Interfaith Participation Guidelines

Introduction

A significant percentage of families within the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation include non-Jews, and these families have bonded intimately with the rest of the community. Both to support these individuals and families in their attachment to Jewish life and to provide clarity for them and the community as a whole, we set forth these guidelines for participation.

Adat Shalom recognizes that some non-Jews in our community maintain separate associations with other religious institutions. Other non-Jews have distanced themselves from their birth religion while stopping short of conversion to Judaism. Non-Jewish members in both categories are often supportive of Jewish home environments for themselves and their children. Such non-Jews can be viewed as gerai-toshav, the biblical category of resident aliens who enjoy virtually all rights of Jews though they are not quite part of the Jewish people.

Adat Shalom encourages its non-Jewish members to participate actively within our community's religious, social, educational and organizational life. Adat Shalom is a Jewish community, however, and the goal of inclusiveness needs to be balanced against the voice of Jewish tradition which, at times, makes it impossible for non-Jewish members to participate fully in every aspect of religious and community life. Practices reserved for Jews are specifically set forth in this document. Except as so provided, non-Jews may participate on the same basis as any other member of the congregation. When the tradition limits the non-Jews' involvement, the community will seek ways of involving them through alternative practices.

Congregational Membership and Jewish Status

The bylaws of the congregation state that "any person 18 years of age or older, committed to pursuing the purposes and activities of the Congregation, shall be eligible for membership."

Reconstructionists define one as Jewish when he/she shares a sense of belonging to the Jewish people, identifies with that common past, and is committed to creating a Jewish future. When either the mother or father is Jewish and the child is given a Jewish education and upbringing, Reconstructionists would consider that child Jewish. When neither parent is Jewish, a person who wants to enter into the covenant of the Jewish people must undergo a conversion process.

Ritual Practice

The following policy pertains to both activities which take place within the Adat Shalom facility, as well as Adat Shalom events which take place in other settings, including members' homes.

  • Readings: Our congregation is enriched by the participation of all members in our services. We encourage non-Jews to lead the congregation in appropriate English readings.
  • Shaliach Tzibur: The person who leads a communal blessing is acting as an emissary on behalf of the congregation. Consistent with the tradition, we reserve the Shaliach Tzibur role for Jews. Nothing prohibits a non-Jew from participating in these prayers.
  • Non-Jewish Participation in Life Cycle Events: 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 thebimah. 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. Additionally, we welcome both parents to present the tallit to their child during the Bat or Bar Mitzvah.
  • Reading from the Torah: In recognition of the special relationship between the Torah and the Jewish people, we reserve for Jews the following Torah honors:
    • Aliyot (reciting blessings before and after Torah reading);
    • Ark openings and closings;
    • Hagba (raisings of the Torah)
    • G'lila ("dressing" the Torah);
    • carrying or holding the Torah Scroll;
    • reading from the Torah and Haftorah (prophetic readings).
  • Kipot: Both Jewish and non-Jewish males are strongly encouraged to wear kipot out of respect for the synagogue. Both Jewish and non-Jewish females are also encouraged to wear kipot if they wish.
  • Tallit: The wearing of a tallit (prayer shawl) is an "earned" religious right for Jews of Bat or Bar Mitzvah age, or older.
  • Minyanim: It is our custom to count only Jewish females and males of Bat or Bar Mitzvah age, or older, for a minyan (minimum of ten persons required for some parts of a religious service, including the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish.).

Observance of Kaddish and Shiva

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.

Weddings

Members may use the synagogue facility for the marriage ceremony of a Jew and a non-Jew, whether or not a rabbi officiates. However, members may not use the facility for a marriage ceremony officiated or coofficiated by non-Jewish clergy. Rabbinic participation in a marriage ceremony of a Jew and a non-Jew is left to the conscience and discretion of the rabbi who is asked to officiate.

Governance

Adat Shalom by-laws place no constraints 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.

Adult Education

All Adult Education programs are open to all members of the congregation. However, because some of the elements of the Ben/Bat Torah program are rituals that--under these guidelines--are available only to Jews, a non-Jew may not become Ben/Bat Torah. A non-Jew completing all the elements of the Ben/Bat Torah program available to non-Jews is eligible to be publicly honored by the congregation.

Torah School

We believe that we stand the greatest chance for success for our children's' Jewish education when the practices in the home complement the Torah School curriculum. As a Reconstructionist congregation, Adat Shalom strongly believes that it must provide a comfortable setting for interfaith families to raise their children Jewishly. The Torah School will be committed to help teachers work with our diverse population, all of whom deserve full acceptance and nurturing. The Adat Shalom community, through its Rabbi and Board of Education, is committed to see that Torah school staff become knowledgeable and sensitive to developmental issues specific to children of interfaith couples. Among other things, teachers will be made aware of the fact that a significant number of their students come from households that are not exclusively Jewish.

The Torah School program encourages all members, including non-Jewish parents, to participate in the Jewish education of the congregation's children and themselves. Opportunities are available in the classroom, as part of the Family Education program, and at Holiday events.

In order to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a child's formal religious education must be exclusively Jewish for the preceding two years. Participation in a simultaneous non-Jewish religious education compromises the child's ability to be fully committed to the process of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Interfaith Support Group

Adat Shalom sponsors an Interfaith Support Group, which enables those in the congregation in interfaith relationships to share experiences on everything from raising children, to facilitating further Jewish involvement in the home, and relating to grandparents of different faiths.