Monday, May 13, 2019

Kabbalat Shabbat experiment #1, part 2: A non-Orthodox Jewish identity crisis?

Start with part 1, if you haven't already read it.

The guitar was a problem, but I felt that a more important problem with the Kabbalat Shabbat service we attended this past Friday was the rabbi's attitude.

The subject of our study session that evening was holiness, in honor of parshat ha-shavuah (the Torah reading of the week), Kedoshim.  And one of the questions that the rabbi asked us to discuss was, "How have you experienced a sense of holiness in your life?"  Yet, every time a person mentioned that they'd felt a sense of holiness when praying or enjoying holiday experiences with others who shared their Jewish heritage, with its practices, traditions, and customs, the rabbi would immediately temper that statement by emphasizing how wonderful it was that the group in the room was so diverse, and how that diversity might also engender a feeling of holiness.  The rabbi even said, if my husband and I remember correctly, "Our families are mixed, and isn't that wonderful?"

Yes, many Jewish families are "mixed"--among the non-Orthodox, intermarriage is rampant--but what's so wonderful about that?

I haven't seen enough evidence to say definitively that this is a trend, but I have observed a few signs among some left-wing non-Orthodox congregations that the willingness to differentiate between Jews and non-Jews might be weakening.  I checked the membership requirements of several New York City non-Orthodox synagogues online, and was dismayed to see that two of them didn't even require applicants for membership to be Jews by anyone's definition (meaning that neither of their parents was Jewish and they hadn't undergone a Jewish conversion of any kind).  Traditionally, one way to ensure that all members of a synagogue were Jewish was to ask them for their Hebrew (or Yiddish or Ladino) names on the application.  But these two synagogues made it clear that they didn't care whether applicants for synagogue membership were Jewish or not--one shul even included "Not Jewish" as a "Religious Identity" description on their application form.

Since I'm a non-Orthodox Jew who loves Jewish holy days, worship, and rituals, I would hate to think that non-Orthodox Judaism might cease being a religion and become little more than a Jewish-flavored social club.

For a related discussion, I recommend that you listen to Rabbi Ethan Tucker's "Open House or Members Night?  Whom To Invite to the Seder." 

September 22, 2019 update:
It occurred to me that, in fairness, I should link to my related Wednesday, August 28, 2019 post, Trying to navigate a changed Jewish landscape, part 2

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