April 7, 2017
We would like to inform you about an upcoming vote regarding TBI’s bylaws at our May 4th Congregational Meeting. TBI’s current bylaws specify that only Jews can be members and vote. While this may have been the rule, it certainly has not been the custom at TBI. In order to rectify this discrepancy, the Board commissioned the Membership Task Force to gather input over the past 15 months by soliciting feedback from the community, researching policies of other Reconstructionist synagogues, and consulting with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
The Membership Task Force and Board recommend adoption of revised Bylaws that would allow the spouse or life partner of Jewish members to become members. Jewish and non-Jewish members would generally have identical membership and voting rights, including voting on the budget and Board of Trustees, serving on committees, participating in meetings and programs, and calling on the rabbi for pastoral and spiritual needs. The new bylaws would keep voting on matters of ritual, rabbi selection and bylaws, and service on the Board, as the purview of Jewish members. You can read the entire bylaws recommendation here. Article II beginning on Page 4 contains the main changes. A 'red-lined' version of the bylaws showing all the changes is attached here.
We recognize that these proposed changes will be welcomed by some, but not everyone. The issue of non-Jewish membership rights has gone unresolved at TBI for decades because it is a challenging and sensitive topic. Many interfaith families belong to TBI and our hope is to create an environment in which all family members can actively engage in meaningful Jewish life. We hope that this new policy will encourage greater participation and unity and will serve to make TBI stronger.
I encourage you to attend our Congregational Meeting on May 4th at 7:00 pm. We will be discussing many important issues and your participation is key to TBI’s success.
Wishing you and yours a joyful Passover,
Mindy Schlossberg, President
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.