Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Conservative Movement Is Divided Over "Excessively Rigid" Rules Which Bar Those Married To Non-Jews From Leadership Roles

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 1999

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has adopted a policy declaring that congregations and Solomon Schechter Day Schools "should not engage or employ any individual who is intermarried for a position in which he/she may serve as a role model." The positions mentioned include "rabbis, cantors, educators, teachers of all age groups and subjects, youth workers and executive directors."  

The Forward (Oct. 3, 1998) reports that the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism has adopted a policy which states: "When a Jew and a non-Jew marry, they should not expect a rabbi or cantor even to attend a civil ceremony, much less officiate at a wedding." Beyond this, the statement says, intermarriages should not even be acknowledged publicly at a service or in a synagogue newsletter.  

Having banned intermarried people from serving as professionals, The Forward (Feb. 2, 1999) notes that, "The hard-line faction in the Conservative movement is now turning its eyes to another target: synagogue presidents, officers and other lay leaders. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is pressing congregations to adopt standards of religious behavior—including Sabbath observance, regular synagogue attendance and in-marriage for their officers."  

There has been much criticism within the Conservative movement of what many see as rigid and unwelcoming standards. Rabbi Seymour Essrog, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, declared: "I’m a practical person. I don’t throw out challenges and gauntlets and restrictions. Any rabbi looks for the optimum, but is grateful for anyone’s involvement in the synagogue, because volunteerism is by and large dead."  

In Berkeley, California, members of a Conservative synagogue are sharply critical of the new requirements. A member of the synagogue’s interfaith group, radio talk-show host Rose Levinson, said they are "punishing Jews, slamming the door...It’s psychological warfare against people in interfaith relationships. It’s an insult to say you can’t teach in certain schools because you’re married to a non-Jew. It’s not smart because this phenomenon is not going away."  

Another member of the Berkeley group, environmentalist Meghan Starkey, said: "The single biggest thing that keeps me from converting is the attitude of Conservative Judaism toward the intermarried."  

Writing in Moment (March 1999), Yosef Abramowitz, the publisher of a new World Wide Web site, interfaithfamily.com, noted that, "The Conservative movement is totally out of touch. They’re totally ‘New York.’ They don’t get it." He argues that the Jewish community should encourage inter-marriage for single Jewish women in their mid-30s, so long as they raise Jewish children. "It’s totally absurd the Jewish community doesn’t have a major campaign to affirm those decisions," he said.  

Michael Rosenheimer, a member of the Berkeley group, is married to a Lutheran who, he says, "has been encouraging me to re-integrate into Jewish life." Of the Conservative stand against intermarriage, he says: "Many positions laid out by the rabbis are out of date and out of place. It’s like the position of P.W. Botha; it’s a throwback to an earlier period. Why is it different to have anti-miscegenation laws in Judaism than it is to have them in a state?"  

Members of the interfaith group in Berkeley wrote a letter to The Forward (March 5, 1999), which states that the new Conservative rules represent an effort to "raise high the walls of Fortress Judaism...It is unfortunate that some people are frightened by those who do not fit a preconceived mold and who believe that ‘raising the bar’ is the way to preserve Judaism...We urge others to speak out loudly on this issue, persons who are in interfaith relationships and those who are not. It may be you who is next judged unworthy to be part of klal Yisrael."

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.