We at Temple Beth Shalom would like to extend a warm welcome to anyone seeking a connection to G-d, to Torah, or simply wanting to learn more about the Jewish people. This includes Jews, people who are thinking about or working towards becoming Jews-by-choice, and people whom our tradition calls rey'im ahuvim, beloved companions, those who are not interested in converting to Judaism but would like to know more about Judaism or wish to be supportive of Jews in their family.
The Hebrew word keruv means drawing near. One of the missions of the membership committee is to welcome interfaith families into our community by drawing us nearer to one another.
Interfaith families who are considering joining our Temple community may have questions about Temple Beth Shalom and its practices. This booklet is intended to help answer some of those questions. Additionally, our rabbi is happy to meet with potential members to discuss these subjects in greater depth. You may contact the rabbi by calling our synagogue office at (509) 747-3304. You may also contact members of the Temple Beth Shalom Board or the Membership Committee, whose names and numbers are available through the Temple office.
Membership in Temple Beth Shalom is available to any person of the Jewish faith and his/her household, although voting privileges at congregational meetings are reserved specifically for Jewish adults. Everyone is welcome to participate in Temple Beth Shalom's worship services, educational, cultural, and social programs, and community activities.
If you are attending our worship services but are not familiar with our practices, here are some broad guidelines. You may sit anywhere in the sanctuary. It is traditional to wear a head covering (kipa) at our services and during other activities in the Temple building as well. Head coverings (kipot) are required when on the bima (altar). Kipot are available outside the sanctuary and inside our education facility entrance. It is traditional to wear a talit (prayer shawl) during morning services and required for men when on the bima during morning services. A talit is not worn by non-Jews. *
Our rabbi is available for consultation and discussion regarding marriages, although our rabbi may not participate in a wedding itself unless both members of the couple are Jewish. There is a tradition known as an aufruf where the bride and groom are called to the Torah for an aliya on the Shabat before their wedding and receive a special blessing for their marriage. In the case of an interfaith couple, the Jewish member of the couple may have an aliya accompanied by the non-Jewish couple member and the couple receives a blessing for the future.
Baby Naming Ceremonies
Baby namings for girls take place in our synagogue, while boys have their baby naming at the same time as the brit mila (ritual circumcision - see section on Conversion). When a baby is named in the synagogue, it is traditional for both parents to participate in a blessing known as the mishebeyrach. The mishebeyrach asks G-d for blessings for the child being named. Both parents, Jew and non-Jew, appear on the bima (altar) for the mishebeyrach. The child is given a Hebrew name, which usually includes "daughter/son of [parents' names)”. The non-Jewish parent's name may be used with the Jewish parent's name in the English blessing. In addition, when a baby is named in the synagogue, it is traditional for the parents to be called to the Torah with their child for an aliya (called to the Torah). In the case of interfaith parents, the Jewish parent is called for an aliya and may be accompanied by the non-Jewish parent and their child. Only a Jew may have an aliya because the nature of an aliya recognizes the particular covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. We respect the faith and life choices of those who are not Jewish, and cannot ask them to affirm that which is not in their tradition.
Children Attending Our Midrasha (School)
Children from pre-kindergarten through seventh grade attend Midrasha Religious school on Sunday mornings. Hebrew school is held on Wednesday afternoon, after secular school, for third grade through seventh grade (Kita Alef, Bet, Gimel, Dalet, and Hay), There is also a Kita Vav class for children with special learning challenges held on Wednesdays. All children who have at least one Jewish parent are welcome in our Midrasha and may participate in all of its activities.
Children's Religious Identity
The Conservative Movement follows the traditional Jewish law (halaha) of matrilineal descent in determining a child's Jewish identity. While non-Jewish children are welcome in our Midrasha, they must be Jewish in order to have a Bar/Bat Mitzva, which affirms the young adult's new responsibility and obligations to follow the laws and the mitzvot (good deeds and obligations) of the Torah. Children in our Midrasha in the sixth and seventh grades express much excitement in anticipation of their B’nai Mitzva which usually take place when the children are 13 years old. The rabbi will meet with all children who are not Jewish and their families at this time to determine if conversion and Bar/Bat Mitzva is desired.
At a Bar/Bat Mitzva in our synagogue, the child will usually participate in chanting the liturgy, reading from the Torah, chanting the Haftorah, offering his or her own interpretation of the reading (d’var torah), and being called to the Torah for an aliya.
Both parents have the opportunity to participate in a blessing known as the baruh sheptarani. The baruh sheptarani asks G-d for blessings for the Bar/Bat Mitzva child. A non-Jewish parent may stand on the bima (altar) and participate in the baruh sheptarani. We especially encourage this participation in recognition of the special commitment and gift made by parents who may have different faith traditions themselves, but have chosen to share in raising their child as a Jew.
The Jewish parent of a Bar/Bat Mitzva also has the opportunity to be called to the Torah for an aliya. Only a Jew may have an aliya. This is because the nature of an aliyah recognizes the particular covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. We respect the faith and life choices of those who are not Jewish, and do not ask them to make this affirmation. In the case of interfaith parents, the Jewish parent may have an aliya accompanied by the non-Jewish parent.
Respect for the dead and comfort for the bereaved are the two principles governing Jewish burial. The dead should be buried within 24 hours, if possible, with no embalming or viewing of the body.
At burial in the cemetery, earth is shoveled onto the casket by friends and family who wish to participate in this final act. This ritual of lovingly placing earth on the casket of the beloved departed is called a hesed shel emet, a true act of loving kindness. It is a demonstration of love and respect, with no expectation of reward. One need not be Jewish to participate in this ritual of shoveling earth on the casket of a family member or friend.
When the burial is over, attention shifts to the bereaved. All who wish to comfort the bereaved visit at the home where family members "sit shiva” (seven days of mourning) for up to a week following the burial. No flowers are given to the grieving family, but gifts of food are welcome. Contributions to a favorite charity given in memory of the deceased are also welcome.
Our tradition says that only Jews may be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Therefore, when a Jew is buried in our Jewish cemetery, Mt. Nebo Cemetery, a non-Jewish spouse cannot be buried beside him or her. Interfaith burials are permitted in the Jewish section of Fairmount Cemetery. Rabbi will preside over burials of both Jewish and non-Jewish family members.
The Conservative Movement's adherence to the traditional Jewish law (halaha) of matrilineal descent means that if a child's mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish, and if the child's mother is not Jewish, the child must be converted in order to become Jewish. Conversion for a baby or a young child includes immersion in a mikva (a ritual bath), with both parents affirming before a bet din (religious court) that they agree to raise their child as a Jew. The ritual brit mila (ritual circumcision) for a boy must be done prior to conversion. If a boy has already had a medical circumcision then, prior to the conversion, a pinprick drawing of blood from the penis (hatafat dam brit) is performed. All religious conversions involve a ritual immersion in a mikva.
An adult conversion requires a serious and substantial period of study under the supervision of a rabbi. (Please call the Temple office for class times.) After studying, one immerses in a mikva and appears before a bet din (religious court). A man receives a ritual or symbolic circumcision (hatafat dam brit) if a medical circumcision has already been performed. This occurs prior to immersion in a mikva. When all of these requirements are satisfied, the individual is recognized as a Jew. Our rabbi is happy to discuss conversion issues, for babies, children, and adults with anyone who wishes to learn more about the process or the ritual itself.
The Temple Beth Shalom Community
The Temple Beth Shalom Community and its rabbi welcome all levels of participation by interfaith families. We encourage questions and are happy to discuss any issues or answer any questions about Judaism and the Jewish people. We encourage your interest. In this spirit, we believe we can all learn together and grow as a welcoming community.