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United Synagogue Youth Eases Rule on Dating Non-Jews

lior zaltzman

(JTA) — United Synagogue Youth voted to relax its rules barring teenage board members from dating non-Jews.

The amendment was adopted Monday in Atlanta at the annual international convention of the Conservative movement’s youth group.

The USY board also elected not to adopt a controversial proposal to eliminate the organization’s requirement that teen board members be Sabbath observant.

The change on dating policy reflects where most young Conservative Jews are when it comes to dating outside the faith. Some four in 10 Conservative Jews who have married since 2000 have married non-Jews, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry, and data suggest that most Conservative Jews date non-Jewish partners.

While dropping the prohibition against dating non-Jews, board members should “model healthy Jewish dating choices,” according to the newly adopted amendment. “These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person with the recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).”

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the policy change does not reflect a change in USY’s values.

“It continues to recognize what we know to be true: encouraging Jews to marry other Jews is the most successful path toward creating committed Jewish homes,” Wernick said in a statement. “At the same time, we can’t put our heads in the sand about the fact that we live in an incredibly free society, where even committed Jews will marry outside the faith. If they do, we must welcome them wholeheartedly and encourage them to embrace Judaism.”

The USY vote comes weeks after Wesley Gardenswartz, the rabbi at one of the nation’s largest Conservative synagogues, Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., floated a proposal to his congregation that would allow him to officiate at interfaith weddings in cases where the couple committed to raising Jewish children. He later dropped the proposal.

The Conservative movement officially frowns on intermarriage, forbidding its rabbis from officiating or even attending interfaith weddings. In practice, however, synagogues generally are welcoming of interfaith couples, with some even granting membership to non-Jews, and some Conservative rabbis have attended interfaith weddings.

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