Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My synagogue has a weekly Torah study group that I and a pod of
close friends have attended for years. It is “open to the public”
because the synagogue is trying to attract new members. Lately we
have been invaded by Jews for Jesus, atheists, and people who seem
intent not only on taking the conversation away from text-based study
but are very interested in talk, talk, talking about their personal
problems, including WHY THEY ARE NOT JEWS!!!! I feel like dues-
paying members should get the right to set the rules, including that no
rules of Shabbat should be broken, Judaism not be defamed, etc etc
etc. how can we persuade our Board to close this group, or do we need
to meet outside of our own temple? BTW, the rabbi comes only once in
a blue moon, which is fine with us.
I’d be shocked if your synagogue does not have either a religious
affairs committee and/or a temple administrator, in addition to the
rabbi. They are the people with the authority to either “close” the
group to members or set rules that would allow members to tell
“invaders” to be quiet or leave. But you need to approach them in a
thoughtful, articulate, and consolidated way.
Draft a letter that will be signed by everyone in your pod. Think old-
fashioned outline format, where the big, bolded, capitalized headings
are issues like Rules of Shabbat Being Violated, Non-Text Based
Discussions, Non-Jewish Advocacy, etc. Identify the problems simply,
and make the rhetoric hard to ignore. Then detail examples that have
occurred. The final heading should be Requested Interventions, and
the subentries should also be bolded. They should be ranked by
preference, as in (1) Close Torah Study to Dues-Paying Members, (2)
Appoint Authorized Members to Keep Discussion to Text, and so on.
Your goal would be to have specific rules be identified, authorized by
the religious affairs committee and the temple board, and announced
for a few weeks by the rabbi who should attend till things settle down.
Members should have the right to ask non-Jews who violate those
rules to leave. It is sad that Shabbat is being violated and that Torah
study cannot be a refuge. But this process will strengthen the group,
once you are through it.