NEW YORK (Sep. 29)
Growing numbers of non-Jewish spouses in mixed married couples are being accepted as members of Reform synagogues and enjoy full congregational privileges, according to a survey released yesterday by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the synagogue arm of Reform Judaism.
The study, believed to be the first large-scale examination of the synagogue status of non-Jews, was made public by Donald Day of Buffalo, chairman of the UAHC’s board of trustees, at a meeting of the board’s executive committee.
Responses to the survey were received from 138 Reform synagogues, amounting to nearly 19 percent of those polled. The survey was undertaken in response to requests by Reform congregations for guidance in formulating membership criteria for mixed married couples, according to Rabbi Sanford Seltzer, UAHC director of planning and research, who conducted the survey.
“If had formerly been presumed that synagogue affiliation was a prerogative limited to Jews, whether they be Jews by birth, or ‘gerim’ (converts), Jews by choice,” Seltzer explained, adding: “In recent years, however, the situation has changed radically. Not only have mixed married couples sought synagogue membership in ever greater numbers, but non-Jewish spouses have actively involved themselves, when permitted, in the life of the synagogue.”
Last September, a questionnaire was moiled to the rabbi and president of every member congregation in the UAHC — 736 Reform synagogues to the U.S. and Canada. Of the 138 congregations that responded, less than one-quarter said they restrict membership to persons of the Jewish faith.
At the same time, nearly one-third of the congregations permit non-Jews to participate in all pulpit ceremonials, while the remainder vary in their degree of permissiveness regarding such activities.
Almost all of the responding congregations said they allow the non-Jewish parent of a Bar or But Mitzvah some role in the course of that ceremony while almost nine out of 10 permit me burial to the non-Jewish spouse in the congregational cemetery.
The survey also showed that in the over-whelming majority of congregations, rabbis are willing to officiate at the marriage of children of non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers who identify themselves as Jews. Almost all congregations said they accord the rabbi the right to make such a decision.
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, UAHC president said the survey results underscored “the importance of Reform Judaism’s ‘outreach’ program for those who seek to embrace Judaism.”