Clarifying Conservative Judaism’s position on intermarriage and conversion

I mentioned yesterday a Jewish Week article about strains within Conservative Judaism over whether to seek the conversion of non-Jews married to Jews.

Today, the leaders of the Conservative rabbinate issued a statement saying that they are quite united on the issue.

The statement says: “…it is understandable that this misunderstanding exists because the Rabbinical Assembly has boldly selected to embrace two seemingly contradictory points of view – the unconditional welcome of interfaith families and non-Jews within the community alongside the prospect of conversion to those who sincerely feel moved to join the Jewish people.”

In other words, Conservative rabbis want to welcome non-Jewish spouses without any strings or pressures — but will happily work with anyone who is thinking about the whole Jewish thing.

The statement is signed by Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (that’s her), the new chief executive of the RA. I recently profiled Schonfeld (whose official title is executive VP) and noted that she wants the Conservative movement to have a higher profile and be more “vigorous” in its response to public debates and media coverage.

This would be an example of being vigorous.

The statement goes on to say:

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We honor the committed relationships non-Jews have forged with their Jewish partners in our communities. At the same time, we also adhere to the integrity of Jewish tradition and hope, wherever possible, to motivate people to become Jewish. Our first priority is always that the non-Jew experiencing our way of life do so at a pace and in an environment where he or she feels comfortable. Moreover, the unconditional welcome we extend to non-Jews is heartfelt and enthusiastic wherever they are on their journey.

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Here is the entire statement, if you’re interested: Continue reading

Meet the first woman to head a rabbinical group

I have a story in today’s Journal News/LoHud about Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a resident of the City of White Plains who on Wednesday will become executive vice president — the boss — of the Rabbinical Assembly.

The RA represents 1,600 Conservative rabbis around the world (1,200 or so in the U.S.).

She is believed to be the first woman to serve as chief executive of a rabbinical group.

Schonfeld is very bright, has a tremendous amount of energy and is brimming with ideas. And it’s a good thing. She gets the top job with the RA at a time when Conservative Judaism is antsy and not quite focused.

She will be an interesting figure to watch, I think, and will make her presence felt.

In an interesting quirk, she replaces the retiring Rabbi Joel Meyers, also of White Plains. Both Schonfeld and Meyers are members of Temple Israel Center of White Plains, one of the best-known Conservative congregations around.

‘It’s quite a day for us all’

As everyone tries to make sense of the bombing plot in Riverdale…

Yesterday, I happened to interview Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a White Plains resident who is about to become the head of the Rabbinical Assembly, a group that represents Conservative rabbis around the world.

It’s an important position at an important time for Conservative Judaism, so we had a lot to talk about. I’ll be writing about her one day soon.

I asked her, of course, where she is from. The answer was Riverdale.

So I thought of Schonfeld as soon as I heard about the alleged plot against the Riverdale Temple.

I talked to her again this morning, just before she was heading to commencement at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the main seminary of the Conservative movement.

It turns out that Schonfeld’s father still lives in Riverdale. And her children attend school there.

“It’s quite a day for us all,” she told me.

Schonfeld was adament that the Jewish community will never change or weaken in response to terrorist threats — other than preparing the necessary security.

“We understand the risks in the world today, but we are unshakable,” she said. “We won’t be moved one inch from our commitment to the sanctification of life.”

Leadership of Conservative Judaism continues to change

Much has been written in recent years (including by me) about the challenges facing Conservative Judaism — the “moderate” Jewish movement that seeks to reconcile tradition with the modern world.

It’s no easy task in an increasingly partisan culture, where most religious groups are identified as being with the right or left.

The incoming leader of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, an organization that represents Conservative synagogues, has a lot of work to do.

“I wanted this job because I think we are at a critical moment in the life of the movement and because the synagogue is the locus of Jewish life in the United States,” Rabbi Steven Wernick told the Jewish Week.

He’ll soon by taking over for Rabbi Jerome Epstein of New Rochelle, who has led the USCJ for 23 years.

This is a real period of change for the leadership of Conservative Judaism.

In 2007, Arnold Eisen took over as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the intellectual center of the Conservative movement. He replaced the long-serving Rabbi Ismar Schorsch.

And in a few months, Rabbi Joel Meyers of White Plains is retiring after two decades as executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis. He’ll be replaced by another White Plains-based rabbi, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld.

I hope to write something about Schonfeld before she takes over this summer.