At a conference attended by pulpit rabbis from Germany and Poland this week in Warsaw, one of the most critical issues affecting their communities was found to be the growing numbers of non-Jews who come to synagogue and wish to participate in programs and services.
The Ohr Torah Stone’s (OTS) Straus-Amiel Rabbinical Emissary Program convened pulpit rabbis from Poland and Germany here this week to address the issue. The rabbis lead Jewish communities in Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw, Krakow, Munich, Stuttgart, and Dortmund.
Together, the rabbis studied traditional and modern Jewish sources to see how scholars over the millennia have addressed similar concerns.
Among the topics they discussed were the permissibility of counting children as part of a prayer quorum; converting a child to Judaism when one parent is not interested in conversion themselves but consents and supports the child’s conversion; intermarriage; how to address congregants who, whether by desire, practice or capability, choose to perform only parts of given religious customs or obligations; and engagement with non-Jewish congregants.
“Given the long history of anti-Semitism in Germany and Poland, perhaps one of the most interesting trends our emissaries are observing is how many non-Jews regularly wish to attend synagogue services and the challenges and opportunities this can present in a community,” said Ohr Torah Stone President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, who is also the son and son in law of Holocaust survivors.
“Why is this happening? Our rabbis, who serve as Jewish ambassadors and halachic emissaries, believe that many of their non-Jewish congregants seek greater meaning in life than they have found elsewhere in this age of technology,” he said. “Some are the children of Jewish fathers or have recently been informed about Jewish roots by a grandparent in their final days wishing to share information that they hid from their family in the post-Holocaust era. Others are drawn to the Jewish community with a sense of responsibility, not guilt, to repair for the crimes of a previous generation, particularly appealing in countries with dark recent histories due to Communism and the Holocaust.”
The conference was curated by the Straus-Amiel leadership, which continues to support and guide its emissaries through regional conferences all over the world.
Topics were chosen based on requests from the invited rabbis.