The board of directors of the organization for Reform Judaism in the United States voted today to begin a special program to win converts to the Jewish faith.
In a significant departure from recent Jewish history, the board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations voted to authorize a special task force to implement the missionary program.
The action this morning at the board's semiannual meeting in Houston came after Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler of New York, president of UAHC, called upon Reform Jews to end a 400-year tradition and begin seeking converts.
"I suggest that we respond openly and positively to those God-seekers who voluntarily ask for our knowledge." Schindler said in a speech Saturday.
He struck from the original draft of his speech a plea that Reform Jews become "missionaries for Judaism." He replaced it with a plea that Reform Jews become "champions for Judaism."
The change in words, however, did not alter the impact of the speech. Schindler outlined a full-scale program to open Reform temples to converts.
Schindler's proposals were contained in the resolution approved unanimously by the 120 board members at the meeting. The limited discussion on the resolution focused on methods of implementation, not on the program itself.
The resolution said the new thrust to win converts is being made because "the disturbing growth of mixed marriages is one of the most significant and critical trends affecting the future of Jewish life. It requires our profound and serious attention."
Earlier in the meeting, scientific studies were produced to show that more Jews are marrying non-Jews than at any time in American Jewish history.
Though the program will include efforts to win converts from among those non-Jews marrying Jews, Schindler made it clear the program also will be aimed at persons not already affiliated with a particular religion.
The key parts of the resolution said Reform Jews should:
"Intensify our formal and informal Jewish educational program within the Reform synagogues and the Reform Jewish movement to stimulate positive and knowledgeable Jewish identification.
"Develop a sensitive program of welcoming and involving converts to Judaism, recognizing that those who choose Judaism in good faith are as authentic in their Jewish identity as those who are born Jewish.
"Develop an effective outreach program by which the Reform synagogue can seek out mixed-marriage couples in order to respond to the particular emotional and social stresses...
"Plan a special program to bring the message of Judaism to any and all who wish to examine or embrace it. Judaism is not an exclusive club of born Jews; it is a universal faith with an ancient tradition which has deep resonance for people alive today."
The board also approved a resolution calling upon the U.S. government and Reform Jewish congregations to work diligently to help thousands of Southeast Asian "boat people" settle in this country.