Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Still Conservative after all these years

Here's my final(?) comment to my post on whether it's modest for women to be leaders.

Shira Salamone said...

JDub, you said, "Being orthodox isn't about a level of observance . . . It's a mindset, and a process. It's a belief system that says "yes, we look at the poskim and the halacha, not the situation." Either you buy the whole system, or you don't. You don't, and that's fine, but you can't get mad that there is a system in place."

"it's better that if you can't, or won't, accept the viability of these questions, that you not become orthodox, rather than bang your head against them."

JDub, the more I encounter questions of this type, the more I realize that you (and Too Old to Jewschool Steve, and sometime commenter The Rabbi's Husband) are right--in matters of principle, I really am a Conservative Jew. The "lack of any commitment to precedent and tradition" is a serious issue, but not enough of one to make me willing to surrender my freedom of thought and my freedom to make my own decisions, which is how I, personally, would experience a switch to the Orthodox camp. What I see as the Orthodox way is simply not the way that I, personally, form opinions on issues: I don't wish to filter my every thought, and even my thought process--my freedom to ask whether something should be a question in the first place--and my every decision through the eyes of others. I don't see myself ever becoming a baalat t'shuvah. Thank you, JDub, and all of my commenters, for helping me clarify my position.

Tue Sep 23, 08:16:00 AM 2008

These are my choices:

  • I stay in the Conservative Movement and put up with lax observance and a lesser sense of community (inevitable, I think, if people are not within walking distance of one another--and once you allow people to drive to synagogue on the Sabbath and Pilgrimage Festivals, they won't be).

  • I become a baalot t'shuvah--a "returnee" to Orthodox Judaism--and find consistent observance and a real neighborhood community, but give up my right to disagree (in public) with rabbinic rulings and/or halachic (Jewish legal) viewpoints.

Kvetch (complain) as I might about being relatively observant by comparison to many Conservative Jews, I know myself well enough to know that being Orthoprax--one who observes the mitzvot/commandments without accepting many of the beliefs that go with them--would be a serious challenge. Fundamentally, I'd have to keep my opinions to myself for the rest of my life. I'm not sure I'm even interested in doing that, much less capable of it. I've always been one to speak my mind, and I prefer to continue doing so. I hate to disappoint some of my Orthodox readers, but, apparently, I’m not a candidate for kiruv (“bringing close,” [“converting” to Orthodox Judaism from a different version]).

I appreciate all that I’ve learned, and all the encouragement that I’ve gotten to increase my observance, from being a blogger, and will continue to learn and grow in my Jewishness as a result of reading so many blogs by Orthodox Jews. Thank you very much for being my teachers. But I must say that the week I spent at the NHC Institute was a necessary corrective. Apparently, I have to be reminded periodically that my thought processes are much closer to those of many non-Orthodox Jews than to those of many Orthodox Jews. JDub is right—from my own perspective, there are some questions that shouldn’t even be questions, and that perspective really does make me a non-candidate for the derech (the Orthodox “path”).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's weird... We got into the Orthodox "lifestyle" without accepting the beliefs... Shabbat was a break from 7 day/week working, Kashrut made eating meaningful, Family Purity actually brought spice to the relationship...

When challenged for not walking the line by a friend who says that I'm not Orthodox if I don't believe X, Y, or Z, I usually respond, "I'm not Orthodox, I'm Torah observant."

I will admit, it's tough, the Orthodox community is really a big center of group think... forget challenging the status quo, simply doing something different causing widespread panic in the people around you.

So in thought process, we're "Conservative" in terms of the ideals of the conservative movement... in practice, we're relatively string in our observances... our Orthodoxy is extremely modern... we don't fit in...

This has caused some real soul searching as to whether we should keep swimming up stream or just throw in the towel and move out of our community.

You're not Orthodox, and never will be, because you don't accept the Orthodox ideology. However, your observance in practice makes your life within a conservative synagogue lonely... It sucks, but there isn't a place for people that value observance but aren't "Orthodox" in the United States... The "traditional" Israelis seem to have it down... they do Shabbat dinner and keep Kosher at home, beyond that is on a per-family basis... However, the Israelis don't worry about eating in each other's homes, even if one is Shomer Shabbat and one isn't... however, as an Ashkenazi observant Jew, you can't really join the Israelis, so it is what it is.

Tue Sep 23, 02:46:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Al, and don't think it's a question of "group think" and challenging the status quo. That might be his experience, it's not mine.

My shul rabbi (admittedly, an out of town shul where there is less pressure than in NY) addresses issues on whether they are halachic or not, not whether others care. We do things that others in the Orthodox world might disagree with, but they all have halachic bases, so we're ok with them.

My point was that for Shira to wonder how something such as whether women can be leaders could even be a question reflects that she is not, nor does she want to be, orthodox. Yet, all one has to do is look in Maimonides' Mishnah Torah, and the issue is raised explicitly. So, it's a question. How one resolves it is a separate issue.

The Conservative movement deals with things that are inconvenient by ignoring them (driving to shul), distinguishing them (the recent t'shuvot on gays), or being extremely creative (My teacher Joel Roth's t'shuva on women and obligation). None of the three are truly based in the halachic process. They start with the desired end result and backfill the logic.

We have plenty of folks that do different things in our shul under the rubric of Orthodoxy, and we all get along. We have a woman who is president, women routinely give the d'var torah, and we have a women's tefillah group. All of these were reached through consultation of our rav, who is a talmid chacham. But it also means we have to live with some of the things that were raised that he was more stringent on, that I disagre with.

It's not an issue of stifling your thoughts, it's that at some point, you reach the limits of halacha. The conservo movement deals with this by constantly moving the boundaries (sorry, tongue in cheek reference to last week's parsha). We don't.

I'd note that one of the primary reasons the conservative movement is losing adherents is that it can't make a coherent case why one shouldn't be either orthodox or reform. There are a number of my acquaintances, who, like me, were observant Conservative, yet found that (a) there was no such community and (b) there was no intellectual coherence in the conservative approach.

Others went Recon or Reform. I don't really know anyone, other than the ones that stayed on thru rabbinical school that remain conservative.

Tue Sep 23, 04:41:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- so much to say, so little time.

Shira said --

>>The "lack of any commitment to precedent and tradition" is a serious issue<<

Despite that much of what I have commented here and elsewhere would suggest otherwise, I think this is a gross overstatement. I don't know if it's Shira's comment, or Shira quoting someone else, but its painting with too broad a brush. I think CJ has a commitment to precedent and tradition, but it is struggling to balance that precedent and tradition with prevailing secular (dare I say "politically correct") values. My continuing concern (Phillip Roth would no doubt call it a "complaint") is that prevailing secular values are often extremely fluid, if not downright fleeting. They are more fashion than bedrock. Hence, I fear trying to mediate between the most current issues of the day and vintage halacha is an exercise in futility. I argue for taking a longer, historical view of things, with a time frame measured in decades, if not centuries, rather than months.

I recently came across comments Shira and I exchanged on another blog long before I started commenting here, addressing the "eating hot dairy out" issue; an issue which has recently received renewed attention at the Shefa forum. I am no doubt being unfair when I say its becomes a matter of lowering the bar to make such behavior "kosher" when we all know it isn't. I do it. I know its not kosher. But I do it. I don't need someone to lower the bar for me; my self esteem doesn't suffer because of this. I am sympathetic to those living outside of the greater east coast metropolitan area, who don't have the benefit of remotely kosher restaurants. Yet, view it as "some day I'll get to that level" rather than redefining centuries-old, well established kashrut.

Shira, you will not be happy as a BT. There is nothing inherently un-Conservative in your level of observance, nor in a greater level of observance. You may not need to find a more observant shul, but you need to find a shul with more knowledgeable members, regardless of their own levels of observance, who understand and appreciate the choices of others. (Yes, I know, not every member of such a community is as tolerant or as well meaning, but you learn not to pay attention to that stuff) We're lucky to be members of such a community, although we don't live in the immediate area. Maybe its time to move the area. I know you have already visited here.

Tue Sep 23, 10:53:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira (and I am speaking to myself here too....) When did religion turn into "color war"? Why do you need to decide how you will serve G-d by deciding what "group" you affiliate yourself with?

I realize that there are practical considerations about what synagogue to join, but ultimately it is you and G-d.

If you can't accept certain parts of Orthodoxy, you shouldn't let that stop you from growing in your relationship with Hashem.

Wed Sep 24, 04:41:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Wow, so much to which to respond, so little time. Let me see what I can do, standing on one foot.

Al said " . . .there isn't a place for people that value observance but aren't "Orthodox" in the United States"

That's been my personal experience. But then again, it's possible that we're simply in the wrong place. I've been told that there are observant Conservative communities in the US. We just don't happen to be living in one.

You also said, "I'm not Orthodox, I'm Torah observant." It's only recently that I've begun to understand why my current local rabbi stared at me as if I had two heads when I told him, several years ago, that I thought Shmirat Mitzvot (observance of the commandments) was the definition of Orthodoxy. Perhaps it's because I was relatively new to the Jewish blogosphere at the time. I'd never encountered anyone who readily admitted to keeping the commandments but not believing in the ideology/theology/philosophy/and/or whatever behind them.

Wed Sep 24, 05:52:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Before I forget to mention this, Too Old to Jewschool Steve said, "I recently came across comments Shira and I exchanged on another blog [Ask Shifra(?)--see my blogroll for the link] long before I started commenting here, addressing the "eating hot dairy out" issue" . . . Lest there be any confusion on this issue, let me state clearly for the record that the Conservative rabbinate is now on record as *opposing* the frequent practice of kosher-home-keeping Conservative Jews eating hot dairy foods in non-kosher restaurants. See here. I'll admit that this is one area in which my observance is lax--as I said in the linked post, I've already shown my respect for tradition by setting up a kosher kitchen and, later, by completely giving up eating non-kosher meat and poultry even outside of my home, and am simply not yet willing to take the next step.

Gotta run--doctor's appointment. To be continued.

Wed Sep 24, 06:23:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shira --

It was Apikorsus Online

And now I understand that the "commitment" quote was from JDub, not you, which made more sense.

As to eating hot dairy out, Rabbi Leff has re-drafted/revised his tshuva in support of such a practice. Apparently, it has been submitted to and will be considered by the CJLS. I will not comment on its specifics because I have not read it in full, but you can find a very lively discussion on the topic at


Wed Sep 24, 06:49:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, I think you may be referring to this post.

Concerning Shefa, the last time I signed up for a listserve, I ended up receiving a gazillion e-mails every day. I unsubscribed just to save my sanity. Ms. Tech-Challenged here has heard that there's a way to get all one's listserve e-mails for that day combined into one long-winded e-mail. Do you know the method? Shefa sounds interesting, but I'm not willing to be buried in e-mails.

I'll post this now separately and respond to some other comments. I don't want to make JDub and WestBankMama feel neglected.

Thu Sep 25, 12:23:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

One could say, as JDub does, that
Conservative rabbis "start with the desired end result and backfill the logic." Or one could say, as Steve does, that "I think CJ has a commitment to precedent and tradition, but it is struggling to balance that precedent and tradition with prevailing secular (dare I say "politically correct") values." Both statements may well be true, I think, but I prefer to look at the Conservative Movement from Steve's point of view. I prefer to choose my values, and if that means that a more contemporary way of interpreting halachah trumps a more traditional one, so be it. Just to get everyone thoroughly confused, I'm going to quote Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, and say I agree that "The past has a vote, but not a veto."

WestBankMama, thanks, I needed that. :) I guess I have to be reminded, occasionally, that labels aren't the only issue, that growing in learning and practice are what's important.

Thu Sep 25, 12:53:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Orthodoxy has the identical intellectual dishonestly... routinely when approaching modern matters, the desired result is absolutely considered and then the arguments are backfilled.

Look at electricity... the true Halacha is quite clear on incandescent light bulbs, because they heat a metal until it glows, i.e. cooking, but that shouldn't apply on Yom Tov, right?

Modern solid state electrical systems, using circuit breakers and not fuses, have no chance of creating a fire (and if they did, it certainly isn't the desired outcome), so the issue of Aish isn't an issue.

Yet few would argue that Orthodox Jews are permitted to use electricity, because lifestyle wise, electricity brought us the light bulb that replaced the lanterns and candles, so we treated it the same as a lantern, and extended from there.

My defense of the Conservative movement is by it's ideals. The Teshuvot you mentioned completely undermined that process (driving, gays, were the most blatant), but their theoretical approach to Judaism is to me often more intellectually honest. OTOH, their members don't care what they say, so they don't have to be as careful as MO Rabbis... Charedi Gedolim don't have to be careful either, because while they are listened to and followed, they don't really care what the effect on their followers are... :)

Thu Sep 25, 02:33:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I believe you are both correct and incorrect. The issue re: light bulbs (incandescent at least) was originally that it was believed to be a flame. once the scientific knowledge caught up to the poskim, it was understood that it is not a flame. Rather, the completion of a circuit is considered to be an act of "boneh" (building). Not enough of an expert on (anything) hilchot shabbat to comment intelligently beyond that.

I've been involved in the conservo movement at both the community level (where the three shomer shabbat jews were the rabbi, the chazzan, and me) and at JTS, where I rubbed elbows with the "elite" of the movement. I heard from some of them, including the decisors, that while they were always committed to the halachic "process" most other non-JTS members of the CJLS were not and reached a result, and backfilled. I suppose everyone thinks they are right!

Interestingly, I think that modern orthodoxy fills the intellectual space that *used to be* filled by conservo. we don't reject the outside world, nor do we embrace it to the exclusion of Torah. The difference, fundamentally, is that mod orth starts with the premise that Torah and mitzvot are paramount. The conservo movement started, historically, with non-observant people and ivory tower rabbis and leaders. It was effectively an intellectual movement espousing critical scholarship and Torah observance. The problem is, nobody told the congregants that. Rather, they got "it's ok to drive, it's ok to eat non-kosher cheese, wine etc. it's ok to have gay rabbis." But they weren't Reform, God forbid!

I'm being tongue-in-cheek. Kind of. The Conservative movement is my ex-girlfriend, who will always have a place in my heart even though I'm happily married (to orthodoxy, just to beat the metaphor to death).

My fear for modern orthodoxy is that, like the Conservative mvment, we will define ourselves by what we are not, rather than coming up with a true definition of what we are. The center cannot hold, to quote Yeats. (Does that mean that I'm slouching towards Bethlehem?)

In any event, to Shira and all our fellow Yidden, a shanah tovah u'metukah. May this year see the coming of the Mashiach, bimheyra b'yameinu, so we can all dance a joyous dance at the rebuilt Beit ha'Mikdash.

Thu Sep 25, 08:49:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, thanks for the clarification re electricity. It never occurred to me that closing a circuit might fall into the halachic category of building, an activity forbidden on Shabbat. Still, I’m not sure Al isn’t right in saying that the conclusion was foregone—that electricity, having replaced fire, was to be treated as fire—and that it may have been simply a matter of finding a new halachic justification for forbidding the turning on or off of electrical devices manually (that is, by hand, not by using a pre-set automatic timer) on Shabbat (Sabbath) and the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals)

You also said, “The conservo movement started, historically, with non-observant people and ivory tower rabbis and leaders. It was effectively an intellectual movement espousing critical scholarship and Torah observance. The problem is, nobody told the congregants that. Rather, they got "it's ok to drive, it's ok to eat non-kosher cheese, wine etc. it's ok to have gay rabbis." But they weren't Reform, God forbid!” Ouch. There’s a lot of truth to that.

Still, I’m going back to the issue of what constitutes a question in Jewish law, which is where this discussion began. In my opinion, saying that it might be immodest for a woman to be in a high-profile position because the Rambam said so centuries ago, during a time and in a place in which a woman’s public role was much more limited, is analogous to saying that it might be inappropriate for a person of color to be president of the United States because US law said so centuries ago, in the sense that segregation was once dinah m’dinah, the law of the land. In my opinion, just because something *was* a question a few hundred, or a couple thousand, years ago, doesn’t necessarily always mean that it *is* and always will be a question—which is why you’re absolutely right, JDub, in saying that I wouldn’t make a very good Orthodox Jew. I really do agree with Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan—who, after all, taught at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for decades until his Reconstructionist followers insisted that it was time for them to stop being the left wing of Conservative Judaism and start their own movement—that “the past has a vote, but not a veto.” Therefore, I intend to take WestBankMama’s advice and continue to learn and grow in the place that I have chosen.

Rav todot, thank you very much, to all of my commenters, and to my fellow and sister bloggers and *their* commenters, for helping to make this year a year of learning for me. I wish all of you, and kol am Yisrael, the entire Jewish People, a Shanah Tovah u-m’tukah, a good and sweet year.

Thu Sep 25, 11:35:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the electricity thing,

"Rather, the completion of a circuit is considered to be an act of "boneh" (building)."

is clearly a garbage argument... nominally halacha as much as anything dealing with electricity is halacha, but it's nonsense. Flipping a light switch completes a circuit in much the same way the closing a door completes a wall... it's not the final blow of a hammer, because flipping the switch the other way opens is.

The approach to electricity was a backfill, and not a terribly intellectually honest one, that's all I'm saying. The Heter for timers only applied to lights, and was probably more permitted because lanterns could be set to "burn out" by limiting oil... there is no general permission for timers... yet every observant Jew uses them or doesn't out of laziness, not philosophy.

Modern Orthodoxy, intellectually, probably has displaced Conservative Judaism, but with a huge twist, the membership is largely Kosher and Shabbat observant... the former at LEAST in the home with some cheating out, or Kosher altogether. MO Communities will tend to have regular learning, and daily minyanim, which conservative synagogues are VERY hit or miss on.

The JTS Rabbanim I've met are up there with the YU guys... reasonable trained in Talmud... The YU guys aren't the most impressive, but the difference between JTS and YU remains pretty small. The rest of the conservative Rabbanim? They'd learn more Judaism reading Aish.com than they learned in seminary...

But the important thing is to continually grow and serve Hashem, not the yentas in the neighborhood.

Thu Sep 25, 11:51:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW: on the Circuit, the Toras Emes guys claim Aish (fire), the YU guys claim Boneh (completion), and the Day School grad claim "you don't use electricity, duh."

Everyone agrees you can't use electricity, but there isn't as much agreement on the why... that means that in practice you agree, in theory you don't, that's intellectual dishonesty.

Evangelical Christians support Israel for similar reasons as Religious Zionists, to bring about the Messianic Era, albeit with a dispute in Moshiac's identity.

It's intellectually dishonest to deny the similarities, even if we are uncomfortable with their proselytizing, and are nervous with working with "goyim."

Thu Sep 25, 11:57:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, Al -- the problem with "their" proselytizing shouldn't be a matter of discomfort. If it was just a matter of a dispute over the identity of moshiach, there would be no discomfort.

The problem is the proselytizing -- which results from a fundamental belief that we (the Jews) must accept their version of moshiach. Keep in mind that for them, the next step after moshiach's arrival is our conversion or death.

On a different note, I really believe that the tshuvot on driving, cheese, wine and the like were attempts to address jewish questions, even if you're not satisfied with the results (of course, there's no bar to choosing to be strict on those things. The issues related to women and, later, gays, were far more problematic, because they were largely secular issues which spilled over into judaism. While the CJLS was able to find satisfactory halachic reasons for its decisions on the former (ordination, egalitarian minyanim etc.), I believe they were unable to bring the same level of precedent to the table on the latter. I suspect MO will continue to struggle with issues of egalitarianism, and resolve them at a much slower pace; the issue as to gays will simply be a non-starter.

Thu Sep 25, 04:38:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you're suggesting that we need to be concerned that in their ideology, certain events after the dawn of the messianic age, won't go well for us?

I don't care whether George Bush thought that Jews could go to heaven, I don't care what Evangelicals think of the messianic age... I care about what people think on earth.

This bizarre Jewish obsession with the religious beliefs, that don't have actions associated with them, of the gentiles is a little strange... we happily ally ourselves with those that would intentionally harm Israel, as long as they oppose prayer in school and don't voice their beliefs about the messianic era.

That's my point, our view of the messianic age is COMPLETELY different from the Evangelicals, but our belief in how we get there is the same... so tell me why we can't work together with them?

Thu Sep 25, 07:26:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Politics, religious and/or otherwise. Oy. :(

Fri Sep 26, 12:50:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Al on this one. I don't need to accept their beliefs to be willing to accept their political and financial support.

Who are Israel's friends in the US? It's not the secular world, who views Israel as the colonizer and oppressor. Other than the realpolitik national security types, the only friends Israel has are the evangelicals, and I welcome their support.

Fri Sep 26, 02:06:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW: on the original topic, if moving isn't an option, it's kind of irrelevant, but if it was, you do have options.

Find a nice neighborhood with both a Conservative synagogue and Orthodox one that you can tolerate. Go to the Conservative synagogue when you feel the need to don T'fillan or otherwise do things that are unacceptable in the Orthodox world. Have a Rabbi there that you can talk, and whatever social outlets you want.

Go to the Orthodox synagogue 1-2 times a month, participate in the community, and generally do your own thing.

An advantage for you, being a woman in the Orthodox world, nobody really expects you to be a regular... you could daven most of the service at ome, wearing a Tallit if you want, then head to services for the end of the service and Kiddush.

You could then have a spiritual advisor that is more on your wavelength from the Conservative side, and get the community of Frum people... particularly for the Chagim, you'd have other people celebrating, which would make you feel less like an outsider.

We have a friend, recently moved away, that used to go to the Conservative synagogue most of the time where her uncle used to be the Cantor, but occasionally came to Aish when she wanted more community.

Just a thought.

Fri Sep 26, 02:35:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Al's last post. Like you, I lean left on ideology and right on practical observance, and what I did is this: I joined one O shul and one C shul. I mostly use the O shul for sat morning davening and practical halachah [i.e. using the O rabbi as my posek on kashrut issues] but otherwise do most of my learning at the C shul, and take in minyan once or twice a week to remind the C people that I'm one of them too [sort of].

Of course, this only works if you live in an area that has both nearby...

Sun Sep 28, 10:52:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Al and Woodrow, at the rate our local Orthodox and Conservative synagogues are going, they'll probably all be gone within a few years. So whether we can davven *anywhere* (except, perhaps, with the new Reform group, which is, largely, not observant enough for us) without getting on a subway will depend entirely on whether we stay here or whether we move, and if so, where and when. (At the moment, I'm not holding my breath--I don't think my husband's going to retire from his accounting practice any time soon, and some 80% of his clients are within walking distance.) But if and when we move, I'll certainly keep your advice in mind.

Sun Sep 28, 12:34:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Batya said...

Most people don't 100% anything. That is unless you build your own shul etc.

Thu Oct 02, 10:05:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

You may have a point.

Fri Oct 03, 12:18:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Penile Implant in India said...

That was a VERY interesting one! Seriously interesting.

Mon Jul 02, 04:49:00 AM 2018  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>