TORONTO — Beth Tikvah Synagogue has left the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) – almost five years after voting to stay in the umbrella organization for Judaism’s Conservative movement – because it felt it wasn’t using the group’s services.
In 2008, Beth Tikvah’s reasons for reconsidering its affiliation with the USCJ were philosophical differences regarding ritual observance and lack of responsiveness to the congregation’s needs.
But philosophical differences “don’t enter into it” any more, shul president Bob Weill told The CJN. The synagogue became Torah egalitarian last year. “At this point, we don’t need [the USCJ]. It became more of, ‘We weren’t taking advantage of anything they offered.’”
However, Weill said, “We are a Conservative shul and will remain a Conservative shul.”
Rabbi Howard Markose, interim senior rabbi of the 1,100-family shul, said in a phone interview that being a Conservative synagogue means “continuing to be committed to Halachah – Jewish law – with the flexibility in interpretation that is part of our Conservative theology and philosophy.”
Rabbi Markose and his colleague Rabbi Jarrod Grover chose not to be involved in the decision regarding the USCJ. “We neither encouraged the departure nor discouraged it,” Rabbi Markose said in a phone interview from Israel.
“We decided as a team of rabbis to give the synagogue membership the opportunity to go through the process and make the decision without rabbinic input. It’s not really a halachic issue, which is what our major decision-making and guidance is about – trying to promote observance and halachic adherence. We determined this is more a political issue than a halachic or religious issue.”
Rabbi Grover, in his column in Beth Tikvah’s most recent shul bulletin, encouraged members to continue to support other Conservative institutions, including the Jewish Theological Seminary, Mercaz Canada (the movement’s Zionist arm), and Camp Ramah.
In 2008, Beth Tikvah – which was then paying $41,000 annually in USCJ membership dues – voted to remain part of the organization, despite a recommendation at the time by its board of governors to terminate membership.
Around the same time, three other Toronto congregations – Adath Israel Congregation, Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, and Beth Tzedec Congregation – left USCJ and formed a new organization, the Canadian Council of Conservative Synagogues (CCCS). Beth Sholom Synagogue, which had not been affiliated with the USCJ, was the fourth co-founder.
Beth Tzedec left the CCCS in 2010, citing budgetary reasons.
The group also lost a Montreal-based congregation, but president Eric Gossin said the CCCS is still “very active,” with seven congregations, and now has “quite modest” dues that are “significantly less” than what they were. Its flagship program is its Hebrew high school, he added.
Weill said that USCJ membership is “very expensive, but it [would be] worth it if we were taking advantage of everything they have to offer.”
He said Beth Tikvah has not joined the CCCS, but he’d like, personally, to promote the idea among the shul’s membership. “I think there’s a lot of synergy that can be created.”
In 2008, Beth Tikvah’s constitution made it difficult for the shul to leave the USCJ, as its constitution mandated membership in the organization. The relevant clause could be changed only if 75 percent of members voted in favour of the change at two consecutive meetings, The CJN reported at the time.
But the constitution was amended in 2011 so that “we would only need two-thirds of 100 members voting,” Weill said.
The shul held information meetings in November before putting USCJ membership to a vote. It sent the organization a letter of resignation later that month.
One hundred forty four members voted, but Weill declined to be more specific about the percentage by which the vote passed.