Beth Am Welcomes Interfaith Households
Beth Am has a distinguished history as an egalitarian and inclusive Synagogue. At Beth Am, we respect and support the right of every person to make autonomous religious decisions. If you are the non-Jewish spouse or partner in a Beth Am household, we encourage you to be an engaged part of the Beth Am family. Here are some of the opportunities we offer:
- Adult learning classes to help you gain a comfortable understanding of our services and Jewish traditions.
- Full involvement in the volunteer projects, educational activities, and all non-ritual committees.
- Full access to and assistance of our clergy. Our clergy will also place his interfaith connections at your service if you wish to speak with clergy of your own faith and are not sure whom to contact.
- Participation in the religious school activities and life-cycle events of your family members.
Our staff and officers will be happy to discuss with you the many opportunities available that will help you to become a vital participant in our Synagogue’s community.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How does a household determine which Dues Category to choose?
Beth Am has established a dues structure that emphasizes our desire to welcome non-Jewish spouses and partners into Synagogue life to the fullest extent permissible under Jewish law (halakhah). If you are a non-Jewish spouse or partner who desires to be an active participant in Synagogue life and would like to attend High Holydays services, the “Household of 2 Adults” dues category might be the best choice for you. Beth Am also offers the “Household of 1 Adult” dues category, which may be preferable for interfaith households with children where the non-Jewish spouse or partner prefers a lower level of participation. To best determine which dues category is appropriate for your household, please contact our Executive Director, Henry Feller, for a confidential discussion.
2. Under the Dues Category of “Household of 1 Adult”, how many High Holydays tickets may my household reserve?
For a nominal fee of $36 per seat, a Household of 1 Adult may reserve High Holyday tickets for 1 adult and each child in their household over the age of six. An additional High Holyday ticket may be reserved for $360 for a spouse or partner.
3. Can a non-Jewish spouse or partner have a membership at Beth Am?
Beth Am offers many opportunities for non-Jewish spouses and partners to be active in Synagogue life to the extent permissible under Jewish law. For halakhic reasons membership is available only to individuals of the Jewish faith.
4. Why are there constraints for a non-Jewish spouse to be a Synagogue member?
Beth Am, like most covenant-based religious institutions, wants to be welcoming to all who come. At the same time, Judaism, like other faiths, has certain privileges and responsibilities that are available to those who are born into, or convert into our faith. It is for this reason that only Jews are allowed to perform certain rituals and blessings, much like only Catholics can accept communion. In order to be a member of a Conservative synagogue and partake of certain rites and rituals, one must be born a Jew or convert into Judaism. For more details on these halakhic reasons, please read on.
5. What are the halakhic limitations that apply to a non-Jewish spouse or partner?
When it comes to the participation of non-Jewish spouses or partners in Synagogue life there are three areas of limitations.
- Committee involvement. We are happy to have non-Jewish spouses or partners actively participate in all Beth Am committees except those with ritual responsibility. Presently, this includes the Board of Trustees and the Religious Services Committee.
- Participation in services. There are many opportunities for non-Jewish spouses or partners to participate in important family milestones such as a bris, b’nai mitzvah or wedding, and they can have a reading role during Shabbat services. At the same time, there are also some halakhic constraints. In accordance with the rules of the Conservative Jewish Movement, with which Beth Am is affiliated, a non-Jewish spouse or partner may not have Torah-related honors, nor recite blessings.
- Voting. On occasion, congregants may vote on major Synagogue issues. This opportunity to vote on such issues is only available to the Jewish spouse or partner.
6. In what ways can a non-Jewish spouse or partner participate in the life-cycle events of my family?
Honors are often awarded to people celebrating a life-cycle event. These events involve a core family as well as the community at large. We wish to have every member of the core family share in the joy. In these situations, such as a birth or a b’nai mitzvah, the non-Jewish family member often accompanies the Jewish family member to the Torah, as someone who enables this moment of joy to take place. While the Jewish family member recites the covenantal blessings, the non-Jewish family member is very much part of the occasion.
Beth Am also creates opportunities in the service that are not strictly Jewish ritual. These may include readings, the presentation of a tallit to a child, or saying some words to the child that do not have covenantal significance.
Resources for Interfaith Households
1. If I would like to discuss what activities I can participate in at Beth Am, as a non-Jewish partner or spouse, whom should I contact?
Our clergy are pleased to discuss any questions that you have.
2. Can you recommend any books or websites, or local or national organizations that can provide helpful information to interfaith households?
Our clergy are pleased to direct you to additional resources related to your specific interests. The following is an initial list of resources which provides a good starting point.
As you will understand, although we identify these organizations as a resource for learning, information and opinions found on external web sites may not represent the views of Beth Am Synagogue or its members.
|Jewish Family Services (Baltimore)||www.jfs.org|
|The Jewish Outreach Institute||www.joi.org|
|The Knot (has interfaith message board)||www.theknot.com|
|The Mothers Circle (JCC) for non-Jewish moms||www.themotherscircle.org|
|Rabbinic Center for Research & Counseling||www.rcrconline.org|
3. If I decide to marry a non-Jew, or if one of my children decides to marry a non-Jew, how will Beth Am work with me and my family in a manner that respects both Halakhah and my personal decision?
There are many ways that the Rabbi and the Synagogue provide acceptance and support, even though the Rabbi can not marry an interfaith couple. The Rabbi provides counseling support for the couple as well the extended families. He helps them work through religious and spiritual issues. He also provides source material for couples to work out their own wedding ceremonies that will represent the aspirations of both parties.
There are two reasons why the Rabbi can not conduct the wedding ceremony of an interfaith couple. The first is that the Jewish wedding creates a contractual relationship through the ketubah (contract) under Jewish law, and Jewish law can have no authority over non-Jews. The second is that while Beth Am is supportive of the people in an interfaith marriage, it is not appropriate to give religious sanction. As expressed above, however, withholding religious sanction does not mean withholding acceptance and support.
Our Synagogue is also working on a resource guide for interfaith couples to help them find local officiants. This will be available through the office.