Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fed up with Conservative Judaism's attitude toward Observant Conservative Jews

Here's a copy of the e-mail that I just sent to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism:"
To: <>

[October 10, 2007: Let me try updating that link, now that I'm somewhat more adept at it:
Day 10 and still counting: Mark's/PT's Sefirat HaOmer reminder, complete with explanation]

Why do we Conservative Jews have to go to an Orthodox website to get daily Sefirat HaOmer e-mail reminders? Why is it that I have to do a special search of our website to find any mention of Sefirat HaOmer--and why is it that the most recent mention thereof dates back to 2003? Does our movement support observance, or doesn't it? Am I wrong to believe that there's such a thing as a traditional egalitarian? What happened to the "traditional" part?

[real name], an egalitarian trying to become more traditional

P.S. Since our website won't tell me, I'll tell our website, courtesy of the Orthodox Union: Yesterday was the 10th day of the Omer."

Oops--that should have read "Last night and today until sundown is the 10th day of the Omer."

Over the past year or two, I've gotten the distinct impression that the primary purpose of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's website is to keep Conservative Judaism organized, and that helping Conservative Jews be or become observant (by Conservative definition) runs a distant second. Where does a Conservative Jew go for information on what's kosher for Passover? To the Orthodox Union, of course, ignoring any possible differences in interpretation between the Orthodox and Conservative approaches to keeping kosher for Passover. (For example, are stringbeans kitniot or aren't they? As a child in a Conservative synagogue, I was taught that they are not. Orthodox folks generally say that they are.) Where does a Conservative Jew go for a live webcast of the reading and explanation of the kinnot (dirges) on Tisha B'Av? To the OU, of course.

Frankly, I'm fed up. Sometimes I wonder just how small a minority those who consider themselves Observant Conservative Jews (and I'm not one of them--yet) are, within the Conservative Movement as a whole. As was commented elsewhere in the Jewish blogosphere a few months ago--I wish I could remember where, as I'd love to link to that post--the Conservative Movement simply doesn't seem geared to ordinary laypeople who are, or wish to become, observant.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's less that that USCJ doesn't care and more that it's horribly and embarrassingly disorganized. At some point, the OU decided that the internet is a major and important way to release information. USCJ never reached that point.

There is a USCJ Pesach kashrut guide that's often put in synagogue newletters, but I can't even find that on their website. I've used some omer printouts from Conservative sources, but I can't think of any online.

I think the issue is less that they ignore observant Jews and more that they ignore anyone not in the New York metro area. When everything is focused in one region, the internet is not on people's minds as much. While there are pockets of healthy, observant Conservative communities around the country, most of USCJ's efforts and resources seem stuck in NY. This is slowly changing, but not where nearly fast enough.

Mon Apr 24, 02:47:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

If you think that's bad, try finding similar information from the Reconstructionists. :)

We all have to negotiate with our chosen movement. I like to take these frustrations as an opportunity to remember that we are all Jews, our practices and interpretions differ even within a movement, and it's MY responsibility (not the movement's) to negotiate/uphold/research my level of observance. That usually helps me calm down.

But yeah, I hear ya.

Mon Apr 24, 04:32:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"it's horribly and embarrassingly disorganized." Yep. I can't find a bleepin' thing on that bleepin' website.

"I think the issue is less that they ignore observant Jews and more that they ignore anyone not in the New York metro area. When everything is focused in one region, the internet is not on people's minds as much." You may have a point there.

"If you think that's bad, try finding similar information from the Reconstructionists. :)" Tzipporah, since I've had one foot in the Reconstructionist camp and one foot in the Conservative camp for many years, I am constantly amazed at the vastly different levels of knowledge and/or observance among members of both groups. In each denomination, I've met both Talmud scholars and folks who don't know how to make a motzi (prayer praising G-d for bread).

"it's MY responsibility (not the movement's) to negotiate/uphold/research my level of observance." Yeah, but, on the other hand, what's the point of being a member of an organization that doesn't provide the support that you need? As I said, it's awfully irksome--and, yes, embarrassing--to have to go outside of my own movement for information on how to lead the kind of Jewish life that my own movement allegedly advocates. It makes the USCJ look both idiotic and hypocritical.

Tue Apr 25, 01:47:00 AM 2006  
Blogger VegetarianCyclist said...

Hi Shira,

Judging from today's index page, someone heard your complaint and took some action. There is a link to a PDF with a calendar for counting the omer.

I agree with you. The web resources for Conservative Judaism just aren't there, particularly the how to stuff that you need to be observant.

I do like the USCJ's minshna yomit list, though.


Tue Apr 25, 05:05:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Humph, some link--no explanation and no translation. I can do better than that with my Birnbaum (Orthodox) siddur (prayerbook), which has both. Oh, well, it's a start. At least they didn't ignore my e-mail.

On the plus side, I did follow their Tanach Yomit a few years ago.

Wed Apr 26, 01:23:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but I have the distinct impression that many (if not most) "Observant Conservative" people who are not professionals (i.e. Conservative Rabbis and Cantors) eventually end up affiliated with Modern Orthodoxy. Once upon a time, I was that way (now I fully identify as Modern Orthodox, and have for years), and I have many friends who are in a similar boat -- i.e. used to identify as Conservative, wanted to actually be more observant, and determined that there was very little communal support for that, so migrated to a Modern Orthodox community, and now identify as Modern Orthodox.

I think my experience, and your post here, are different symptoms of the "identity crisis" that the Conservative movement has in trying to on the one hand, claim to be a "Halachic" movement, but on the other hand, being afraid to act on the belief that Halacha is binding. (There are lots of essays on this topic in the blogosphere, with other ways of phrasing what I just said -- e.g.

Tue May 16, 04:23:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know I am late to this discussion but I have felt much the same sentiment for a long time. The Conservative movement's websites are pretty terrible in regards to providing halchic information of any kind. There is some halchic information on the Rabbinical Assembly's own web site that is available. But when it comes to the Passover kosher guide, I think it is very poor. Here I will quote the paragraph that starts this guide and then I will give my two cents on it:

The Rabbinical Assembly Pesah Guide was prepared for the Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards by Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz. It was accepted by the Committee on December 12, 1984. The last paragraph of the introduction as well as Parts A and C under "Permitted Foods," have been amended to reflect more recent decisions of the Committee affecting the status of peanuts, peanut oil, certain cheeses and canned tuna.

I feel this guide is invalid today because its almost 22 years old! Can we all agree that many food making processes have change within this time frame? Some of these processes have changed several times within the past few years. I served as a student mashgiach at the JTS cafeteria. We learned from Rabbi Rabinowitz and other Rabbinical staff about the importance of checking food products even if they were common foods shipped routinely into our kitchen. I am surprised he would agree that everything that was considered kosher for passover in 1984 is still kosher for passover in 2006. If the movement upgraded the list every year and added or subtracted items after a review of the product then I would follow the list. Until then I try to ask questions at, I read the crazy strict book I get at Eichlers each year and I use a dash of common sense. I hope that's good enough for my guests and my God.

Tue May 23, 07:37:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Kishkeman, I think it goes without saying that kashrut information must be updated whenever necessary. Unfortunately, the Conservative mostly just goes without saying . . . much of anything useful. Oy.

I'll take your advice and check out

Fri May 26, 07:25:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Kishkeman, I just saved this to my Favorites:
Union for Traditional Judaism

Thanks for the tip.

Sun May 28, 03:55:00 AM 2006  

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