From the President: Jewish Leadership of Prayer Services
Dec 10th 2015

The information contained in last week’s edition of The Week Ahead e-newsletter regarding the Choir has led to some questions about the process leading up to that announcement, and I’d like to share some additional background with the Congregation. 

The Rabbi meets regularly with Synagogue leadership to discuss a wide range of issues affecting Beth Tzedec. Some issues are mundane (e.g., should we serve bread at Shabbat Kiddush if we are not reciting Birkat Hamazon?) and some are potentially controversial (e.g., should women be counted in a minyan?). Depending on the issue, the Rabbi may choose to affirm or adapt an existing policy, or, he may decide to study an issue and write a Teshuvah (a formal analysis and religious ruling).

In those regular discussions between the Rabbi and Synagogue leadership over the last several years, concerns were expressed about whether the composition of our Choir complied with Beth Tzedec’s long-standing ritual policy that those leading the Congregation in prayer must be Jewish. In the interest of providing clarity and transparency about this area of our ritual practice, the Rabbi agreed to revisit this policy and to set out his position in a formal Teshuvah.

Last April, the Rabbi submitted his ruling to the Board and shared it with all members of the Synagogue’s ritual staff. The ruling reaffirmed the Synagogue’s existing policy: those who lead the Congregation in the singing of sacred music in our prayer services (including members of the Choir) must be Jewish.

This matter has also arisen at other Conservative synagogues and the Rabbinic Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has reviewed it on four separate occasions. Each time, they reached the same conclusion as our Rabbi. The Rabbi’s ruling can be accessed through this link. As there was no change to the existing ritual policy, the Teshuvah was not formally circulated.

The only change related to the ruling was to request a simple self-declaration of Jewish identity for members of the Choir singing at our prayer services, bringing this process in line with what is already required for marriage, membership and funeral privileges at Beth Tzedec. The Choir was notified of the administrative change during the summer, and in cooperation with their representatives, the implementation deadline was extended to December 31, 2015.

As Mara D'Atra of the Congregation, Rabbi Frydman-Kohl is the senior authority on all matters of Halakhah (Jewish religious law). The Board of Governors supports our Rabbi and accepts his ruling and re-affirmation of our shul’s long-standing policy on this issue. And the Board hopes and trusts that the high standards of musical excellence that we have enjoyed, valued and appreciated will continue to enrich our prayer under the direction of Cantor Simon Spiro. 

Blake Teichman, President