KI to back USCJ measure on non-Jewish membership

Keneseth Israel will support an initiative to allow Conservative congregations to admit non-Jews as members. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), is expected to take up the question next month.

Currently, the USCJ’s Standards for Congregational Practice restrict membership to Jews. But the new language, on which congregations will vote in March, would allow individual synagogues to decide whether to grant membership to non-Jews.

“KI has, for many years, sought to be as inclusive as possible with respect to the non-Jewish spouses of our KI members,” its president, Scott Weinberg, said in a prepared statement. “They are an integral part of our synagogue community, and many have become very active participants in synagogue life.

“For these reasons,” he continued, “KI supports any effort on the part of USCJ to permit non-Jewish spouses to become official members, but for all intents and purposes, KI has been welcoming non-Jewish spouses as if they were members for a long time.”

KI Rabbi Michael Wolk also supports the initiative, stating that Jewish law does not bar non-Jews from joining.

“Being a member of a synagogue is not an issue of halachah,” he said. “Being a member of a synagogue is an expression that you want to be involved in the Jewish community and use the synagogue as your outlet.”

To some extent, Wolk sees the issue as already decided.

“We (KI) already have a fair number of non-Jewish family members who are involved in the synagogue in different ways, both supporting their spouses and children and coming to classes or services because they enjoy them on their own as well,” he said. “There’s really is no reason by Jewish law they can’t be a member — to me, as I can see. The governing structure is not related to Jewish law.”

He said non-Jews are already listed in the KI membership directory. They show up at services or classes (those who wish to participate) and are generally supportive of their Jewish spouses and children who do participate in synagogue life.

All of which leads Wolk to think the vote is anti-climactic.

“It’s good public relations that they would do this,” he said. “Does it really make a difference in the grand scheme of things? No, I don’t really think it will have any positive or negative effects on United Synagogue or on the Conservative movement. I could be totally wrong, [but] I don’t think this is a big deal.”

The Reform and Reconstructionist movements already permit non-Jewish membership as do several unaffiliated congregations.

Keneseth Israel is the only Louisville congregation affiliated with the USCJ – the synagogue arm of the Conservative movement. Adath Jeshurun has dropped its membership.

 (JTA Israel Correspondent Ben Sales contributed to this report.)

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