Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An hour away

Recently, an old friend of ours and I were discussing the "fun" we have, getting to synagogue on a Saturday. She and her husband have both had some health problems recently, and since, their shul is about an hour away by subway, they haven't been to shul in about a month. My preferred shul is also about an hour away by subway.

There's an upside and a downside to the Conservative t'shuvah (rabbinical response or ruling) permitting driving to synagogue on Shabbat/Sabbath. On the one hand, you can drive or ride to synagogue. On the other hand, the religious community to which you belong is not necessarily located in the community in which you live. This can make davvening/praying with a minyan quite challenging in case of ill health and/or advancing age. It can also make visits and help from your fellow or sister congregants more difficult--who wants to drive an hour to deliver a Shabbos dinner to someone who's just had surgery?

If we end up staying in this neighborhood, I have no idea where we'll be praying in 20 years. Nor do I have any idea who'll still be alive, in our elderly congregation, to sit shiva with me when my father dies.

[Note: Sometimes my comment-count is correct, but the most recent comment isn't visible unless one clicks on "Post a comment." So, if you don't see a response to your comment, please click.]


Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

You realize, of course, that there is no "... Conservative t'shuvah (rabbinical response or ruling) permitting driving to synagogue on Shabbat/Sabbath ..."

There is a t'shuvah permitting driving to and from only the closest synagogue to one's home, regardless of whether or not its conservative.

Tue May 11, 11:38:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Steve is correct. If you pass three shuls on the way to the preferred one, I think you are outside the bounds of the teshuvah.

Tue May 11, 11:51:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve and Anon., you're probably right about the t'shuvah--I'm pretty sure that's what I've heard, too. (No, I've never read the t'shuvah.) I would hazard a bet, though, that many Conservative Jews don't know about that limitation, and/or, as in my case, choose to ignore it. Travel by public transit or car to synagogue is one sin that has a practically permanent place on my Al Chet list.

Our current local Conservative synagogue, which is within easy walking distance, will probably end up selling its building and moving into a house within the next few years. I don't expect it to survive much more than a decade. The two Orthodox synagogues within walking distance have possibly even fewer remaining congregants than our own shul. One is probably surviving on the proceeds from the sale of its old building and on rental income from property acquired in better days. The other is surviving on income received from renting out most of its building to a private special-ed school. A recent non-denominational (but too non-traditional for us) start-up can't even afford their part-time rabbi, and is barely surviving by the skin of its teeth. As a Jewish neighborhood, this place died at least a decade ago. It's very sad.

We'd love to move, but circumstances may keep us here. Many of my husband's tax and accounting clients are within walking distance. He would also have even more difficulty commuting by public transit to his teaching locations (in three boroughs, sometimes on the same day) from outside of New York City. But even after he retires, there's my own commute, which would probably be at least an hour longer, to consider. (I hope to work for another nine years, until I'm 70 and can collect the full Social Security pension permissable.) Even more important is reasonably-quick access to my sister, who's been in dubious health for years and is not likely to get any better--right now, I can get to her in about an hour by subway (or in considerably less time by cab, if the traffic's reasonable), and I'd like to keep it that way. So we could very well end up stuck here for life. That's also rather sad. :(

Tue May 11, 01:32:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking to the general issue, I believe that the "Driving Teshuvah" is the most damning part of the Conservative legacy. Nothing broke apart Jewish communal living more than the separation of sacred life from everyday living. And now we're paying the price by having to support huge buildings with vanishing congregants.

Tue May 11, 05:38:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

A few years ago, I published ”The last Jews in ______, a post written around Shlock Rock founder, leader, and chief songwriter Lenny Solomon’s song, “The Cycle.” My post was about the death of the Orthodox and non-Orthodox synagogues, including ours, in our neighborhood. Lenny’s song was specifically about the death of an Orthodox shul. Much as the "Driving T'shuvah" is a tempting target, I don't think it can be blamed for the death of every synagogue.

That said, the "Driving T'shuvah" is, if not the cause, certainly a symptom of the death of Jewish community/communities. Nothing creates a Jewish religious (by anyone's definition) community quite like being within walking distance of just about everyone in your synagogue.

That assumes, however, that the folks within walking distance share one's hashkafah/Jewish religious perspective. It would be nice to be able to deliver mishloach manot packages just by visiting the congregants across the street, but none of the congregants across the street are interested in mishloach manot. :( As a tallit-and-tefillin wearing female who tries to pray three times a day, I find myself in the rather anomalous position of being both one of the most radical and one of the most observant people in my synagogue.

So I contradict my traditional tendencies by seeking a congenial community outside of my community. In all honesty, I find consistency impossible. I can stay within walking distance on Shabbat and Yom Tov, where practically nobody thinks and/or acts as I do. (I love the way some folks from our shul who oppose women's aliyot call us on Shabbat and leave messages on our answering machine, seeing no contradiction between their tradition attitude regarding aliyot and their decidedly non-traditional attitude regarding refraining from using a phone on Shabbat.) Or I can go where people are more likely to think as I do, but may or may not be as traditional in their observance as I try to be.

Poor Rejewvenate writes a three-sentence comment and gets a four-paragraph response. Okay, shutting up now. :)

Tue May 11, 07:04:00 PM 2010  
Blogger The Reform Baal Teshuvah said...

I would not fault the "Driving Teshuvah." Really that was just a response to

"Mama Leone left a note on the door,
She said sonny, move out to the country."

The biggest rending of community, I think, was the enticement of suburbia. The Driving Teshuvah was designed to make synagogue attendance possible for a population where, really, driving replaced walking as the only way to bridge the distance between home, office, school, and shul.

Wed May 12, 08:20:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reform BT, the enticement of suburbia was certainly a major factor in the rending of community. Still, the Orthodox have somehow managed to create synagogue after synagogue in suburbia while sticking to the no-vehicle-use-on-Shabbat-or-Yom-Tov rule. I seem to remember having heard somewhere that they achieved this not by being meikil (spelling?)/lenient about travel, but by being meikil concerning the eruv, thus enabling Orthodox Jews to carry babies and food (for example) from one place to another within the community on Shabbat. As Rejewvenate said, "Nothing broke apart Jewish communal living more than the separation of sacred life from everyday living," and nothing kept Jewish communal living together more than figuring out how to continue to combine the two.

Wed May 12, 01:04:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author of the driving teshuva didn't actually call it a teshuva. He called it a takana. Meaning it is an emergency degree based on special circumstances. A teshuva would imply that it is OK to drive on Shabbat or that it is not considered melacha. From the traditional conservative halachic standpoint, driving IS a melacha, just malacha that might be allowable under certain circumstances. I personally think that the biggest issue with it is this:
Before, many C Jews drove to synagogue on Shabbat, but no where else. Once the movement said you CAN drive to synagogue and no where else, lay-people upped the ante and began driving anywhere, under the impression that driving is allowed on Shabbat. From there is degenerated into many C Jews totally abandoning the idea that there is such thing as melacha that is forbidden on Shabbat and viewing the whole notion of forbidden Shabbat activities as being the domain of the Orthodox.

Thu May 13, 09:20:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ah, the slippery-slope argument. Probably true. I plead guilty as charged.

Thu May 13, 10:33:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Tzipporah said...

Are you allowed to drive past three shuls that wouldn't let you in anyway to get to the one that will?

Thu May 13, 07:55:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oy. I imagine that, given your situation, you must run into this sort of attitude too frequently. :(

Fri May 14, 10:23:00 AM 2010  

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