Earlier this month, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism—the body that governs the denomination’s congregations—changed its polices to allow individual synagogues to accept non-Jews as members. (In most cases, these will be spouses or children of Jewish congregants.) To Roberta Rosenthal Kwall, the decision reflects a fateful step in the ongoing dissolution of the differences between Conservative and Reform Judaism, which, if continued, will sap the former of its vitality:
[W]hile it is highly questionable whether Conservative synagogues will gain members by greater outreach to intermarried couples, it is almost certain that there will be losses of both a qualitative and quantitative nature from doing so. It is already the case that some Conservative rabbis allow an interfaith couple to have an aufruf—a pre-wedding [celebration that takes places during Sabbath prayers]—in their synagogues and allow public congratulations to interfaith couples on their engagements and weddings. Has this helped the movement gain adherents? There is no sign this is the case.
Parents who feel strongly about their children marrying Jews will lose the support of a synagogue community that reinforces their views on this matter. These parents will have to work twice as hard to buck the growing trends. As intermarriage escalates, it will be difficult enough for the Conservative movement to maintain its 73-percent in-marriage rate without synagogues [making that harder by] acting in ways that seem to suggest there is no greater virtue in two Jews marrying each other than in a Jew marrying a non-Jew.
In areas with large Jewish communities, parents seeking to pass on some form of traditional Judaism to their children and grandchildren may simply go elsewhere if their synagogues go too far down the intermarriage outreach path. We can assume that these parents will be among the most dedicated and serious members in a Conservative synagogue, those who often form the core of Shabbat attendees and exert an influence on the religious norms of the community. Their departure will alter the spirit of Conservative synagogues considerably.
Finally, assuming these outreach efforts become common in Conservative synagogues, rabbis who stand their ground and refuse to go along will have a more difficult time getting hired and retaining their jobs. The same phenomenon occurred in the Reform movement when it decided to give rabbis the choice of performing intermarriages.