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Standards for Congregational Practice
(As adopted in 1957 and amended at biennial conventions in 1961, 1969, 1971, 1985, 1989, 1991, and 2007.)*
* The Standards are set forth in bold text. The bracketed italicized text includes explanatory commentary by the Committee on Congregational Standards and cross-references subject to periodic revision.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (“United Synagogue”) adopts these standards for congregational practice to assure their observance by member congregations and to assist member congregations in teaching Judaism by example as well as precept.
The word “congregation” as used in these standards includes both “synagogue” and “temple,” and these standards apply to all affiliated arms and constituent groups within a member congregation.
These standards are intended to further, and should be interpreted in light of, the objectives of United Synagogue as set forth in the bylaws thereof. (Section 1.2.2 of the current United Synagogue bylaws is attached as an addendum to these standards.)
It is the responsibility of United Synagogue to encourage and persuade congregations to conform to these standards. United Synagogue accordingly provides resources to assist member congregations in meeting these standards. Congregations requiring such assistance should consult with their regional director. In the event of persistent or flagrant violations of the standards that in the opinion of the Committee on Congregational Standards would tend to bring discredit or disrepute upon Judaism, the Conservative movement or United Synagogue, the committee may report such violations to the board of directors of United Synagogue with its recommendations for such action as the board shall deem proper under the pertinent provisions of the bylaws of United Synagogue.
Standard 1 – The Rabbi
Each congregation should engage a rabbi as its spiritual leader and mara d’atra in accordance with the rules and practices of the Joint Placement Commission and pursuant to a written contract adopted in accordance with the congregation’s bylaws and enforceable under all applicable secular laws.
The contract with the rabbi should state that regardless of whether the rabbi is or is not a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, he or she will, in exercising his or her prerogatives as mara d’atra, adhere to the Standards of Rabbinic Practice of the Rabbinical Assembly. The rabbi will rule on all other issues of Jewish law and practice presented for decision only after giving due consideration to the published opinions of the Committee on Jewish Law & Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly and the positions of United Synagogue.
Congregations whose rabbis are not members of the Rabbinical Assembly shall obtain and make all such published opinions available to their rabbi.
When a congregation does not have a rabbi, any individual acting as the leader of the congregation is likewise obligated to adhere to the Standards of Rabbinic Practice and to consult with appropriate rabbinic authority.
[The Joint Placement Commission may be reached by emailing its placement director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The authority of the rabbi as the spiritual leader and mara d’atra (decisor of Jewish law) of the congregation is a basic tenet of Conservative Judaism. Jewish law, which has continuing vitality and relevance in modern life and establishes behavioral norms, is binding upon Conservative Jews. All member congregations are expected to conform to Jewish law. United Synagogue recognizes that individual rabbis may interpret and apply Jewish law differently, resulting in varying practices among congregations. The teshuvot (validated opinions) of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards provide halakhic guidance for Conservative Judaism as interpreted by the rabbis of the movement. All practices that are essentially loyal to Conservative Judaism are acceptable to United Synagogue.
United Synagogue recognizes its obligation to provide guidance on issues of Jewish law and practice to congregations that do not have a rabbi. Congregations requiring such assistance should consult their regional director. Congregations should also refer to the RA/USCJ “Model Rabbinic Engagement Agreement – Synagogue With Rabbi,” available through the Resource Guide posted on United Synagogue’s website, www.uscj.org. Responsa by the Law Committee on a variety of topics are accessible through the Rabbinical Assembly website, www.rabbinicalassembly.org. Published volumes of earlier responsa dating back to 1927 are available for purchase through United Synagogue’s Book Service or from the Rabbinical Assembly. Selected teshuvot are available on United Synagogue’s website, linked through the Jewish Living and Learning section.]
Standard II - Shabbat & Holidays
Shabbat and the holidays are to be observed in a manner that is essentially spiritual in quality and purpose, and that reflects the sanctity of the day, with all functions and activities on these days conducted accordingly.
[The observance of Shabbat and the cycle of holidays are a basic tenet of Conservative Judaism. Halakhic issues concerning the observance of Shabbat and holidays should be resolved by the rabbi in consultation with lay leadership. Congregations and clergy should consult and work together concerning all other aspects of the observance of Shabbat and holidays.
For further information, congregations should refer to “The Conservative Movement's Resources on Shabbat Observance”. Congregations should also consult “Yad LaTorah - Laws and Customs of the Torah Service: A Guide for Gabba’im and Torah Readers,” which may be ordered from the United Synagogue Book Service via United Synagogue’s website.]
Standard III – Kashrut
Only kosher food is permitted in the synagogue building or served at congregation-sponsored functions and activities, regardless of location.
[The observance of kashrut is a basic tenet of Conservative Judaism. Halakhic issues concerning the observance of kashrut should be resolved by the rabbi in consultation with lay leadership. Congregations and clergy should consult and work together concerning all other aspects of the observance of kashrut.
For further information, congregations should refer to “Kashrut: Connecting the Physical to the Spiritual"; the publications “Jewish Dietary Laws,” available from the United Synagogue Book Service, and “Jewish Dietary Laws: Sanctity Life,” available from United Synagogue Youth; the CD-Rom, “Kosher: Sanctifying The Ordinary,” available through United Synagogue’s website; and various teshuvot posted on the RA website, including “The Use of All Wines” (1995), “Is a K Kosher?” (1993) and “Synagogue Policy on Bringing Foods Prepared in the Home into the Synagogue” (1988).]
Standard IV – Rites, Ceremonies & Other Functions
The laws, rules and customs of Shabbat, all holy days, and of kashrut, as determined by the rabbi, are to be observed at all rites, ceremonies and other functions. The spiritual aspect of weddings, bar and bat mitzvah services and associated activities is to be emphasized. All such joyous occasions should be conducted in a dignified manner, including appropriate attire, music, photography and use of alcohol.
Congregations should make it possible for individuals and families celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah, simchat bat, brit milah, aufruf or other joyous event to provide an appropriate kiddush for all worshippers following services. Hamotzi and Birkat HaMazon should be recited whenever required by Jewish law or local custom.
Congregations should engage in sincere outreach to non-Jewish spouses and children of any Jewish members in order to promote participation by such family members in congregational life as permissible under Jewish law, rules and customs, with the goal of encouraging and supporting conversion to Conservative Judaism.
The laws, rules and customs of funerals and mourning are to be observed. Individual members of congregations should consult with their rabbi concerning funeral practice and mourning.
[Serving food following religious ceremonies is regarded as a seudat mitzvah, an integral part of the celebration.
Congregations and clergy should consult and work together in assuring that all rites, ceremonies and other functions are conducted in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Interfaith marriages are prohibited by the Standards of Rabbinic Practice of the Rabbinical Assembly and thus are not permitted in the synagogue building or any facility controlled by the congregation. The congregation may not engage clergy who perform intermarriages.
For further information concerning interfaith marriage issues, congregations should refer to “Al Ha-Derekh: On the Path” and to “Beyond Keruv to Edud: A New Way To Think About Intermarriage, Conversion and Building Jewish Families” -- and should consult with their rabbi concerning implementation of United Synagogue’s kerev/edud initiative.
Congregations should refer to “A Return to the Mitzvah of Endogamy” (1992), available through the United Synagogue Book Service, and various teshuvot regarding these issues posted on the RA website, including “May a Reception Following an Intermarriage be Held in a Conservative Synagogue” (1987) and “Congratulations to Mixed Marriage Families” (1989).
For further information concerning funeral and burial practices, congregations should refer to the “Guide to Jewish Funeral Practice” and “Guide to the Hevra Kadisha” posted on United Synagogue’s website and teshuvot on these issues posted on the RA website, including “Exhuming The Dead” (1996), “Mourning, Burial of Jews Practicing Christianity” (1994), “Converts Mourning the Death of Close Relatives” 1998; “Death of an Infant of Less than 31 days” (1992), “Mixed Burial” (1991), and “Cremation in the Jewish Tradition” (1986).]
Standard V – Membership
Only persons of the Jewish faith, as determined by the rabbi, may be admitted to membership in the congregation.
[Congregations are encouraged to welcome the participation by non-Jewish spouses and children of a Jewish member of the congregation in rites, ceremonies and functions in accordance with Standard IV; however, this is not intended and should not be construed as permitting non-Jews to become members of congregations.
Recognition of patrilineal descent as a definition of Jewish status is prohibited by the Standards of Rabbinic Practice of the Rabbinical Assembly. Accordingly, patrilineal descent is not to be recognized by the congregation as a basis for membership, nor may the congregation engage clergy who recognize patrilineal descent.]
Standard VI – Education
It is incumbent upon congregations to encourage, provide and/or sponsor age-appropriate formal and informal educational programming for all members of the congregation and their families, including early childhood (nursery school); a synagogue school; Kadima and United Synagogue Youth programs; a Hebrew high school; participation in KOACH; family education; adult education; and Israel travel programming for teens, college students, adults and families.
The synagogue school should subscribe to the Statement of Aims of the Conservative Synagogue School as adopted by the United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education.
The congregation should support the establishment and maintenance of a Solomon Schechter day school in the local Jewish community, where feasible.
[Congregations are encouraged to refer to “A Framework for Excellence in the Conservative Synagogue School,” as posted on United Synagogue’s website, to be familiar with the Benchmarks, and to choose one of the Models.]
Standard VII – Fund-Raising
Congregations should permit fund-raising under their auspices that is in keeping with Jewish law and customs.
[Fund-raising that is likely to bring discredit to the congregation is not permitted, even though such activity may be permitted under civil law.]
Standard VIII – Moral Dignity
All congregational and education programming and prayer services should be consistent with the dignity and moral conduct befitting a Jewish community. The manner in which they are announced and publicized, internally and to the general public, and the manner in which they are conducted should bring honor to the congregation.
[Principles consistent with the dignity and moral conduct befitting a Conservative congregation include but are not limited to hachnasot orchim (hospitality); derekh eretz (respect), kavod (honor), tzniyut (modesty), anava (humility), tzedakah (righteousness), tikun olam (repair of the world), and hesed (kindness).
With respect to harassment and abuse issues, congregations should refer to “Model Guidelines for Congregational Policy Against Harassment” and to “Should I Close the Door? Confronting Issues of Harassment and Abuse in Synagogue Life”. With respect to organ and tissue donation, congregations should refer to the “Guide to Jewish Funeral Practice,” “The Mitzvah of Organ Donation,” “Organ Donation” (USCJ Position Paper), “Hesed or Hiyuv? The Obligation to Preserve Life and the Question of Postmortem Organ Donation,” and the “Resolution on Organ and Tissue Donation (1997)” All are posted on United Synagogue’s website. With respect to living wills, congregations should refer to “Jewish Advance Medical Directives (1997)” and the “Guide to Jewish Funeral Practice,” both of which are available on United Synagogue’s website.]
Standard IX – Relationship With Staff
In seeking members for professional staff, congregations first should consult the proper placement agency within our movement. Congregations are not to solicit the members of the staff of another congregation to leave their positions in order to accept an engagement with the soliciting congregation.
Congregations should enter into reasonable written contracts with staff, enforceable under local law, in terms consistent with the highest ethical and moral standards of Jewish practice and tradition. Congregations should conduct annual evaluations of professional staff, using the best available instruments and techniques.
Congregations, clergy and professionals should agree to and seek the resolution of all disputes through the mediation and arbitration processes of the United Synagogue Committee on Congregational Standards. An arbitration clause providing for binding dispute resolution by the United Synagogue Committee on Congregational Standards should be included in all contracts with clergy and professional staff.
[Congregations should refer to “Crafting a Contract Between the Synagogue and the Professional: Protecting the Partnership While Providing for Separation,” the RA/USCJ “Model Rabbinic Engagement Agreement – Synagogue With Rabbi,” “Putting The Partnership Under The Microscope: The Process of Review and Assessment of a Congregation’s Professionals and Leadership,” and the “Model Guidelines for Congregational Policy Against Harassment.” All are posted on United Synagogue’s website. The placement agencies at the time of the adoption of these standards are the Joint Placement Commission; the Cantors Assembly; the North American Association of Synagogue Executives; the Jewish Educators Assembly, and the Jewish Youth Directors Association.]
Standard X – Relationship With Other Congregations & The General Community
No congregation may solicit members of another congregation to resign their membership and join the soliciting congregation. Nor may a congregation solicit the members of the staff of another congregation to leave their positions in order to accept an engagement with the soliciting congregation.
[When there are two or more congregations in the same community, whether or not they belong to the Conservative movement, they must regard each other as sacred. Their relationship must be cooperative, not competitive; any differences in doctrine or observance that may exist between congregations cannot diminish the respect due to a congregation dedicated to the service of God. When there is more than one affiliated United Synagogue congregation in the same community, each must regard itself as complementing the work of the other, and whenever possible joint advisory committees shall be appointed to minimize areas of possible competition and to extend and further areas of cooperation between those affiliated congregations. Congregations are also encouraged to associate themselves with other local community organizations to further the best interests of the Jewish community and the community generally.]
1.2: PURPOSE. It shall be the aim and purpose of the United Synagogue:
1.2.2. While not endorsing the innovations introduced by any of the Constituent Arms of the Conservative Movement, to embrace all elements essentially loyal to traditional Judaism, with it objectives being to:
1.2.2a advance the cause of Judaism to assure Jewish continuity;
1.2.2b maintain Jewish tradition in its historic context;
1.2.2c assert and establish loyalty to Torah and its historical exposition;
1.2.2d further the observance of Sabbath and of the dietary laws;
1.2.2e preserve in the service the reference to Israel’s past and its future;
1.2.2f maintain the traditional character of the liturgy, with Hebrew as the language of prayer;
1.2.2g foster the home as expressed in traditional observances;
1.2.2h encourage the establishment of Jewish religious schools, in the curricula of which the study of the Hebrew language and literature shall be given a prominent place, both as the key to the true understanding of Judaism and as a bond holding together the scattered communities of Israel throughout the world; and
1.2.2i stimulate congregations and its members to involve themselves in matters of social justice, public policy and other social concerns as a reflection of the will of God.