Multifaith/Multiheritage Families at BJ

A Message of Welcome and Embrace

כִּ֣י בֵיתִ֔י בֵּית־תְּפִלָּ֥ה יִקָּרֵ֖א לְכָל־הָעַמִּֽים׃

For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7)

People come to BJ for many different reasons and from many different places. Our community is filled with a spectrum of Jewish spiritual and cultural diversity, as well as a growing array of other religious and ethnic backgrounds. For some, a specific event leads them to our congregation; for others, it’s their search for connection. Our mission is to make all feel welcome and at home, to embrace those who share our search for Torah, for meaning, for purpose, for fellowship, and for holiness. We believe that we are each enriched by each other’s presence in this makom kadosh, this holy place.

The life of the community is lived in many different spaces, such as services and study sessions, holiday observances and social action projects, trips and retreats, lectures and lifecycle events, and many other opportunities for engagement and celebration. In many of these varied settings, the communal embrace is wide and welcomes all; in others, such as prayer and lifecycle rituals, certain distinctions may be made based on the nature of one’s identity.

We recognize that each person and family is unique, and that circumstances often vary, leading to further questions. We’ve developed these guidelines to provide a general description of communal policies and procedures for multifaith/multiheritage individuals and families here at BJ.

Membership

We welcome as a member of our congregation any member of the Jewish people, whether born of one or two Jewish parents, one who has converted, or a person who is otherwise committed to establishing and sustaining a Jewish home.

We recognize that patrilineal Jews claim their Jewish identity in a way that differs from the matrilineal definition to which we remain committed. This can present emotional and halakhic concerns regarding ritual participation which we take seriously. We are strengthened by the fellowship of patrilineal Jews in our community, and hope their presence opens up new thinking about how to address the spiritual needs of this growing population and about the nature of Klal Yisrael, a unified Jewish people.

Should you have any questions about whether membership at BJ is right for you, please contact Matthew Davey, our Membership Services Manager.

In some communal settings, one’s identity as a Jew, or a person of another religion, or none, may shape one’s participation. Please read on for specific guidelines and be sure to reach out to the rabbis with any questions.

Participation on Committees

Participating in the life of our community is both an opportunity and a responsibility of membership. There are many ways to get involved, be it for one-time events, ongoing volunteering, or committee work. All BJ members, Jewish and those from other faith or cultural backgrounds, are welcome to serve on committees. Leadership positions, such as committee chairs and members of the Board of Trustees are limited to those who are Jewish, whether born of one or two Jewish parents, or one who has converted, and whose formal commitments to Judaism represent the congregation within, and beyond, our community.

Participation in Prayer Services

Prayer is a core feature of our community life, nurturing and challenging us in the realms of spirituality, Torah study, and social responsibility. We welcome all to our music-filled services, and encourage everyone to participate in a way that is meaningful and authentic. All are invited to sing along with the community, to rise and be seated (if able) along with the choreography of the service, and to recite prayers that support and enrich one’s spiritual seeking. While pages are announced frequently, no one should hesitate to ask for help navigating the siddur/prayer book from a neighbor or from an usher.

For those who don’t read Hebrew, our prayer books contain translations and transliterations to encourage participation.

All who identify as male entering the sanctuary are asked to wear a kippah/yarmulke, a traditional sign of humility and respect in a Jewish place of worship. All who identify as female are welcome to do so, but are not required.

Wearing a tallit/prayer shawl and tefillin/phylacteries (tefillin are worn only on weekdays that are not festival days) is a unique expression of Jewish identity, as both signify a Jew’s commitment to the commandments and sacred responsibilities of the Torah. While those of other faith or cultural backgrounds are welcome to wrap themselves in a tallit as a symbol of being enveloped by the presence of the Divine, or lay tefillin as a symbol of being bound to God, they are not required to do so. If they choose to, no one will request that they remove their tallit or tefillin.

The honors of blessing (having an aliyah), carrying and dressing the Torah, rituals which convey one’s covenantal commitment to Judaism, are offered to matrilineal Jews and those who have converted. However, all are welcome to participate in group aliyot, and may be invited to participate in the honors of opening the ark and joining the Torah procession around the sanctuary.

Conversion

We welcome those who are interested in joining the Jewish people to participate in a unique educational and spiritual journey toward conversion. Through courses and workshops for individuals, and for multifaith/multiheritage couples, taught by our rabbinic fellows, as well as mentoring by our rabbis, candidates for conversion are well prepared with openness, sensitivity, and compassion.

In addition to a program of study, rituals of conversion include mikvah (immersion in a ritual bath) for those who identify as female, and mikveh and Brit Milah (ritual circumcision) or Hatafat Dam Brit (symbolic drawing of blood) for those who identify as male. All candidates for conversion will come before a Beit Din (a rabbinic court composed of three rabbis).

For patrilineal Jews who wish to affirm their Jewish identity in line with BJ’s halakhic  position, please reach out to one of the rabbis, who will arrange for a conversation and immersion in the mikvah, and will support you through it in a timely manner. We recognize this may not be a compelling option for all those who have been raised as a patrilineal Jew, and respect people’s choices accordingly.

Lifecycle Celebrations

We welcome the opportunity to celebrate sacred moments in the lives of all BJ members.

Baby Naming and Brit Milah (Ritual Circumcision)

Baby naming and Brit Milah rituals are celebrated for children of all Jewish and multifaith families. For baby namings in the context of Shabbat morning prayer services, all members of the immediate family will be welcomed to the bimah for a family aliyah (the ritual of approaching and blessing the Torah when it is chanted), and a blessing will be bestowed upon the baby.

For a Brit Milah, families are invited to contact the mohalim/mohalot (those trained to perform the ritual circumcision). It can take place at home, in a BJ space (click here for rental information), or at the hospital provided the appropriate ritual procedure is performed. Brit Milah is expected for Jewish baby boys. Parents of patrilineal Jewish boys who desire for their children to be able to celebrate their B’nai Mitzvah at BJ will also be required to bring them to the mikvah.

Children who are adopted from families who are not Jewish, and children born of surrogate mothers who are not Jewish, should be converted with the appropriate rituals of Brit Milah/Hatafat Dam Brit and/or mikvah.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

We look forward to children who have grown up at BJ, or who are newer to the community, becoming a Bar/Bat mitzvah. All children of matrilineal descent, those who have been converted, and patrilineal children who have gone to the mikvah to affirm their Jewish identity are invited to celebrate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah at BJ. Children are expected to be enrolled in a Jewish communal educational setting, whether Kadima@BJ or a Jewish day school. Families with special needs children are asked to contact the rabbis, or the Director of Family Life and Learning, who will be happy to explore appropriate options. We seek to honor the strengths and abilities of all children, and will help to create a meaningful experience for them and their families.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah rituals are celebrated in a manner that is inclusive of all family members, be the family Jewish or multifaith. All will be welcome to the bimah for a family aliyah, and parents will be invited to recite the special “Sheptarani” blessing, releasing their child to their own destiny.

Weddings

Jewish marriage celebrations begin with an aliyah to the Torah on a Shabbat prior to the wedding. The aufruf aliyah will be celebrated for all couples in which one partner is matrilineally Jewish or converted.

Using traditional Jewish rituals, as well as newly-adapted ones when appropriate, BJ clergy will officiate at members’ marriages between matrilineal Jews, between those who have converted, between a matrilineal Jew and one who has converted, and between a matrilineal Jew and a patrilineal Jew, regardless of sexual or gender orientation. If a matrilineal Jew, or one who has converted, marries someone of another faith or heritage where there is a shared commitment to establish a Jewish home, and, if there are children, to raise them as Jews, BJ rabbis will officiate at the wedding.

All lifecycle celebrations are thoughtfully planned by our clergy together with the participants and families. If you have specific questions, please reach out to one of our rabbis or our lifecycle coordinator.

Funerals, Burial, and Shiva

The presence of spiritual leadership at a time of grief and mourning is an expression of fellowship, respect, and comfort. As such, BJ rabbis are committed to supporting all BJ members, Jewish and those of other traditions, when a death occurs. As soon as possible after a death, or when a death is anticipated, members are encouraged to call the BJ office so we can acknowledge the death and support the family in whatever way is needed.

BJ clergy will lead local Jewish funeral services for current BJ members (matrilineal, patrilineal, or converted) and their immediate relatives. Tahara and full funeral and burial rites are extended to patrilineal Jews. Tahara is not available to people of other faiths or backgrounds. They will always extend ritual support to such members, be they mourning Jewish relatives or those of other backgrounds, and will always extend pastoral support to BJ members of other backgrounds mourning the loss of their Jewish or non-Jewish relatives.

Some Jewish cemeteries permit the burial of non-Jewish people next to their Jewish relatives in a designated section for multifaith families as per the cemetery’s design. At the present time, the Jewish cemeteries in which BJ owns plots do not allow for such burial, however, there are others in the Tri-state area that do. Sometimes a non-Jewish deceased member who wishes to be buried in a Jewish cemetery next to their Jewish relatives may have practiced another faith. In such circumstances, a BJ rabbi will participate in a funeral service led by their clergyperson by offering a eulogy or reciting a psalm, and will guide the Jewish mourners in the Jewish mourning rituals. If the rabbi presides over the burial, an adapted liturgy will be used.

If the deceased was not a practicing member of another faith, or if they did not have a faith community of their own, and they choose to be buried in a Jewish cemetery next to their Jewish relatives, a BJ rabbi will officiate in an adapted funeral service for them that honors their identity and their relationship to the BJ community.

BJ rabbis will only officiate at burials in Jewish or non-sectarian cemeteries. For non-Jewish members who wish to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery affiliated with another faith tradition, a BJ rabbi will perform an adapted funeral service at a funeral home prior to the burial. They will attend, though not officiate at, the burial in a non-Jewish cemetery where they will guide the Jewish mourners through the Jewish mourning rituals. Our local funeral home, Plaza Memorial, makes their space available to families of all backgrounds who wish to use it.

For a Jewish member who wishes to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery affiliated with another faith tradition next to their non-Jewish relatives, a BJ rabbi will perform the funeral service only in a separate funeral home or gathering space.

Although for Jewish members we encourage burial according to Jewish tradition and strongly discourage cremation, Tahara (ritual purification of the body) by the BJ Hevra Kadisha will be available to those who nevertheless choose cremation, and a BJ rabbi will perform a funeral service prior to the cremation. Ashes should be buried in a Jewish cemetery, and BJ rabbis will be available for these burials if cremation is performed.

Those who have converted to Judaism bear the same Jewish status as anyone born Jewish. They should mourn their relatives, Jewish and non-Jewish, according to Jewish law, and observe all mourning rituals and traditions.

For questions regarding funeral and burial rituals, please consult with a BJ rabbi.

The Torah is referred to as a shirah/song, made ever more beautiful by the complex harmonies of multiple commentaries. Similarly, our community’s beauty and strength lie in the manifold faces, stories, beliefs, and commitments that join together here to reveal and honor the wondrous oneness that unites us with the Jewish people and with all of humanity. Welcome!