Guidance on Non-Jewish Family and Friends in our Communities

 

The following guidance was written by Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg on behalf of the UK Masorti rabbis and chazanim in February 2020 and is fully endorsed by Kol Nefesh Masorti.

We are glad to welcome non-Jewish family, friends and guests to all our services, study activities
and events. We are conscious that many Jewish families have close non-Jewish relatives including
partners, in-laws and other relations. It is our aim for our community to be open, warm and
sensitive to everyone who attends.
We appreciate that many non-Jewish people have married into the Jewish world. For some, this
is a matter of great importance and pride; they are keen to support the Jewish identity of their
family and the wellbeing of the community, without necessarily wanting to take the personal
step of converting to Judaism.

Inclusion – and its limits
What follows is intended only as a very brief guide to where we can be inclusive and where our
limits lie. It would be untrue to Judaism and unfair to non-Jewish family members if we failed to
be clear that Jewish law does set certain boundaries. There are no borders, however, to kindness,
thoughtfulness and welcome.


Services

Non-Jewish family, friends and guests are welcome to all services. However, as would be the case
in other religions, certain obligations and roles are reserved for members of the Jewish faith only.
These include leading the traditional prayers, as well as reading from and being called to the
Torah and the rituals associated with it.
We will however offer the opportunity on special occasions for a non-Jewish person to read a passage or say some personal words in English.

Weddings
Our code of practice does not allow Masorti clergy to officiate at mixed faith weddings. (This is
well understood by many families, but we acknowledge that it may feel hurtful to some.) We are
glad to meet with couples before and following the wedding and, while remaining sensitive to
their wishes and plans, are keen to encourage them to live as engaged a Jewish life as possible.
The non-Jewish parents of a bride or groom who has converted to Judaism are welcomed and
encouraged to stand at the Chuppah, the marriage canopy, just as Jewish parents do.

Children
Jewish identity follows the religion of the mother. Therefore, if the mother is Jewish, her children
will be born Jewish too. If the father or partner is Jewish but the mother is not, her children will
not be born Jewish. However, if it is the couple’s shared wish to bring up their children as Jews,
our Bet Din (Rabbinical Court) may convert the children if the Jewish parent is committed to
guiding them into a strong and active Jewish life and the non-Jewish parent is happy to support a
Jewish home life.


Baby Blessings
We welcome the presence of the non-Jewish parent at the blessing and naming of his or her

Jewish child. While the prayers will be recited by a member of the clergy or an officiant, the non-
Jewish parent should be equally present alongside his or her Jewish partner and should be

acknowledged.


Bnei Mitzvah
Similarly, we welcome the non-Jewish parent at the Bar or Bat Mitzvah of his or her Jewish child.
While he or she cannot take any of the traditional ritual roles (see above), in the frequent
situations where he or she has been closely engaged in preparing the child, this should be
acknowledged in the sermon by the officiating clergy or lay leader.
At Kol Nefesh, he or she may be invited to say personal words or a blessing in English.


Funerals
When, sadly, a non-Jewish family member or friend dies, Jewish clergy are not normally asked to
officiate, but may participate as appropriate.
We do, however, officiate at Shiva prayers in the house of mourning for a Jewish congregant

who has suffered the loss of a close non-Jewish family member. We also offer support to a non-
Jewish family member who has lost a Jewish partner or relative, if he or she wishes to hold an

appropriate service.
Our communities and our hearts are open to everyone in their times of anguish and grief.


Pastoral and Personal Support
Our clergy and leaders are there primarily, but not solely, to serve the Jewish community. They
are also glad to give help and guidance to anyone, of any faith or none, who seeks it and to
whom it is appropriate that they should try to offer it.


Further Issues
The above is a brief outline of our ethos and halakhic position. There are many further questions
on which communities may legitimately have different practices. All such matters should be
referred to the Mara de’Atra, the congregation’s rabbi or designated halakhic authority.


The Human Family
It is our belief that we are enriched by our different identities, practices and traditions with their
ancient cultures, rules and boundaries. While committed to serving the Jewish People and its
future, we are deeply aware that we are one human family, sharing one home on this earth. Our
differences should not prevent us from responding to each other with understanding and
compassion, or from appreciating the needs, tasks and hopes which unite us.

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