Sign In Forgot Password

"Guidelines Regarding the Inclusion of non-Jewish CBE Members and Guests in Ritual Matters"

GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND VALUES:

  • We value all members of our community, Jewish and non-Jewish. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). For the purpose of this policy, a Jew is defined as someone having at least one Jewish parent or who has undergone conversion by a recognized rabbinic authority. As beings created b’tzelem E-lohim “in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:27), we pray together, celebrate together, laugh together, and cry together. The entire Beth Elohim community, Jewish and not, is grateful for the support non-Jewish family members provide in the cultivation of Jewish children and Jewish life.
  • The Torah is the symbolic center of our understanding of ourselves as a people. From Siddur Chadash, p. 313: “When the ancient Ark was carried forth, Moses would proclaim: Arise, Ado-nai; and may Your enemies be scattered. May Your adversaries flee before You.” [Numbers 10:35] “From Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of Ado-nai from Jerusalem.” [Isaiah 2:3]
  • Our synagogue is a holy space as a mikdash m’at, a “small sanctuary” (Talmud, Megillah 29a). “I [God] have been to them as a mikdash m’at, a small sanctuary.” R. Isaac said: This refers to the synagogue and houses of learning in Babylon. (Talmud, Megillah 29a)
  • The Torah is accessible to all people. “All the people perceived the thunderings.” [Exodus 20:15] Since there was only One Voice, why “thunderings” in the plural? Because God’s Voice mutated into seven voices, and the seven voices into seventy languages, so that all the nations might hear it. (Exodus Rabbah 5:9)
  • The power of blessing does not know any denominational borders. Jewish text notes moments in which Jews give personal blessings to non-Jews, and vice versa (e.g., Bilaam).
  • Mitzvot are specific obligations for Jews. While celebrating all human life, we affirm the principle of mitzvah, the idea that there are holy obligations specifically required of Jews. Jews may perform ritual mitzvot on behalf of other Jews, something non-Jews cannot do. According to the Mishnah, “This is the general principle: anyone not obligated in a particular matter [e.g., a non-Jew] may not release a public [i.e., a Jewish congregation] from their obligation” (Talmud, Rosh haShanah 3:8).
  • A Torah scroll is not susceptible to ritual impurity. The Rambam explains, “[Even] those who are not ritually fit (“tamei”), may take hold of a Torah and read from it, for a Torah cannot become ritually unfit (“tamei”) (Hilchot Tefillin 10:8). A Torah scroll can become pasul, meaning that it is improper for use during a service, through physical damage to the parchment or writing although it can still be used for study. Nevertheless, the Torah always retains its holy status. This is true regardless of who touches it.   

Some sources explicitly mention the handling of Torah scrolls by non-Jews. “All sacred books, whether they be handwritten or printed, may be rescued from a fire, a flood [on Shabbat], and the like, even to a yard or an alleyway to which it is forbidden to carry due to the lack of an eruv. It is permitted to ask a non-Jew to rescue these books even if it means carrying through a public domain.” (R. Solomon Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 85:5)

  • We are committed to Shalom Bayit / Keeping “Peace in the House”: Beth Elohim’s commitment to pluralism means that we are dedicated to making participation in all aspects of our community a welcoming and rich experience for both Jewish and non-Jewish members. "The entire Torah was given on account of the ways of peace — as it is written [Proverbs 3:17]: ‘Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.’” (Talmud, Gittin 59b)
  • Adherence to ritual policies is not based on or influenced by gender.
  • Recognizing the importance of Beth Elohim’s religious tradition (minhag hamakom). Congregation Beth Elohim was founded during the 1970’s and thus has a decades-long history of Jewish ritual practice that is deserving of respect and honor.
  • Avoiding Embarrassment: The Sages taught: [Leviticus 25:17] “And you shall not mistreat [tonu] each other.” The verse is speaking with regard to verbal mistreatment. (Talmud, Bava Metzia 58b)
  • No policy has been created with the goal of excluding or preventing any member from participating in the congregation’s ritual practices. Rather the intent of these policies is to allow for as much participation as possible for non-Jews while at the same time, maintaining the spiritual and ritual value of the mitzvot and the Jewish traditions of this congregation.

 

POLICIES


1. Avoiding Embarrassment

At no point, even in cases of violations of the following policies, shall any individual at a CBE event be subject to embarrassment, public or private.


2. Participation at ritual moments and events

  • All members, Jewish and non-Jewish, may be present for all ritual moments inside and outside of the synagogue building.
  • Only Jews who have reached b’nai mitzvah age will count toward making the minyan required to pray a full service.
  • Non-Jews may be in any space in the synagogue, including the bimah.
  • Jews may give personal blessings to non-Jews, and non-Jews may give blessings to Jews. This guideline means that Jews and non-Jews can offer blessings in recognition and celebration of life-cycle events including, amongst others, family blessings at b’nei mitzvah, shehecheyanu, mishaberach, etc.
  • No CBE ritual or event, whether inside or outside of the synagogue, may exclude anyone from attending based on religion.

3. Performing ritual mitzvot

  • The wearing of tefillin or tallitot are mitzvot and, as such, should only be done by Jews. Exceptions can be made for the purposes of education. (For example, individuals pursuing a course of study for conversion to Judaism.). [Comment: Consistent with the Jewish value of avoiding embarrassment, no one shall be singled out if they deviate from this policy.]
  • The wearing of kippot is a custom and not a mitzvah. All individuals at CBE religious events in the sanctuary and elsewhere are encouraged to wear kippot, regardless of religion.
  • During all services and life cycle events, the performance of all mitzvot done on behalf of the congregation shall be reserved for Jews. These include mitzvot such as leading prayer, making Kiddush and motzi, sounding the shofar, having aliyot to the Torah, and lifting and dressing the Torah. [Comment: The intent of this policy is not to exclude non-Jews, but rather to emphasize that Jewish rituals and more specifically, mitzvot, are specific obligations for Jews. Please see the next bullet.]
  • Non-Jews are encouraged to accompany Jews as they perform mitzvot on behalf of the congregation. (For example, non-Jewish family members may stand beside Jews who make havdalah or who rise for an aliyah.)
  • Non-Jews may sing in the choir during services, as long as Jews join them in reciting prayers on behalf of the congregation. [Comment: The role of the choir fits in the category of hiddur mitzvah; making the performance of a mitzvah more beautiful.]
  • Although in many traditions the honor of opening the Ark doors is reserved for Jews because the Ark is a holy object, neither opening nor closing the ark doors is a mitzvah. As such, non-Jews may be invited to open and close the Ark doors during life-cycle events. During such time, prayer must still be led by Jewish members of the community.

4. Participation in aliyot

  • Rising for an aliyah represents the performance of a mitzvah on behalf of the congregation. All aliyot must include at least one Jewish person. Non-Jewish family members and guests are welcome and invited to accompany Jews who rise to say the Torah blessings.
  • The blessings before and after the reading of Torah are written in the first-person plural (e.g. asher natan lanu Torat emet / “Who gave us a Torah of truth”). As such, it is appropriate only for Jews to recite those words.
  • As long as it is a Jew who recites the Hebrew Torah blessings, a non-Jew is invited to participate in the recitation of the blessings before and after the reading of Torah using a prayer provided by the Rabbi. See appendix for an example.
  • When Jews and non-Jews rise for an aliyah, the gabbai will call the person saying the blessing (olah/oleh) using only Hebrew names. When announcing the olim in English, the gabbai will honor the non-Jews rising by using the English names for both Jews and non-Jews.

5. Handling of Torah scrolls

  • Mitzvot and honors done on behalf of the congregation involving the handling of Torah scrolls — such as taking and returning the Torah scrolls from the Ark, passing the Torah from generation to generation (l‘dor v’dor), hagbah, gelilah, carrying a Torah scroll through the congregation as part of the Torah service – are specific obligations for Jews and as such, may be performed only by Jews. [Comment: The intent of this policy is not to exclude non-Jews, but rather to maintain the spiritual and ritual significance of the congregation’s traditions.]
  • Exceptions to the above may be made, at the discretion of clergy, in cases when non-Jewish adults have been instrumental in the Jewish upbringing of children becoming bar or bat mitzvah [Comment: or for the sake of Shalom Bayit (“peace in the house”) ].
  • Simchat Torah is in essence a party for the Torah. As has been our custom and the custom of many other synagogues - and consistent with the joyous and celebratory nature of the holiday - non-Jews are welcome to hold Torah scrolls during Simchat Torah celebration.
  • Outside of services, non-Jews may hold Torah scrolls for the purposes of transporting, maintaining, and safeguarding them.


Appendix:


Torah Blessings for Interfaith Partners
By Rabbi Toba Spitzer


Before the Reading of the Torah:
Parent of background or identity other than Judaism recites:

“Blessed is the Source of Life, who has brought me into loving relationship with the Jewish people and the Torah. Blessed is the Source of Torah.”
Jewish Parent recites the standard Hebrew blessing before the Torah reading.

After the Reading of the Torah:

Jewish Parent recites the standard Hebrew blessing after the Torah reading.
Parent of background or identity other than Judaism recites:
“Bless us as one, Source of Life, by the light of your Presence and Teaching.”

Sat, July 24 2021 15 Av 5781