Monday, August 30, 2010

Separate seating, and other true stories

Separate seating
It all started with an old minhag (custom) of our local synagogue--someone has always "volunteered" to sit next to the rabbi on the bima. Usually, it's been the president or another member of the Executive Committee. But over the years, as the congregation shrank, aged, and became less healthy and mobile, it became more and more difficult for the Ritual Committee chair to find volunteers for the job, since the attendance of many of our members depends on the weather. (It's hard to walk through snow with a walker, and extreme heat can also be a problem.) Finally, he gave up looking, and simply assumed the job himself.

I should probably mention that my husband has been chair of the Ritual Committee for over a decade.

In the beginning, I fiercely resented my husband's absence by my side, as he spent weeks, then months, then years straight sitting with the rabbi instead of with me. But over the years, I've not only gotten used to it, I've actually reached the point at which I find my husband's presence next to my while I've praying distracting, and he feels the same way about mine. Now, when we go to shul together on Friday night or Sunday morning, we usually sit in separate rows.

So Saturday, on the way to shul, I said to my husband, "You're ready for an Orthodox shul, aren't you?" Likewise. Maybe.

Irony 1
This past Shabbat/Sabbath, one of our congregants sponsored a very nice Kiddush luncheon in honor of her 90th birthday. Yum! We ate quite well. But getting there was interesting. The large contingent of guests constituted almost half the people present. So when the chazzan/cantor began singing the Adon Olam closing prayer and almost all the guests stood up and started yacking, it was a major distraction. Finally, one of the congregants banged on the chazzan's reading stand and announced, "Excuse me--the service isn't over yet!" That quieted down most of the commotion.

The hero of the day was my favorite intermarried yeshiva grad.

Irony 2
There were two cakes at the kiddush, one provided by the birthday "girl" and one provided by the congregation in honor of the birthday of our long-time Shabbos Goy. The birthday girl's cake was from a local unsupervised bakery. (Yes, the kiddush was dairy, so the birthday girl was in compliance with the congregation's decision that we would buy dairy, but not parve, cakes without a hechsher/rabbinical seal certifying that a product is kosher.) The cake purchased by the congregant for our non-Jewish maintenance chief was kosher.

Next up (when I have time to post pictures and videos): Our trip to Coney Island yesterday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be honest, I'm a little confused as to how to the Conservative movement justifies not having a mechitzah and seperate seating from a halachic standpoint. I can understand Reform doing it, but usually whenever Conservative does something that changes the traditional practice, they usually try to come up with SOME sort of reason/teshuvah as to why it is OK, at least b'dieved. But when it comes to mixed seating the C teshuvas are silent. Whenever I've ever asked C rabbis about it, the only responsedsI've ever received is "well, nowadays women are equal" (which is not a halachic argument) or the rabbi just got mad at me.
Any thoughts/input?

Mon Aug 30, 01:46:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This is about all I know regarding the origins of the mechitzah, so you're asking the wrong person, I'm sorry to say. I haven't a clue on what grounds the Conservative rabbinate concluded that it was halachically permissible to forego having a mechitzah in a synagogue.

Any takers?

Mon Aug 30, 04:20:00 PM 2010  
Blogger chava said...

Part of what I really like about your blog is the difference between what's a big deal in your Conservative synagogue versus my own Conservative synagogue.

No one at my shul bats an eye at driving to services, except the Rabbis, of course. Women frequently have aliyot, and things are almost completely egal.

But any food that comes into the building must have a hecksher. And we are not in a kosher paradise.

The difference of which rules can be bent and which can't are interesting.

Mon Aug 30, 10:40:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"The difference of which rules can be bent and which can't are interesting."

Boy, you've said a mouthful, Chava. In my opinion, inconsistency of standards and/or observance is one of the Conservative Movement's big problems.

Tue Aug 31, 10:35:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous Woodrow/Conservadox said...

Chava's synagogue actually does have rhyme and reason behind its practices. The Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law issued teshuvot on egalitarianism (in the 90s I think) and on driving on Shabbat (in the 50s)- not sure either is easily available on line and can't vouch for their reasoning, but it was a matter of reinterpreting rules rather than simply ignoring them.

One of the later egalitarianism teshuvot is at

I am not sure if the driving teshuva is online but here's a discussion of it

Wed Sep 01, 10:30:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The driving-teshuvah post and comments constituted very interesting reading. It's a good question whether Conservative Jewry as a whole would have been any more observant without the heter (lenient ruling), or whether many of us would simply have continued to drive with or without it. I do think that the Conservative Movement, has, by and large, not had much success in cultivating an observant laity. For the record, as a person who schleps to shul on Shabbos by subway, I don't consider myself observant. As some of my commenters have pointed out, I pick and choose my observances as much as the next Conservative Jew.

I'm going to try to read the Rabbinical Assembly teshuvah re egalitarianism between phone calls and assignments.

Thu Sep 02, 11:52:00 AM 2010  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

If you want to see an interesting discussion which is a good example as to why, institutionally, conservative judaism is losing any ability to distinguish itself from reform, check out the recent post on stam yenaim at Jewschool. It's perhaps the best example of the continuing secularization of CJ I've ever seen.

Thu Sep 02, 11:58:00 AM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Well, I somehow managed to plow through the egalitarianism teshuvah between answering and making phone calls and typing memos. Whew! If I remember half of it, I'm lucky. Here's the Hillel version (standing on one foot), as best I can remember and understand:

*. Some Committee on Law and Standards members posit that the most ancient sources of halachah/Jewish religious law do *not* indicate that women were different from men in their obligation to pray, that these later rulings are minhag (custom) and can be overruled.

*. Some say that a takana (special ruling necessitated by circumstances?) can be made acknowledging women's equal obligation in prayer.

*. Some say that a women can be counted equally if she accepts the obligation, on an individual basis, to pray at specific times.

*. Some say that, in these egalitarian times, most of the community simply assumes that women's obligation to pray at specific times is equal, and that this makes all women eligible for counting in a minyan.

It sure beats being considered a perpetual child. I have a real problem with the notion that a boy young enough to be my grandchild is higher in halachic status that I am, simply because he will, eventually, grow up to be obligated to observe all time-bound mitzvot/commandments, and I will not (according to Orthodox interpretations of halachah).

Thu Sep 02, 04:12:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

TOTJ Steve, I'm not sure "secularization" is the word I'd use. Personally, I agree that there are issues of mutual respect involved in the Stam Yeinam and Bishul Yisrael rules, as I said here.

Thu Sep 02, 05:27:00 PM 2010  

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