Wednesday, July 22, 2015

By the by(laws)

As part of joining the board of my synagogue, I was given a copy of the bylaws. Some items of interest to me as a Jewish parent with a non-Jewish spouse, jointly raising a Jewish child and both being active in synagogue activities:

Article III, section 1: “Any person of Jewish faith and the spouse or committed partner of such person (whether or not he/she is Jewish), who are at least 18 years of age, and willing to support the principles and objectives of the Conservative movement, are eligible to become a member of the synagogue.”

The phrase “person of Jewish faith” can include people who are not halachically Jewish under the rules of the Conservative movement. I’m happy about that, since it includes any self-identified Jew who is ok with the Conservative movement without worrying about matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent, details of conversion as a child or as an adult, bet din paperwork, etc.

Only adults are members. My child is not a member. I guess I was never a member of my shul growing up, despite having attended services religiously, having led services, having taught and tutored in the Hebrew School, having worked in the shul office, and having participated in the youth group. That seems a little odd. It feels like children should be considered members (at least non-voting members) if they are part of a family membership.

My non-Jewish wife is a member. While that contradicts the Standards for Congregational Practice of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, I’m very happy about it. As the bylaws are written, she could not join on her own without me even though she has a Jewish child. The time where that seems most relevant is if I die and she wants to continue as a member, but then she’s no longer my “spouse or committed partner” and is no longer eligible for membership. Hmph.

Article III, section 1: “Members shall have the right to vote in accordance with these Bylaws.”

Great! I think there could be a reasoned argument in favor of allowing post-B’nai Mitzvah kids to vote as well, which would require acknowledging them as members, but at least my non-Jewish wife can vote.

Article III, section 5: “Only Jewish members in good standing shall be entitled to one vote at membership meetings.”

Um, wait a second. This is not an implementation of section 1. This is a contradiction of section 1.

Article V, section 10: “Only Jewish members in good standing shall be eligible to vote.”

This is just about electing officers and board members, but it’s not consistent with Article III, section 1.

Article XV, section 2: “A two-thirds vote of the members in good standing present and voting at a meeting of the Corporation shall be necessary to amend these Bylaws.”

And under Article III, section 5, that would only be Jewish members.

So Article III, section 1 is apparently meaningless. Non-Jewish members have the right to vote, but not at membership meetings. I’m not satisfied with that. I can understand saying that only Jews can fill certain roles at the synagogue, and perhaps that list could be tweaked, but not being allowed to vote? I protest.