Category Archives: Klal Yisrael

The role of non-Jews in the synagogue

An intermarried couple joins the synagogue. What are the boundaries for participating in services?

Temple Beth Abraham

For comparison, having no boundaries is a characteristic of another, non-Jewish, monotheistic religion, Unitarian-Universalism. Not allowing any intermarried couples to join a synagogue removes the question entirely – which is the common Orthodox approach – but also drives the children of such couples eventually to other faiths.

Orthodox Judaism

Many Orthodox synagogues won’t allow intermarried couples or join. For those that do, a gentile may not become a member of a synagogue, nor serve on synagogue committees. For both halakhic and theological reasons, they may not lead prayers or recite a berakhah. Gentiles, however, are warmly welcomed to prayer services and communal events.

Conservative/Masorti Judaism

For both halakhic and theological reasons, non-Jews may not lead prayer services or recite a berakhah. They are welcomed to prayer services, and communal events. Conservative synagogues recognize that many intermarried families exist, and has created roles for non-Jewish parents/grand-parents who wish to participate in life-cycle events for their Jewish children/grandchildren.

This could include the recitation of a personal prayer, a relevant section from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible.) The booklet “Building the Faith”, from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, notes that non-Jewish family members may be given honors to open and close the ark that contains the Torah scrolls; they may dress the Torah in its cover, and may lead the congregation in various English readings. Many Conservative synagogues are now creating support groups for intermarried families.

Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism

In many Reform Temples gentiles may serve on Temple committees, and may count as full members of the movement. “In many congregations…non-Jewish choristers and soloists have occupied positions which seemed to make them into shelichei tsibbur [cantor, leader of prayer services].”

Various Reform teshuvot (e.g. “Gentile Participation in Synagogue Ritual 5754.5”) offer guidance limiting the role of gentiles in Reform prayer service, but leadership is not obligated to follow.  Surveys show that 87% of Reform congregations allow gentiles to serve on synagogue committees; 22% allow gentiles to have an aliyah to the Torah.

Survery conducted by the Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, noted in “A People Divided: Judaism in Contemporary America”, Jack Wertheimer

Reconstructionist Judaism

Allows rabbis to officiate at intermarriages, and accepts patrilineal descent. Children of a gentile mother are considered Jewish; despite official policy, in many congregations this does not matter whether or not they are raised as a Jew. As such, non-Jewish children raised as Christians may nonetheless be accepted as “Jews” in Reconstructionism. [Feld]

Gentiles may become members of Reconstructionist Temples, they may serve on Temple ritual committees. They may sing prayers on the bima during prayer services. The JRF has issued a non-binding statement limiting the role of gentiles in services, “Boundaries and Opportunities: The Role of Non-Jews in JRF Congregation.” However these issues are ultimately decided by local lay leadership.

  • From “Can Halakha Live?” by Rabbi Edward Feld, “The Reconstructionist”, Vol.59(2), Fall 1994, p.64-72


Fake rabbis

Who is a rabbi? There are several types of rabbinical ordination within Judaism, but one of the most common themes is that a rabbi is trained in good faith by other rabbis, and has an extensive background in Torah, Talmud, halakhah (Jewish law), tefila (prayer), and Jewish theology.

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School and Cantorial School Class of 2004

Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbinical School/Cantorial School Class of 2004

When one goes to a synagogue, the rabbi can generally be trusted to be an actual rabbi. However there needs to be skepticism on this matter, as there is a phenomenon of fake rabbis.

For decades, there has been an evangelical Christian movement attempting to convert Jews by setting up various “Messianic” synagogues. Their leaders learn how to sing some Jewish prayers; they buy tallitot and tefillin, and may dress their churches up like synagogues. As such, one can enter a congregation which advertises itself as a synagogue, but the leader is actually Christian clergy..

There is a separate Hebrew identity movement. Some non-Jews decide that they no longer believe in the Trinity, and want to accept Jewish monotheism. They can of course do so on their own, join a Unitarian church; or go to a synagogue. But some within this group “self-convert” – they simply claim to be Jewish, and some even “self identify” as rabbis. A few have created websites and Facebook discussion groups which gain followers. And so we have a group of people claiming to be rabbis, who are neither Jewish nor rabbis.

A third category exists, which is more complicated, as this group of non-rabbis has gained some traction in parts of the Jewish community. There are some Jewish people claiming to be rabbis who merely purchased “modern rabbi certificates” from diploma mill. The Forward has a article on this phenomenon:
“Online-Ordained Rabbis Grab Pulpits” Josh Nathan-Kazis 12/3/12

Some people have allowed these supposed rabbis to officiate at weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, and even conversions, not knowing that their rabbinic credentials are non-existent, and that their conversions and weddings are not accepted as real.

Readers should be aware of these diploma mills: they offers “modern rabbi” certificates:

* The New Seminary, in New York City. Founded in 1981 by Joseph H. Gelberman.

* “The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute”


How can you tell if someone is a real rabbi?

If someone is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi then they would have learned with other Orthodox rabbis, and be qualified to be a member of an Orthodox rabbinical organization. Most of the Orthodox Jewish rabbinical groups are listed here:  Orthodox Jewish Rabbinical organizations

If someone is a Conservative/Masorti rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of the Rabbinical Assembly. or the Union for Traditional Judaism

If someone is a Reform/Liberal/Progressive rabbi then they would be qualified to be part of one of the Reform rabbinical groups, such as The Central Conference of American RabbisLiberal Judaism (Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues) or the Movement for Reform Judaism (until 2005: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain).

Individuals who pose as rabbis

* Lior Bar-El. Created a YouTube channel and became an Admin of a Facebook Judaism group. His followers posted his videos on other groups, leading many to assume that he is a rabbi. Bar-El makes attacks against real rabbis as “eiruv rabbis”, false rabbis: }

Here is an example of one of Lior Bar El’s screeds from 3/10/16:
> “I shall be discussing why it is not permitted and why u
> shouldn’t listen to the filth of the erev ravs {false rabbis}
> who pull new laws of abominations out their butts daily. I shall
> also have in the end a lecture and warning I give to all the
> sheeple out their that follow abominations …

* Yosef Mizrachi – A right wing Haredi Orthodox Kiruv (outreach) preacher, he makes his living lecturing at right wing Orthodox synagogues. He never received semichah (rabbinical ordination); no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. His own website refuses to mention why he calls himself a ‘rabbi’.

* Asher Meza is a self-styled rabbi on YouTube, but no Orthodox yeshiva admits ordaining him as a rabbi. He claims to be the leader of “Aish HaTorah College Of Jewish Studies”, but no such college exists. As seen on this video, Asher Meza accepts Christian fundamentalist Messianics as adherents of Judaism. This position is rejected by all of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism. }

* Judah Moshe works with Asher Meza on supposed “conversions to Judaism”, and is the leader of a website called “West African Jews of the Diaspora.” This is a non-Jewish, Black Hebrew Israelite organization, made of gentiles who self-identified as Jews in the early 20th century.

Felipe Gutierrez, claims to be an “Israelite Rabbi”

* Philip S. Berg is the founder of The Kabbalah Center. His name is actually Feivel Gruberger, and his training was to be an insurance agent. He married the niece of Kabbalist Rabbi Brandwein, and distributed his books. Feivel claims to have a Doctorate, but will not reveal the name of the universty that granted it. Feivel claims to have semichah (rabbinic ordination) from Yeshivah Kol Yehudah in Jerusalem, but that too has never been confirmed by the school. Feivel’s new-age Kabbalah Center has been acepted by celebrities such as Madonna. It has grown to have branches in New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, and other cities. None of the denominations of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform) consider his school authentic.

Conversion to Judaism

A work in progress

For over 2,000 years Jews have been unified by identify: One is a Jew if their mother is a Jew, or if they convert to Judaism. Basic conversion requirements are that a bet din (court of 3) witness that a convert has been instructed in the basics of Jewish faith and practice, and then:

  • Immersion (t’vilah) in a mikveh (ritual bath)
  • For men, circumcision (Brit milah, or a Brit-dam)
  • Understanding and acceptance of the Jewish faith.

The beth din then issues a Shtar Giur (“Certificate of Conversion”), certifying that the person is now part of the Jewish people. Also see The mikveh as a way to solve conversion problems

“It is thus the Halakhah dealing with ‘personal status’ which guarantees the underlying unity of the ‘holy community’…They must be prepared to conform to law at least in this respect. For, only if the ‘holy community’ remains undivided on the basic level of its existence…there can be an unqualified acceptance of one another as fellow Jews.”

Judaism “Plural Models within the Halakha”, Volume 19, No.1 (Winter, 1970) p.85-86. Reform Rabbi Jakob J. Petuchowski

An Interview with Rabbi Chuck Davidson by Yoel Schaper

Can conversion be revoked? Mi Yodeaa StackExchange

Conversions to Judaism not centralized

Rabbi Chuck Davidson writes

The 13 Principles of Conversion

Following are 13 principles regarding the Halakhic requirements of conversion. As in most areas of Halakha there are disagreements in the normative rabbinic community about these requirements. That said, the following points represent, in my opinion following more than 10 years of research, a solidly-based mainstream Halakhic approach.
1) Halakhic conversion requires kabbalat mitzvot, generally translated as “acceptance of the commandments”, on the part of the proselyte.
2) There is disagreement among the poskim (leading scholars of Halakha) regarding the Halakhic definition of kabbalat mitzvot.
3) A mainstream position among many poskim is that kabbalat mitzvot means nothing more than non-coercive conversion, that is consensual conversion; in other words the proselyte is converting of his or her own free will (see here, here, and here).
4) Le-khatchila (ab initio), the consent of the proselyte to convert should be informed consent. That is, the proselyte should know that Judaism includes mitzvot (commandments) that bind all Jews, whether by birth or via conversion, as well as reward for those who observe the commandments and punishment for those who transgress them (however we might theologically understand this reward and punishment). But, according to this opinion, kabbalat mitzvot does not mean that the convert is committing to observe the commandments in practice (see here, here, here, and here.)
5) Some poskim claim that the above position is a minority position (I humbly disagree), but do admit that this position was widely practiced in the past (see here).
6) Many poskim who reject the above position le-khatchila, do accept it be-diavad (post facto). That is, if the proselyte was converted despite a lack of intent to observe the mitzvot in practice, the conversion is nevertheless Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here). Of particular interest is the position of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (one of the greatest poskim of the 20th century) regarding a proselyte who did not intend to observe even as central a mitzvah as Shabbat (see here).
7) A proselyte who ceases to observe the commandments, no matter how immediate or extreme (including going back to his/her previous religion), remains Jewish according to Halakha (see here, here, and here).
8) The Talmud states that a proselyte who is prepared to accept the entirety of Halakha with one exception is not to be accepted. That said, the Shulkhan Aruch (primary code of Jewish law) does not rule according to this statement. Moreover, the Talmud’s statement applies only if the proselyte converts on condition that s/he will not be obligated by Jewish law to observe this one Halakhic point s/he does not accept (see here). Further, the statement of the Talmud prohibits the conversion court from accepting such a proselyte only le-khatchila. But if the court performed the conversion, it is Halakhically valid be-diavad (see here and here).
9) If three laymen (i.e., non-rabbis) perform a conversion, it is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here, here, and here).
10) In converting a proselyte who will likely not be observant and who will transgress the commandments, the conversion court is not guilty of lifnei iver (placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, i.e., aiding and abetting) if it is performing the conversion in order to prevent intermarriage (see here).
11) If a proselyte converts for the purpose of marrying a Jew, the conversion is Halakhically valid at least be-diavad (see here and here).
12) Conversion is the first step a gentile takes in his/her Jewish journey. The Talmud, Rambam, and Shulkhan Arukh describe a conversion process which is almost immediate, with no study or preparation beforehand. Standard practice in the 1950’s was a one-month course in the basics of Judaism (see here). At least one leading posek (scholar of Halakha) rules that it is entirely prohibited to teach a proselyte Torah before the conversion (see here).
13) There are those who contend that the implementation of traditional Halakhic conversion must change from what was practiced in the past. They reason that prior to the phenomenon of secularization when most Jews observed the Halakha, it was presumed that a proselyte would be observant. But nowadays, since most Jews are not Halakhically observant, we must be careful to convert only those who we firmly believe will be observant.
It is, however, incorrect that before the phenomenon of secularization it could be presumed that a proselyte would be observant (see here, here, here, and here). To the contrary, in an era marked by widespread secularization (such as the contemporary era), there is yet more room to convert proselytes who will likely not be observant (see here).
The Halakhic parameters of conversion are, of course, much more complex than can be covered in a Facebook post. For further Halakhic sources on the relevant issues, see here.
I can be reached at


Groups that claim to be Jewish

There are many different denominations of Judaism, from Orthodox, to Conservative, to Reform, and a wide variety of smaller groups within each larger category. There are wide differences in belief and practice between the left-wing of Reform, and the right-wing of Orthodoxy.

Chava Studios Shavuot watercolor

That being said, there are major themes which tie these Jewish groups together, so they are recognizably related to historical, rabbinic Judaism. Some of these ideas are

  • the belief in one God, who is a unity
  • the belief that God inspired the authors of the Tanakh (Bible)
  • the belief that the Tanakh must be understood within a particular cultural context – what historians call an oral tradition. This oral tradition eventually was canonized in the Mishnah, and classic rabbinic Midrash collections. It was then expounded upon in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.

But in recent centuries many new groups have appeared, some growing out of the Jewish community, and some coming entirely from non-Jews, who are decidedly non-Jewish in every way, yet who attempt to take the mantle of Judaism for themselves.

The mainstream Jewish community – Reform to Conservative to Orthodox – agrees that the following groups are not Judaism. Despite our differences, our monotheism, Tanakh and oral law holds our communities together:

* Humanist Judaism / Society for Humanistic Judaism (recognized as atheism)

* Jews for Jesus / Messianic Jews / “Completed Jews” (recognized as Christian)

* Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (recognized as Christian)

* Black Hebrew Israelites (recognized as Christian)

* Sabbateanism / followers of Sabbatai Zevi – a dangerous cult that split off from Judaism.

* Frankism / followers of Jacob Frank – a dangerous cult that split off from Judaism.

* Kohenet Hebrew Priestess movement (neo-pagan goddess worship, whose prayers literally mention pagan gods.)

* Messianic followers of any deceased Rebbe. Some Hasidim believe that a deceased rabbi is still alive, is the messiah; they use language which describe the rabbi as being God’s voice incarnated in a human body, and/or in charge of the Universe.

Shaking My Head

Chabad synagogue on the north shore in Massachusetts

Over the past few decades, many North Shore communities saw a decline in their Jewish populations; many synagogues shrank or shut down. Yet some communities have stayed strong, like Marblehead and Swampscott. And some places offer new life to the community.  Chabad of the North Shore is one many new outreach centers (nationwide and worldwide) that reaches out to Jews of all backgrounds and observance levels.


Chabad has a point of view, like any group worth respecting does. It’s an open-hearted Hasidic Orthodoxy that meets Jews where they are, offering pathways to a meaningful Jewish life. They’re not missionaries; rather, they inspire Jews to become educated about their own heritage, and to take a step up the ladder of observance, from wherever they are.

As is traditional, some rituals are for men, some are for women; only men can be rabbis; and there is a tasteful, translucent mechitzah (divider) between the men’s and women’s sections during prayer services.

Women and men are both valued equally, and that’s not rhetoric. Chabad encourages women to study Torah and Talmud, and to teach. At their community seder, the service was led equally by the Rebbetzin and Rabbi. The Rebbetzin teaches classes on Talmud and on Kabbalah. That’s egalitarian, even if not Reform style.

My family has been to the Chabad Community Synagogue for their community Purim party, a traditional Shabbat morning service, and to their community Passover seder. We felt most welcome!

I have been to many kinds of synagogues, and what matters most is this: Is there joy? Ruach (spirit)? Does it encourage people to come to again, and inspire children to think “Judaism is worth doing, learning, celebrating.” Chabad of the North Shore succeeds in this. Their Purim celebration and Passover seders are lively, and a joy. If you haven’t been to one, you are missing out.

The Shabbat service could use more Shlomo Carelebach-type melodies and harmonies. But that’s true of nearly all synagogues nowadays. It also could use a few more moments of prayers in English, which helps keeps people involved if they don’t know the format.  That aside, this is a place very much worth coming to, and a worthy addition to the Jewish community of the North Shore.

Jewish views on in-marriage and inter-marriage

The following statement was adopted by the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism

Organizations in the Leadership Council include:
• Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs
• The Jewish Theological Seminary of America
• The Rabbinical Assembly
• The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
• Women’s League for Conservative Judaism

The Mitzvah of InMarriage – Conversion

Keruv – Standards

There is hardly a family in the United States unaffected by intermarriage, and every one of us, as individual, and the organized community, needs to formulate a stance. In the past, intermarriage, (that is, marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew who has not converted) was viewed psychologically as an act of rebellion, a rejection of Judaism. Jews who intermarried were essentially excommunicated. But now, intermarriage is often the result of living in an open society, welcoming encouraging individual differences rather than groups responsibility and norms. Although results of populations studies continue to vary, the 1990 National Jewish population study indicated that 33% to 50% of North American Jews are intermarrying. The data also show that once they find themselves in that relationship, most of the Jewish partners cease to practice Jewish tradition, and often do not give their children a Jewish education or experience.

If our children end up marrying non-Jews, we should not reject them. We should continue to give our love and by that retain a measure of influence in their lives, Jewishly and otherwise. Life consists of constant growth and our adult children may yet reach a stage when Judaism has new meaning for them.

However, the marriage between a Jew and non-Jew is not a celebration for the Jewish community. We therefore reach out to the couple with the hope that the non- Jewish partner will move closer to Judaism and ultimately choose to convert. Since we know that over 70 percent of children of intermarried couples are not being raised as Jews, thus further diminishing the Jewish people, we want to encourage the Jewish partner to maintain his/her Jewish identity, and raise their children as Jews.

The unprecedented nature of the situation leaves us groping between what works for us individually and what is good for Klal Israel . In the face of the challenge, the Conservative movement has formulated the following position:

We subscribe to a three tiered approach to intermarriage: beginning with attempts at prevention, then the promotion of conversion, and finally, when prevention and conversion fail to occur, keruv to the mixed family.

The Mitzvah of Inmarriage.

We, are determined and committed to challenge intermarriage, rather than accept it. Our first line of defense is to emphasize the mitzvah of endogamy, “inmarriage” We must continue to articulate that it is important for Jews to marry other Jews to continue the ancient and historic mission of Judaism. . This means that we must be willing to discuss the issue forthrightly from our pulpits, in our schools, and in our youth groups, with firmness but without rancor, sensitive to the pains born by growing numbers of congregants who have intermarriages in their families. Our goal should be to make the synagogue not only a religious center but also a place where young adult Jews can meet and interact.

We are convinced that we can change the trend, and we must act on that conviction.


Mitokh she-lo lishmah ba lishmah “One who performs an act for other than its own sake may eventually come to do it for its own sake.”

If, despite efforts at prevention, an intermarriage seems likely to occur, we must encourage halakhic conversion to Judaism. We can never truly understand why a person decides to enter into the Jewish faith. It is for that reason that we pray that through the process of halakhic conversion that their intent becomes clear to themselves and to God. The process of conversion that is accepted by the Conservative movement has three parts.

  • Learning (a period of study as determined by the officiating rabbi) and growth toward observance of mitzvot.
  • Tevilah (immersion in the mikveh).
  • For men the additional requirement of Brit milah or Hatafat dam brit (circumcision or symbolic circumcision).
Mayyim Hayyim, a beautiful new mikveh in Newton, MA.

Mayyim Hayyim, a beautiful new mikveh in Newton, MA.

It is our belief that not only should the non-Jewish partner participate in extensive study but the Jewish partner should as well. It is through the learning process that we will strengthen the bond between the couple and between the couple and our rich tradition. We should make this process as inviting as possible so that the potential convert feels warmly accepted by our community in the hopes of helping that person embrace our people and our tradition with the utmost of sincerity. We know that sincere Jews by choice add enthusiasm and strength to our community. They enrich us by their adult understanding of Jewish values, by their quest for spiritual sustenance, and by their commitment to a Jewish way of life.


In contrast to the notion of “outreach” in which we change our self-definition in order to count the mixed-married among our numbers, keruv connotes the attempt to bring Jews and their non-Jewish spouses closer to us and to our established communal standards.

The goals of keruv should be strengthening Jewish identity among Jews, and affiliation with the Jewish community leading to the establishment of a Jewish home and family in which Judaism is the only religious tradition that is practiced. The target population for keruv should include Jews and their non-Jewish significant others, together with unaffiliated and underaffiliated Jews, children of intermarried couples, and people in search of their Jewish roots. Keruv should offer as its priority exciting and enticing entry level programming which provides Jewish education and enrichment, rather than solely a “support group” setting, and intermarried families should be integrated into the life of the community rather than being segregated by their intermarried status. Segregation of the intermarried families in our midst may function to reinforce and perpetuate that status, and undermine efforts at conversion and the goal of an exclusively Jewish home and family.

Although it is certainly tempting from a membership standpoint to be as inclusive as possible, we should be willing to recognize that we cannot be all things to all people. For example, mixed families that are not interested in raising their children exclusively as Jews may be beyond the reach of the Conservative synagogue. Ideally, we would like to reach all mixed families and convince them to lead meaningful Jewish lives, but research shows this outcome is highly unlikely in many, if not most, cases.

Therefore, we reaffirm the following standards as set forth by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of The Rabbinical Assembly:

1. Matrilineal descent.

2. Rabbis and cantors affiliated with the Conservative Movement may not officiate at the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew, may not coofficiate with any other clergy, and may not officiate or be present at a purely civil ceremony.

3. Only Jews may be members of Conservative congregations and affiliated organizations. However, non-Jewish partners are welcome to attend services and to participate in educational and social programs.

4. Ritual honors, such as aliyot to the Torah, are granted only to Jews. Some congregations offer non-ritual roles in life cycle events to non-Jewish family members.

5. Intermarriages should not be publicly acknowledged in any official synagogue forum. Congratulations may be extended to the parents or grandparents of a child born to an intermarried couple provided that the child is Jewish (born of a Jewish mother, or, in the case of a non-Jewish child, if both parents have committed themselves to converting the child).

6. Sincere Jews by choice are to be warmly welcomed by our community.

7. Sensitivity should be shown to Jews who have intermarried and their families. We should offer them opportunities for Jewish growth and enrichment.

In the midst of our confusion and pain we should not ask of Judaism to adopt strategies which do violence to its integrity.

While the Conservative Movement acknowledges the individual and social circumstances that have give rise to an increased rate of intermarriage, it is committed to the ideological imperatives of encouraging endogamous marriages and conversions. As always, at the very heart of this movement stands our belief that we must find the proper application of traditional Jewish norms and values to the modern context.


The following statement was adopted on March 7, 1995

Non-Jews or Pre-Jews

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (... Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish People have been a small and often persecuted minority. So it is not surprising that less than ten thousand non-Jews convert to Judaism every year.

But very surprising is when an Israeli newspaper (HaAretz) reports that British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, and a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference in early November. claimed that the number of non-Jews who believe they are descendants of Jews or ancient Israelites, about equals the total number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses.

Twenty five hundred years ago the prophet Zachariah declared: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew…

View original post 763 more words