Category Archives: Klal Yisrael

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…

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