Choosing a rabbi to lead a combined Reform-Conservative congregation can be tricky. Even more awkward is when a combined congregation that has been following Reform tradition for years hires a Conservative rabbi.
One such newly hired Conservative rabbi said she was confronted with a bâ€™nai mitzvah class filled with the children of non-Jewish mothers.
Following her movement’s standards, she asked them to convert. But these were children who had grown up Jewish in a congregation that still recognized them as Jews — were they suddenly to be second-class citizens?
Another rabbi, newly arrived at a merged congregation, related how a longtime member asked him to officiate at his sonâ€™s intermarriage. The rabbi explained why he couldnâ€™t — and the family left the synagogue.
Neither rabbi wished to be identified for this article. Both point out that they were committed to serving a dual-identified congregation, and the congregations knew what they were getting when they hired them.
Ultimately it takes a certain kind of rabbi to maintain that delicate balance.
Rabbi Mel Glazer was hired this summer by Temple Shalom, a merged congregation in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is not happy to see men without yarmulkes at his Friday night services.
â€œIt drives me crazy,â€ he acknowledges. â€œBut theyâ€™ve been here a long time before me.â€
Glazer wonâ€™t knowingly flout Conservative standards. Heâ€™s converting four girls preparing to become bat mitzvah, although he calls it a â€œnaturalizationâ€ rather than a conversion, and heâ€™s told the ritual committee that non-Jews should not perform rituals that Jews are commanded to do, such as open the ark and say blessings over the Torah.
But heâ€™s not going out of his way to impose his own beliefs.
â€œFirst of all, itâ€™s not my shul,â€ Glazer points out. â€œSecond, I knew what I was getting into. If someone says heâ€™s patrilineal and heâ€™s called for an aliyah, Iâ€™m not going to step forward and say, wait a minute. Why would I punish someone who wants to be a part of us?â€
Not many of his Conservative colleagues would do that, he admits.
But, he adds, “not many of them would take a job like this.â€