Welcoming Interfaith Families
Congregation Beth Israel is committed to welcoming interfaith families. We encourage our Jewish and non-Jewish members to learn about Judaism and we promote opportunities for everyone to participate in the life of our community and in Jewish home observance. At Congregation Beth Israel everyone is treated with Kavod (respect) and Rachamim (caring).
Who is a Jew?
We follow the standards of the Reform Movement in defining Jewish identity. We consider as a Jew anyone with Jewish parents and anyone who has formally converted to Judaism. We also accept as a Jew anyone with one Jewish parent who has established his or her Jewish identity through "public and formal acts." We consider membership in the synagogue and enrollment in Jewish education to be significant acts of identification with Judaism and the Jewish people.
Who is a Member?
Our community is made up of people and families of all sorts. Our membership includes Jews and their immediate family members. All members - Jewish and non-Jewish - may participate in our education programs, in spiritual counseling from our rabbi, and in our social events. All of our religious services are open equally to Jews and non-Jews.
Participation in Worship
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.
Non-Jewish parents and family members are invited to participate in children's bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies and in bris and naming ceremonies. Marriage ceremonies for interfaith couples may be conducted in our synagogue at the rabbi's discretion.
A few ritual activities are appropriate only for Jews because of their special meaning in Jewish tradition. These include the wearing of the tallit (prayer shawl), coming up for an aliyah (leading the blessings for reading Torah), holding and dressing a Torah scroll,* and serving as a sheliach tzibbur (prayer leader). Only Jews are counted in the minyan (prayer quorum).
*An exception to this policy is made for the celebration of the Torah on Simchat Torah.
Participation in Learning
In all of our educational programs, we invite the participation of Jews and non-Jews. We particularly encourage the involvement of non-Jewish parents in their children's Jewish learning and Jewish family experience.
Participation in Governance
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.
Funerals and Burial
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.
How We Created These Policies
In the year 2000, Congregation Beth Israel affiliated with the Reform Movement. The following year, we commenced a special commission to review our policies regarding the participation of Jews and non-Jews in our community. The commission quickly recognized that the changing reality of interfaith marriage and changes in our community required a new approach.
We spent a year studying Jewish tradition and the issues relevant to interfaith families before drafting recommended policy changes. The outreach program of the Reform Movement was of great help to us as we began to re-envision our community.
In 2003, policy recommendations were presented and discussed by the Board of Directors and at a series of open meetings for the entire congregation. After revisions, the new policies were discussed and adopted at a special membership meeting.
Congregation Beth Israel is one of hundreds of congregations that have struggled with the issues of inclusion and faithfulness to Jewish tradition in an age of interfaith marriage. We believe that the policies we have chosen, though imperfect, will make us a better community. The complete text of our policies and by-laws is available at the synagogue office.
Each year, throughout the world, thousands of people convert to Judaism. If you have ever considered conversion, the most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Ten percent of the families at CBI include one or more family members who have converted to Judaism to become Jews-by-Choice.
Congregation Beth Israel welcomes non-Jews to explore the possibility of conversion as the ultimate expression of affiliation with the Jewish people. Conversion students generally study with our rabbi for at least one year before ritual conversion. We also acknowledge and respect that - for many reasons - some non-Jews who wish to be active in our community choose not to convert.
Inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people is the policy of the Reform Movement. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism has said, "If this Movement does not extend support to all who have been victims of discrimination, including gays and lesbians, then we have no right to call ourselves Reform Jews."
Congregation Beth Israel is proud of its commitment to GLBT inclusion, just as we are proud to include people without regard to their gender, race or ethnic background. We recognize that many GLBT people are hesitant to enter a house of worship - including a synagogue - because of past discrimination. For this reason, we wish to make our welcome explicit.
In accordance with the positions of the Reform Movement, Congregation Beth Israel is proud to recognize equality in marriage. We recognize same-sex marriages as having equal validity to those between a woman and a man.
It is the policy of CBI that same-sex couples may celebrate their Jewish weddings at our synagogue on the same basis as male-female couples.