A Test for the Conservative Movement

Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, has long been asking important questions of his movement on the issue of intermarriage, and does so again in the spring issue of Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism. He writes:

North American Conservative Judaism is wrestling with demographic change (in other words, the graying of our movement) and several decades of intermarriage. We are challenged to re-examine our assumptions about intermarriage while testing the limits of pluralism. Specifically, how shall we relate to the supportive non-Jewish spouses in our communities and movement institutions?

He illustrates this with a scenario: The spouse of another religious background, the husband, is fully involved in the community. He comes to synagogue every Friday, and is actively raising Jewish children. He comes to the rabbi and asks if he could wear tallit (prayer shawl) in order to become closer to the congregation. “What should the rabbi do?” asks Rabbi Simon.

It’s a question that has no definitive answer because each rabbi, synagogue and congregation is going to come to different conclusions. And that’s fine, Rabbi Simon writes, but its “essential to our future, however, that we continue to be open to discussions about the issue of pluralism.”

The scenario he describes, and other questions of inclusion, is going to take place more and more, and the Conservative movement is going to be forced to confront these situations. Rabbi Simon ends by saying:

“Understanding what it means to be pluralistic and responding within that context strengthens Conservative Jews and Conservative Judaism. It takes more than a little thought and a certain amount of courage, but it is one of the keys to building a more vibrant future.”

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