TBI Membership Policy Evaluation Process: Values Based-Decision Making
At Temple Beth Israel’s congregational meeting on November 18, 2015, those present voted to undertake a Values-Based Decision Making Process to evaluate whether our membership policies need to be updated. This was motivated by the recognition that TBI's current policies around congregational voting have historically only been selectively enforced for non-Jewish participants in our community. At that time, in response to the congregation’s vote and a request by the TBI Board and Rabbi Ruhi Sophia, a Membership Policy Evaluation Task Force was appointed to engage the community in that process, to re-evaluate our membership policy and, if necessary, to propose an alternative policy.
Since then, the task force has been engaged in researching and discussing this question in different ways. Research and interviews were done with 21 other synagogues. An interview was conducted with Rabbi David Teutch of the Reconstruction Rabbinical College to understand trends on these issues in Judaism’s different movements. In early spring, 2016, four public meetings were held at TBI involving more than 50 members to elicit values responses to our membership policy issues. The task force created an email address for members to use to communicate their ideas and concerns, and additionally wrote a values questionnaire to gain input. In summer and fall, the task force held meetings to discuss the topic with TBI affinity groups, including Queer Havurah, Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Talmud Torah families, and Interfaith Havurah.
Based on this research and discussion, the task force identified strong community values around inclusion, but also around keeping TBI governed by and for Jews. To produce a draft concept that encompasses both of these values, the Membership Policy Task Force is currently suggesting two changes which are elaborated below: first, on rights and privileges for non-Jewish members and second, on the creation of a “friend of TBI” membership status.
Member Households should include at least one adult Jew, but up to two adults in a member household can be members.
The Membership Task Force also recommends the establishment of the category, “Friend of TBI.” This status would be available to anyone who is neither Jewish nor living in a Jewish household, but who wishes to support Temple Beth Israel.
The Membership Policy Task Force would like to gather response from the community about these policy concepts in parlor meetings this winter, 2017. The process of adapting membership policy is important and the result may shape TBI’s policy far into the future. Please add your voice to this process. The Task Force hopes to make policy recommendations to the TBI Board later this winter. The Board may then choose to draft new bylaws language and place the matter before congregants for vote in May, 2017.
Congregants should consider either of the following:
Task Force members:
Bruce Kreitzberg, Task Force Chairman
At present, Temple Beth Israel’s By-Laws state the following:
Section 1. Eligibility
Any person of the Jewish faith who is eighteen years of age or over shall be eligible for membership in the Congregation.
Section 3. Unit of Membership
For the purpose of paying dues only, the unit of membership shall be the family.
Section 4. Special Membership
The Board of Directors may establish special membership classifications with such provisions as it shall deem advisable.
Section 5. Voting
Members shall have the right to vote on all matters coming before meetings of the Congregation. The privilege shall be vested in the individual and, in the case of a family as defined above, each member spouse or partner including converts to Judaism shall have one vote.
Defining The Scope of Our Task
The Task Force’s role is to make recommendations about the following:
There are certain questions that have come up in the course of our discussion that are not within the purview of this Task Force. The Task Force will not be making a recommendation on:
What is Values-Based Decision Making?
In undertaking its assignment, the Task Force has been guided by the principles of Values-Based Decision Making (VBDM). This is a process embraced by the Reconstructionist movement and articulated in detail by Rabbi David Teutsch (A Guide to Jewish Practice , I, 551–563). VBDM acknowledges the complexity of decision making within a religious community such as ours; it offers a clear series of steps to negotiate that decision making with sensitivity to both individuals and the community, to past, present and future, and above all to a multi-dimensional context.
The Task Force is attempting to follow the steps of VBDM as laid out by Rabbi Teutsch (2011: 552-553) as follows:
While the members of a community such as ours may be guided by similar understandings of the human relationship to G-d, or of the basic nature of an ethical life, we will not necessarily agree on how to craft policies and practices that respect those shared understandings. Decision-making requires clarity in the articulation of choices, a shared awareness of past practices and present realities, and a desire to negotiate priorities without creating “winners” and “losers.” Above all our process must keep in mind that the end result should benefit our future, the future of our children and of the Jewish community with integrity and grace.