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Limits of Inclusiveness

Naomi Zeveloff’s September 9 article, “Conservative Synagogues Open Door to Intermarried Couples,” offers a thoughtful analysis of some of the issues facing such congregations. The language in the article, perhaps inadvertently, suggests a certain set of assumptions about the challenges of balancing inclusiveness and the integrity of Jewish religious tradition.

Zeveloff writes: “However, non-Jews cannot take leadership positions. They’re not allowed to serve as synagogue president, nor can they chair committees.” Another way of framing the same issues might have been: “Leadership positions, including serving as congregational president or chairing synagogue committees, are reserved for people who are Jewish.”

Would we find it unusual if a church policy suggested that analogous positions were “reserved for people who are Christian”? Using “reserved for” puts the weight on maintaining the not-at-all unusual expectation that such leadership roles in a synagogue ought to be held by people who by birth or by choice identify as Jewish. Such distinctions need not be seen as exclusionary.

Rabbi Richard Hirsh

Wynnewood, Pa.

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