“Faced with the prospects of losing members because of a hostile environment for intermarried couples,” Conservative Jewish synagogues are giving non-Jewish spouses membership opportunities, even if they face disapproval from denominational leadership, reports Forward (Sept. 9).
Although the national Conservative leadership opposes membership rights for non-Jews, these dissenting congregations are going beyond the usual efforts to accommodate intermarried couples by offering limited voting rights to these couples. In these cases, non-Jews still cannot take leadership positions. Conservative Judaism has occupied the middle ground between opposition to intermarriage found in Orthodoxy and the Reform movement’s wide accommodations to the practice.
The denomination’s Rabbinical Assembly prohibits its rabbis from officiating at interfaith weddings. But other policies regarding the place of intermarried couples in Conservative synagogues are vague, leading the assembly currently seeking to revise its policies. But over the years, the exclusionary attitudes both in synagogues and in the leadership have caused “an exodus of intermarried couples from Conservative synagogues to Reform ones,” writes Naomi Zeveloff.
But things began to change in Conservative synagogues in the early 2000s, when the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs initiated a campaign to integrate intermarried couples. Since then, “an untold number” of synagogues have upheld a vague understanding of membership—letting intermarried couples vote, although officially maintaining restrictions—while some are even more openly challenging any restrictions.