Thursday, March 12, 2009

Conservative Jewry: Toward Renewal, Not Kaddish

For me, this is the "money quote" from this editorial by Rabbi David Lerner in last week's New York Jewish Week:

"Most of all, we need to create Shabbat communities where those most committed to halachic Shabbat observance will find like-minded peers. Too often our lay members who observe Shabbat end up attending Orthodox synagogues, compromising their egalitarian values and intellectual honesty in order to be a part of a Shabbat-observant community."

Update, Sunday, March 15, 2009--Rabbi Jerome Epstein has something similar to say in his column in the Spring 2009 issue of CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, "Bringing Back Our Most Committed Young People":

"Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed the phenomenal growth of independent minyanim. Today there are more than 80 that are not affiliated with any movement. But many of their members grew up in the Conservative movement, went to Camp Ramah, were active in USY, and studied at Solomon Schechter day schools. Some of the minyanim, in fact, are led by Conservative rabbis. Although some of their religious services may seem to be different from those in United Synagogue congregations, they generally are Conservative Jewish services attended by Conservative Jews – outside a Conservative synagogue.

To compound the challenge, many of the more committed people who were inspired by our movement have chosen to identify with Orthodox congregations, not because of the ideology but because they seek others who share their commitment to the very ideals that we say we hold dear. They bought into what we said we stand for – but they do not find it in our synagogues. So they seek elsewhere."

As I said in this post, "Speaking as a lifelong Conservative Jew . . . My personal experience has been that, while most Conservative Jews prefer a more traditional service than do most Reform Jews, the observance level of Conservative Jews outside of the synagogue is often not much different than that of Reform Jews." And as I said in this post, "As for my current local synagogue, it’s awkward, being one of the few congregants I know there who prays three times a day. I find myself in the rather strange position of being both one of the most religiously-radical members of my local synagogue and one of the most observant . . . " (Ah, the joys of being "Conservaprax.")

I recently commented to my husband that I sometimes feel that, if one finds oneself to be more observant (in some ways) than one's rabbi, it's time to go to a different synagogue, as Larry Lennhoff's wife did (see first comment here). Unfortunately, as my husband pointed out, some of the rabbis of our previous synagogue, and of my current favorite--the one to which I take the subway on Shabbat/Sabbath (a no-no, according to halachah/Jewish religious law, which forbids any non-medical-emergency travel on Shabbat or major holidays except by foot)--aren't as observant as I am (in some ways), either.

So how the heck is the Conservative Movement supposed to create halachically-observant communities when so many, if not most, Conservative Jews are even less halachically-observant than I am?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you would enjoy reading Rabbi Menachem Creditor's blog.

Thu Mar 12, 09:55:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Thanks for the tip. There's some interesting reading on Rabbi Creditor’s blog.

Fri Mar 13, 07:41:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons I made aliyah is so that I can belong to a Conservative synagogue that has lots of observant members. At Moreshet Avraham our entire circle of friends lives within walking distance of the shul, and there are no worries about accepting dinner invitations from's pretty cool to be able to be part of a synagogue of "like minded" people and have a community of people who are in a similar space theologically and practice-wise.

Sun Mar 15, 06:46:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Gevalt (good grief), I have to make aliyah to find a like-minded community? Actually, I'm not sure I'd fit even at Moreshet Avraham: I've not very traditional in my theological perspective--the result, no doubt, of my former membership, for over a decade, in a dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue--and I'm a hard-core egalitarian, which, if Moreshet Avraham's website is any indication, doesn't seem to be universally accepted among the members there. I might find myself as much on the fringe there as here.

Sun Mar 15, 12:51:00 PM 2009  
Blogger scarlettscion said...

I know I'm speaking from the lucky position of a large NE shul..but this isn't really an issue for us. We have shomer Shabbas members, we have a LOT of people on the "spectrum" of Shabbas observance, and some who do nothing at all. Negotiating who can come over when is a little difficult, but no great feat.
Shabbas observing communities by default need to be set up such that the community can afford and continue to afford to buy homes around the shul. Unfortunantly I understand that this often isn't the case, and observant Orthodox families in my hometown will rent or pay far more than they should to live in the area. The economic strain of halachic obervance shows up a lot in Shabbat observance, especially.
As for bringing more young people into a Shabbat-observant mindset--if those who are already fully shomer were a little more inclusive and understanding that Shabbat observance is in many cases an economic luxury, it would go a long way.
Finally, while I have *some* iota of tolerance for those who abandon egalitarian communities for Orthodoxy due to issues of observance--I have no tolerance for this phenomenon's uglier cousin--that halfway secular guy (it is inevitably a man) at every shul dinner who has started going semi-exclusively to Chabad because they "accept him for who he is" or "because it's 'more authentic'" or because "it's closer." Give. me. a. break.

Sun Mar 15, 11:53:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Scarlettscion, I'm speaking from the *un*lucky position of a *small* NE shul--I'm pretty sure our shul has well below 100 members, at this point, and the demographics are such that the Angel of Death makes regular stops here. As for the observance spectrum, I think I could count the number of Shomer Shabbat members on less than one hand, at this point.

I agree that halachic observance can be challenging economically in the Galut/Diaspora. I lost a temp. job some years ago when I asked to leave early on Fridays. It can be difficult working one's scheduled around holidays and early-sunset Sabbaths, not to mention paying the often-higher price to live within walking distance of a synagogue. It's a shame that financial sacrifice often comes with halachic observance. Anyone who could figure a way to make observance more affordable would be doing the Jewish community a very large favor.

As for the not-so-observant guy who goes to Chabad because they're non-judgmental or closer, that's bad enough, but I find it annoying when non-observant people go to Orthodox shuls because they're "more authentic." Call *me* judgmental, but I think someone who talks the talk should walk the walk--why go to an Orthodox synagogue if you have no interest whatsoever in becoming more observant? (That's just me, mind you--I understand that, in some Jewish communities, it's common and accepted for *everyone* to attend the community's Orthodox synagogue, no matter how non-observant they are.)

Mon Mar 16, 06:22:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing halakhically "wrong," per se, with hitching a ride in a moving plane, boat, train or automobile on Shabbat -- it's the financial transactions and possible carrying involved that are problematic. (Both of which can be circumvented creatively). . .

Tue Mar 17, 08:58:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ari, I've heard of rabbis with arthritis who get their "Shabbos Goy" (roughly, a non-Jew who does work on the Sabbath, such as turning lights on and off, that a Jew is forbidden to do on the Sabbath) to drive them to synagogue. I've also heard that, years ago, Parisian Jews would pay for their metro rides in advance and be admitted to the metro by the clerk on Shabbat (the theory being that the train was running & stopping for non-Jews anyway). Does this work on a broad scale? I can't see how it could be done in the New York City subways, since one must swipe one's metrocard (electronic fare card) through the "reader" on the subway entrance turnstile--completing an electrical circuit (?), a Shabbat violation--in order to enter the subway platform. The NYC Transit Authority isn't likely to hiring Shabbos Goyim anytime soon.

Wed Mar 18, 07:11:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would imagine that hiring a driver in advance could work. As for the subway, maybe arrangements could be made in advance on a special basis with the station clerk?

Leisure travel, such as on a cruise ship, is 100% ok, although disembarking may be more complicated for other reasons . . .

I can tell you that when the Jewish commuter coach busses running up to Rockland County from NYC get stuck in traffic on Friday afternoon, they have a non Jewish driver meet them on the way back home, and he continues the drive . . .

Bottom line, it can be done creatively. Hey, if we can temporarily sell our chometz on Passover, or use timers on Shabbat, we can do anything :>)

Wed Mar 18, 02:03:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ari, subway clerks are being phased out and replaced by metrocard vending machines in New York City, so that won't work here.

"I can tell you that when the Jewish commuter coach busses running up to Rockland County from NYC get stuck in traffic on Friday afternoon, they have a non Jewish driver meet them on the way back home, and he continues the drive . . . " For real? Well, a Shabbos Goy for turning on the lights or a Shabbos Goy for driving, what's the difference?

As for hiring a driver in advance, if I had that kind of money, I could probably afford to live within walking distance of my favorite shul in the first place. 'Tis a thought, though, to be reserved for use in the future, perhaps.

Wed Mar 18, 04:59:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting and thought-provoking. You've raised a very important issue here.
In France Masorti rabbis are Orthoprax in their observance. As for the congregants you'd find a complete array of observance levels.

Sun Mar 22, 05:22:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ilanadavita, thank you. I like to get people thinking.

I have a B.A. in French, in which I was fluent 35 years ago. Unfortunately, I've pretty much lost my ability to understand spoken French, though I can still read it. And, at this point, any spare money will be used to visit my parents, my brother, and his kids in Israel, so I don't see myself returning to France any time soon. :(

Mon Mar 23, 10:18:00 AM 2009  

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