by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Special to WJW
This is the season of election politics. Politicians clamor
for our attention and our vote, especially in the race for the
president of the United States. But there is also a serious
political issue brewing in the Jewish community that requires
our immediate attention: the voting rights of intermarried
Some institutions have come a long way to granting
privileges to those in our midst who are of other religious
backgrounds and yet are part of the Jewish community because
they are married to or partners with Jews. In many synagogues,
these folks are being given more extensive participatory roles
where a few years ago they could not even stand on the bima.
Finally, synagogues are realizing that raising Jewish
children does give these non-Jews a rightful place in the
community. But the right to vote usually remains elusive.
There are no halachic, Jewish law, prohibitions here. It is
only the institutional culture of fear that is preventing
Jewish institutions, particularly synagogues, from granting
full voting rights to intermarried families.
Perhaps the fear stems from a historical insularity dating
all the way back to the Gnostic period when synagogues feared
outsiders slipping in unsuspected and changing the Torah text.
So, they added a ritual to the Torah reading ceremony. They
opened the Torah and showed it to the people, saying, "This is
the Torah that God gave to Moses Š" (Once the Gnostic
infiltration became moot, the ritual was maintained, but in
the Ashkenazi community, it was moved to the end of the Torah
reading.) Some communal leaders reason that if we "circle the
wagons," there can be no entry from the outside, no
possibility that something of another religion may even be
unconsciously insinuated into the Jewish culture of the
Some institutions are obviating the difficulty of extending
voting rights by considering household memberships ‹
irrespective of the make-up of the individual household. In
these cases, each household gets one vote. Why is the issue
over voting rights so contentious for intermarried families,
particularly the non-Jewish member, in American Jewish
Given the increase in the number of intermarried families,
the role of those of other religious backgrounds in Jewish
community organizations and institutions is under discussion
in most of those institutions.
We know that intermarried households who have taken on the
responsibilities (and expense) of synagogue membership are not
interested in changing Judaism or infusing it with other
religions. They are there for the same reasons as in-married
and single Jewish households: primarily to educate their
children Jewishly and also to find a spiritual home and a
welcoming community. How can we make sure they are fully
Rabbi Brian Beal of Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack, N.Y.,
is quite clear about his position. He writes in his synagogue
bulletin: "At Temple Beth Torah, everyone has a vote: Jew and
If we consider the history of the United States, what
really delivers citizenship status to people is voting rights.
The Jewish community is not the same as a democratic state,
yet that is what gives us more flexibility to make changes.
Consider women's suffrage or the civil rights movement. At
their core were voting rights. And it wasn't until women or
African American citizens were given the right to vote that
real equality became a possibility for either group. It is the
same with those who come from other faith communities and live
in our midst.
Until we offer them full voting rights in our institutions,
no matter what we do, they will still be considered ‹ and feel
like ‹ second-class citizens. Why not use the season of change
that is upon us to make a change that will make the difference
in the lives of our community?
Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish
Outreach Institute and author of many books and articles that
bring Jewish wisdom into everyday living. JOI's national
conference, "Opening the Tent: Visions and Practices for a
More Inclusive Jewish Community," will be held Sunday to
Tuesday in Washington, D.C. (www.JOI.org/conference).