USCJ changes synagogue membership criteria

Conservative Judaism comprises three main organizations: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), The Rabbinical Assembly (RA), and The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). These are the three main arms of the Conservative Movement in North America.

Every so often, one or more of the arms takes a significant step – a step either forward or backward, depending on your point of view. Examples: When I was in Rabbinical School at JTS, the JTS Rabbinical School decided to begin admitting and ordaining women. While most Conservative leaders hailed the decision, a minority were deeply opposed, some even to the extent of leaving the Movement. The RA for its part took a significant recent step some five years ago, when it issued a Responsum equalizing monogamous homosexuality (with the notable exception of anal sex). Again, most Conservative leaders hailed the decision. But there were and remain those who felt and no doubt still feel it was a mistake.

Last week, the USCJ took its own significant step, approving a major modification in synagogue membership criteria. The step: member congregations of the USCJ may accept as full members non-Jews. The vote was 94 in favor, eight opposed. Why take such a step? With American Jewry’s intermarriage rate substantially above 50%, as high as 80% in some major cities, the simple fact is that there is substantial instance of active intermarrying Conservative Jews who wish to remain members of Movement congregations – and, crucially, to have their spouses also recognized as full members.

With last week’s overwhelming vote at the USCJ General Assembly, our Movement has positioned itself to embrace all those who wish to belong. One caveat: the Rabbinical Assembly continues to prohibit, on penalty of expulsion, its Rabbis from performing intermarriages. At the same time, the RA – as well as JTS – enthusiastically supports USCJ’s new membership standard.

My personal view: I stand with the USCJ’s new standard, just as I stood with and continue to stand with the ordination of women and the equalization of monogamous homosexuality. All the steps described above, I view as major steps forward.

Please note: The USCJ’s new membership standard merely legitimates the OPTION for any Conservative Movement congregation to offer membership to non-Jews. Congregations may use their own discretion, as to whether to adopt the new standard.

More Information

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS)

The Rabbinical Assembly  (RA)

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ).