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Congregation Beth Shalom

Jewish Community in Bozeman, Montana

Who is a Jew?

Congregation Beth Shalom follows the Reform and Reconstructionist position on who is Jewish. In antiquity, a child of an interfaith couple followed the religion of the tribe with which the family resided, usually that of the father. This was changed in Roman times so that the child followed the religious identity of the mother in conformance with Roman law. This was again updated in the mid 20th century in the Reform and Reconstuctionist Jewish worlds, reasoning that we are no longer living in Roman times, and, in an egalitarian world, it no longer made sense to exclusively follow the religious identity of the mother when many families with Jewish fathers wished to raise their children as Jews. Thus, we recognize as Jewish any person born to either a Jewish father or mother, AND who has a Jewish identity. This view is more inclusive than the older view because one Jewish parent is all that is required, but more restrictive in that it requires that a child be raised with a Jewish identity to qualify as Jewish, thus returning the criteria to Torah times. Of course, we also recognize Jews by Choice, who have joined our people through the conversion process.

Non-Jews who are part of a family that includes a Jew are absolutely and completely welcome and treated as full members of our congregation and community. Through most of Jewish history, there have been non-Jews who have resided among the Jewish people and have been fully accepted as members of the community, called a ger toshav. We continue to recognize that status and even offer a ceremony to those wishing to formally adopt the status of ger toshav, while maintaining their non-Jewish identity.

If you have questions about any of this, you may ask the Rabbi here.