As it heads into 5776, Temple Emanu-El of Closter is going to institute new policies of inclusion, according to an email signed by its rabbi, David-Seth Kirshner.
After a great deal of discussion with lay leaders and other synagogue members, Rabbi Kirshner said, and in keeping with halacha – Jewish law – as it is determined by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the shul has decided to rework its policies toward gay marriage, toward education for non-typical learners, and perhaps most innovatively, toward interfaith families.
Some of these changes are public announcements or intensifications of already effective shul policies. Although the synagogue, which is the backdrop for many weddings and other smachot, would not have turned away same-sex weddings, now it actively welcomes them. Although it’s already been strong in educating non-typical learners, now, partnering with Matan, and with extra funding from that organization, it has created a program to create more inclusion for those students.
More radically, shul will recognize upcoming marriages between a Jew and a non-Jew (although Rabbi Kirshner does not and will not officiate or even attend the wedding); and it will offer intermarried partners of its members the chance to open the ark during services. Babies with one Jewish partner can be named at the shul, even if the non-Jewish parent is the mother, which means that the child is not halachically Jewish, as long as the parents make a commitment to raise the child as a Jew. The child can go to religious school at Emanu-El until the age of bar or bat mitzvah; if there’s been no conversion before then, that would be the age when a decision on conversion would be necessary.
Rabbi Kirshner said that this decision is made from a position of strength. Although many shuls in the county – and, as the Pew Report showed, around the country – are withering, Emanu-El has been maintained a large membership for decades and now is growing. The shul is not making this choice because it had to, he said, but because he and its other leaders believe strongly that it is the right thing to do.
More on this story in next week’s Jewish Standard.