at-large on the Board of Trustees, a member of any committee or task force and as chair of most of our committees. The leadership rolls reserved for Jewish members are those that make up the Executive Committee including the president, vice president, treasurer and secretary, as well as the chairperson of our Religious Practices Committee and our Youth and Family Education Committee.

-Rabbi Steve Segar

Honor Those Who Support the Congregation

Temple Sholom of Chicago, IL (Reform)

At Temple Sholom of Chicago, members are Jews and those related to Jews. We also offer those who are not Jewish ritual honors in most every possible way.

To not honor such people who help support the congregation seems wrong. Family and friends who are not Jewish also perform acts on the bimah and serve on committees.

-Rabbi Edwin Goldberg 





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About InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship will provide offerings for couples in cities nationwide. If you have suggestions, please contact network@interfaithfamily.com.