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Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads

Pulse of the People

Wed. Aug 29, 2007

Next week Arnold Eisen will be officially installed as the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship educational institution. While Eisen’s appointment as Conservative Judaism’s new de facto head has sparked a great deal of excitement, he will be inheriting a movement widely perceived as being adrift.

Conservative Judaism, once America’s largest Jewish denomination, is now second in size to the Reform movement. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, only 33% of congregationally affiliated American Jews identified with Conservative Judaism, down from 43% a decade earlier. Indeed, JTS’s outgoing chancellor, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, described Conservative Judaism in his 2006 commencement address as suffering from “malaise” and a “grievous failure of nerve.”

Is Conservative Judaism suffering from malaise? If so, what is the nature of the problem? And how should Conservative Jews steer their ship into the future? The Forward invited prominent Conservative leaders and some outside observers to weigh in on these questions.

David Wolpe

Covenantal Judaism. That is our philosophy and should be our name. Renaming heralds our rejuvenation. We believe in an ongoing dialogue with God. Not everything significant has already been said, nor is the modern world uniquely wise. Our task goes beyond mere clarification of the old or reflexive reverence for the new. As with a friendship, we cherish the past but are not limited to its formulations or assumptions. Venerating the teachings of Maimonides does not negate that tomorrow, with the tools of modern study, a new Rambam may arise. The Judaism of relationship. Covenantal Judaism. Such is our creed, our dogma, our gift.

Covenantal Judaism holds aloft the ideal of dialogue with God, with other Jews of all movements, and with the non-Jewish world. In holding each of these as sacred we stand in a unique position in Jewish life. Ritual is language, part of the way we speak to other Jews and to God. Learning, ancient and modern, is essential to sustain the eternal dialogue. “I have been given the power,” said the Kotzker Rebbe, “to resurrect the dead. But I choose a harder task — to resurrect the living!” Resurrection of passion, of faith, of community requires not the touch of the Divine, but the touch of another human being.

Together we stand at the mountain and receive the Torah. We dare not permit it to turn into a fossilized faith or a sacrifice to the seductions of modernity. The Zohar teaches that we are children from the chamber of yearnings. All of Judaism is part of our conversation. Brit, covenant, holds together our history and our destiny.

Rabbi David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author of several books.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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reassessing direction and focus. The renewal of Conservative Judaism is particularly important. Jews living in freedom need a spectrum of religious alternatives if maximum numbers are to remain creatively Jewish. Conservative Judaism must remain as a viable “center” of that spectrum. It must represent the option of being both traditionally Jewish as well as modern. Its adherents must continue to serve as the core of Jewish communal institutions and of pro-Israel affinity groups. Its members and ideology must serve as a bulwark on behalf of Jewish peoplehood in an era of rampant individualism.

Conservative Judaism’s institutional renaissance will require:

1) Proactively seeding Conservative congregations in areas of demographic growth

2) Creating incentives for a higher percentage of Conservative rabbis to serve in Conservative pulpit positions

3) Forging a feeling of revitalization and optimism within the halls of JTS, the University of Judaism, as well as within all other movement institutions

4) Encouraging intensity in local congregational life for Jews who want to engage meaningfully in adult and youth Torah study, diversity of prayer experiences, in acts of loving kindness, and in social justice and environmental responsibility

5) Forging a sense of being a world movement by prioritizing the growth of Masorti Judaism in Israel as well as in Europe, Latin America, the FSU and other Diaspora communities

6) Nurturing a “pioneering spirit” among Conservative rabbinical, cantorial and educational students, sending them systematically to serve in emerging as well as isolated Conservative communities

7) Engaging non-pulpit and retired rabbis in part-time opportunities for service to this renewal of the movement

8) Restoring the perception of being a pluralistic (“big tent”) movement in which creativity is welcome both on the left and on the right of the centrist component of the Jewish religious spectrum

Rabbi Alan Silverstein is a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly and of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues.

David Shneer

I have plenty of friends and relatives who belong to Conservative synagogues (my parents included), but I know very few people, particularly younger Jews, who walk into Conservative synagogues with a sense of passion for Judaism. Why do so many American Jews find Conservative Judaism uninspiring? Perhaps because the movement does not foster in its leaders something that has fostered the dramatic recent growth of some other streams of Judaism such as Chabad — a deep sense of spiritual calling and mission.

Chabad rabbis spend their lives in places most Conservative rabbis would not choose to live — rural towns in Iowa, rowdy college campuses and desolate cities in the Russian Far East. Why? Because Chabad rabbis see their kiruv work, bringing other Jews closer to “true” Judaism, as part of a profound spiritual mission. Chabadniks live frugally, work hard and, for better or worse, hold little self-doubt that they are doing God’s work. They project a confidence and charisma that is often lacking in mainstream synagogues.

Conservative rabbis are trained to be educators, service leaders and experts in Jewish law. Most exude intellectual rigor, a passion for ritual and a desire to teach and learn with their congregations. But for many

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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Conservative clergy, the spiritual side of their job only comes out in pastoral care, which treats the soul as something needing to be healed, not elevated. Important work, to be sure, but not something that necessarily draws people in. Pulpit rabbis (an odious term that shows how mainstream Judaism has aped its Protestant counterparts) become CEOs of synagogues, appointed by boards of donors and charged with communal operations, moving yet further away from the spirit. Perhaps if Conservative Judaism spent more time allowing its rabbis to cultivate their own spirit and personal charisma, more of them would see what they do less as a job and more as a calling, and more Jews would approach Conservative shuls with passion.

David Shneer is director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver and author, most recently, of “New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora” (NYU Press, 2005).

Scott A. Shay

Chancellor Arnold Eisen is a first-rate scholar, a creative thinker and possesses what seems to me to be boundless energy. I cannot contain my enthusiasm for his appointment. However, the risk in his appointment is that the leadership of the Conservative movement will conclude that they have made their bold move and can go back to business as usual. The reality is that the Conservative movement and its underlying assumptions and operations must be re-imagined for the movement to return to its past strength. To accomplish this a whole new cadre of lay and professional leadership needs to join Chancellor Eisen throughout the national and regional levels of United Synagogue and perhaps through other organs of the movement. The goal should be a total turnover of incumbent leadership over a two- to three-year period to a new group of energized grassroots leaders. This should be accomplished with kavod, compassion, but urgency as well.

In my view, the future of the Conservative movement will depend on transforming it into a series of mini-movements bound by practice and closely attuned to its constituent members. Theological differences should be consigned to boundary issues.

In the 20th century, both the Reform and Orthodox movements experienced periods in which their membership fell to less than 10% of American Jewry. In response the Reform movement jettisoned its Pittsburgh Platform and has replaced it with an umbrella concept. Likewise, Orthodoxy’s unexpected strong revival came because of a willingness to include more diversity in very different senses and due to a sharp focus on day-school education. If the Conservative movement does not revitalize itself, it will fall to third place among the movements within 10 years.

Scott A. Shay is the author of “Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry” (Devora, 2007).

Douglas Rushkoff

The best thing Conservative Judaism can do is return to its true and evermore urgently needed competence as the “brains” of this religion. That’s right: I see Conservatives as the nerds of Judaism in the best sense — the people who actually read Torah, understand it, and thoughtfully apply its teachings to their daily lives in the quest to make the world a better place. It’s the hardest of the paths, along with Reconstructionism, because it requires individuals and communities to wrestle with the text themselves, and confront legend and law from the bottom up. Conservatives are unique in Judaism because they are required to be literate, but not required to obey. This makes them uniquely qualified to shepherd Judaism’s continuing evolution through contentious times.

If Conservatives surrender, as did their sister movements, to the seemingly pressing but ultimately transient matters of racial fidelity and international politics, they will have abandoned the true calling of this movement, and left the rest of Judaism to flounder.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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Douglas Rushkoff is the author of “Nothing Sacred: The Case for Open Source Judaism” (Three Rivers Press,

2004).

Jay Michaelson

Outgoing chancellor Schorsch was right that Conservative Judaism is suffering from malaise, but 180 degrees wrong on the remedy. For Schorsch, wissenschaft remains the answer: more rational, moral Jewish thinking and sober textual reading. But American religion today — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and otherwise — is not about rationality.

First, we live in an age of terror and unprecedented change, and the religions that are responding effectively to those conditions are the ones which get us in our kishkes — in the non-rational, spiritual, primal, mythic and even mystical aspects of ourselves.

Second, American Jews today are pragmatists: They want what works. Meditation works; serious, lively text study works (for educated elites, anyway); drum circles work; spirituality works. Rattle-your-jewelry Judaism, old clichés about antisemitism and Israel, and the sober, boring conventionality of much of Conservative Judaism just doesn’t work. Nor do dead theologies and dogmas which no one believes anymore.

Finally, the Conservative movement spent so much energy worrying about whether gays could be good Jews that they forgot to ask why anyone would want to be. Now it needs to ask, “What do we provide that nothing else does?” The answer isn’t community, ethics or culture; Jews can get those elsewhere. But the spark of divinity, the charge of holiness, the power of myth — these are treasures that we can’t get anywhere else. We just have to dare to embrace them.

Jay Michaelson is the director of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture and Spirituality and a professor at Boston University Law School.

Naomi Levy

The Conservative movement needs to send out an army. We must plant 50 new spiritual communities across America with the mission of reaching out to unaffiliated and disaffected Jews. I say spiritual communities because I am not referring to synagogues or havurot.

We need rabbinically led experimental communities. We need to offer training and seed money to rabbis who want to be shotlim, planters of new spiritual communities. Shotlim will start outreach services to welcome the unaffiliated, interfaith and disaffected. These services will take place in non-traditional, non-threatening settings that are more conducive to participation than passivity. Shotlim must be encouraged to experiment and fail and ultimately uncover what works, knowing all the time they are supported by their movement.

Under Arnold Eisen’s leadership we have a unique opportunity and a holy obligation to spread the transformational message of Conservative Judaism. We can inspire Jews with high-level learning, soulful prayer and a Judaism that challenges them to turn their deepest prayers into acts of kindness and social responsibility. We must infuse them with a sense of mission, purpose and meaning.

It doesn’t take much money to plant a new spiritual community. But it does take vision: a belief that Conservative Judaism is ready to grow, not just tread water. A faith that we have something unique to say to the world — a message of tolerance, relevance, intellectual honesty, justice and deep soulfulness. A dream that our movement can move beyond its insular hand-wringing and inspire Jews to wrestle with our texts and then struggle to heal our world.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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Rabbi Naomi Levy is the spiritual leader of the Los-Angeles-based Nashuva: A Soulful Community of Prayer in Action and author of “Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle, and Celebration” (Knopf, 2002).

Harold Kushner

I don’t believe the Conservative movement is mired in a malaise. What I see is an adjustment from being the movement of choice for much of the 20th century — the moderate alternative to the extremes of Reform and Orthodoxy — to a movement that has less appeal to a new generation of Jews.

But in terms of internal Conservative dynamics, the problem I see is that there have always been two Conservative movements vying for legitimacy. There was the Conservatism of the academy, of Zechariah Frankel, Solomon Schechter and Louis Ginzberg, which insisted that the traditional halachic process contained within itself mechanisms for keeping up to date as times changed. Then there was the Conservatism of the street and synagogue, hundreds of thousands of Jews who had never heard of Frankel and assumed Schechter was the wealthy donor of the local day school, but saw themselves engaged in an ongoing effort to be fully Jewish and fully American at the same time, recognizing that this called for frequent compromises on one side or the other. I once defined a Conservative Jew as someone who knew that Tu B’Shevat fell on February 3 and the Super Bowl would be played on February 11, and planned to celebrate both occasions.

That is why I have high hopes for the revitalization of the Conservative movement under Arnold Eisen, who is a learned Jew but one whose background is essentially in Jewish community more than in Jewish text.

Rabbi Harold Kushner is rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Mass., and the author of several best-selling books.

Elie Kaunfer

Labels are useful only to the extent they describe something specific. For decades, “Conservative Judaism” has not been a useful label. Observe Shabbat until noon on Saturday? A Conservative Jew. Walk three miles to synagogue? A Conservative Jew. Think God wrote the Torah? A Conservative Jew. Don’t believe in God? Also, a Conservative Jew.

Bemoaning the decline of Conservative Judaism misses the point. This decline is a problem for the survival of Conservative institutions that are supported primarily by brand loyalty. But if the true mission of Conservative Judaism is to foster an engaged and empowered Jewish community with a commitment to Torah and mitzvot, declining affiliation may actually be positive. It signals an age in which Jews care enough about their expression of Judaism to resist an ill-defined label.

What is the role for Conservative institutions in this new reality? Three suggestions: Lose the “Label yourself Conservative” mentality. Try instead: We encourage Jews to seek meaningful, empowered engagement with Judaism. Wherever that leads, we trust them, even if it is outside the Conservative menu of options.

Embrace the free market. If brand loyalty is waning, only the best Conservative institutions will survive. While restructuring is painful, it should result in vibrant organizations that attract people through quality programs.

Don’t fear “splitting the movement.” No use pretending Conservative Judaism is unified, so why encourage everyone to share a big-box tag? Differentiation will allow Jews to make clearer choices about which organizations to connect to.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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Conservative Judaism as a brand is weakening. But an empowered, expressive Judaism that reflects certain values of Conservative Judaism is on the rise. If Conservative institutions adjust to this reality, they may have much to offer 21st-century Jews.

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is executive director of Mechon Hadar in New York.

Judith Hauptman

Sabbath morning services in Conservative synagogues are attracting fewer and fewer regular attendees. Many find the services boring and don’t show up. What can be done?

JTS trains future rabbis and cantors, but as of now it does not give them the opportunity, during their long years of study, to figure out how to run engaging services. Most students flee JTS on Shabbat morning to pray elsewhere. If, as suggested by the incoming dean of the Rabbinical School, JTS services are turned over to the students — breaking the decades-old tradition of faculty control — future rabbis and cantors will devise ways of making them

a draw. Recent JTS graduates have done exactly that a little to the south.

Now that JTS is no longer the northernmost outpost of Jewish life on the Upper West Side, because high-rise buildings are springing up farther and farther uptown, the institution is poised to become a center of new Jewish life. Here lies an incredible opportunity.

JTS can model Shabbat for the leaders and laity of the movement. Students can keep experimenting until they find out what works. After services, everyone can join for lunch, and after lunch, for Torah lessons. Let people come together on Shabbat to pray, study, shmooze, socialize, sing and eat. On the East Side, too, the Jewish Museum,

a JTS affiliate, could host the same kinds of Shabbat programs, offering art in the afternoon instead of text study. Will Jews of all ages show up? I have reason to believe that if you offer it, they will come.

Rabbi Judith Hauptman is a professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the founder of Ohel Ayalah, a free, walk-in High Holiday service for young Jews.

David Ellenson

The notion that “malaise” grips the Conservative movement strikes me as overstated. While membership is admittedly smaller, larger percentages of Conservative congregants display increasingly greater commitments to traditional Jewish practices and educational standards. The major educational institutions of the movement — Ramah camps, the Schechter day schools, JTS and Ziegler — are robust. If the movement is becoming “leaner,” one can also argue that it is becoming “meaner.”

However, all this success only underscores the particular challenges that confront the movement. The emergence of Modern Orthodox Judaism and an eclectic reconnection with tradition in liberal religious precincts have subverted the monopoly Conservative Judaism formerly possessed on arriving at a “proper balance” between “tradition and modernity.” Furthermore, while all the movements have to confront the reality of an American Jewish community where there are record numbers of intermarried and unaffiliated Jews, for a movement as connected to Jewish folk patterns as the Conservative movement has been, these demographic changes present

a special problem for they have exposed the tensions implicit in the twin ideological foundations upon which Conservative Judaism is constructed — fidelity to Jewish law and devotion to “Catholic Israel.”

Reconciling commitment to Halacha with the individualism that characterizes contemporary American Jews is not easily achieved. Nevertheless, the need for the Conservative Judaism to succeed in galvanizing a non-fundamentalistic and egalitarian commitment to commandment and community on the part of American Jews

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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who remain in need of meaning and structure constitutes the greatest contribution the Conservative movement can yet make to American Jewish life.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Menachem Creditor

The deepest teacher to call the Conservative movement home was Abraham Joshua Heschel, who prescribed the medicine required for rediscovering a dynamic Conservative movement. He wrote: “To understand the meaning of the problem and to appreciate its urgency, we must keep alive in our reflection the situation of stress and strain in which it came to pass… and the necessity of confronting and being preoccupied with it.”

We, the inheritors of a Conservative Movement which has allowed itself to become more institutionally conservative than personally moving in recent decades, have spent enough time complaining about what is. It is time to confront where we are, armed with a surging hope for what can be.

We must see the birth of healthy movemental communication. The Web sites and publications of our core institutions represent fragmented visions of the whole at best. Where are the Conservative Jewish ArtScrolls and Aish.com’s we so desperately need? Our institutions have begun the process of sharing the conversation, but that simply isn’t enough. There needs to be a groundswell of organizing around the core ideas of Conservative Judaism, in a conversation of parity including clergy and lay leaders.

Our progressive/halachic blend can be both seductive and compelling, and our decisions should be celebrated as steps forward. Egalitarianism and gay inclusion must be markers for pride, fulfilling the traditional dream of traditional Judaism to stretch and include. If we believe in Conservative Judaism, we must sing about it from rooftops, advertising our particular brand of faith as a redemptive experience.

The “middle road” can also lead to God. We just need to decide it’s our destination.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor is rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif.; founder of ShefaNetwork.org: The Conservative Movement Dreaming from Within, and co-founder of Keshet Rabbis: The Alliance of Gay-Friendly Conservative Rabbis.

Elliot Cosgrove

Pundits of American Jewry are oddly fixated on proclaiming the imminent demise of Conservative Judaism. Dismissed as an ephemeral product of mid-20th-century sociology, America’s once-largest Jewish denomination is repeatedly characterized as bereft of purpose and short on self-confidence. As the Jewish Theological Seminary enters a new era under Arnold Eisen, we would all do well to consider if the core values upon which Conservative Judaism was founded and continues to be infused by remain compelling for contemporary Jewish life.

With religious discourse increasingly polarized between fundamentalism and secular atheism, Conservative Judaism insists on a reasoned faith that pulls at both the head and the heart.

In a time when the single most shared experience of American Jewry is a college education, Conservative Judaism continues to position itself at the intersection of the worlds of critical scholarship and religious faith.

As the religious and social chasms among Jews, both here and in Israel, grow ominously wider, Conservative Judaism consistently places klal yisrael, concern for the well being of the entire Jewish community, at the forefront of its agenda.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

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In a world where Jews are increasingly called upon to understand the claims of their particular faith in the context of a common humanity, Conservative Judaism strives to formulate a message that celebrates the distinctive contribution of the Jewish community within a pluralistic society.

Finally, as the confrontation between personal autonomy and rabbinic authority grows ever more acute, Conservative Judaism boldly faces the issues of our time, seeking a synthesis between the permanent values of tradition and the needs of the hour.

To be fair, Conservative Judaism cannot lay sole claim to the above values, nor do we have a perfect track record in communicating them throughout our movement. Indeed, as we enter this new era, our profile, internal structures and perhaps even our name may need to be reconsidered. Nevertheless, we should not confuse changing tactics with enduring values. It is the degree to which Conservative Judaism stays true to its proud mandate that will ensure our lasting, if not increasing, relevance in the years ahead.

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, a rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, is a doctoral candidate in modern Jewish thought at the University of Chicago.

Wed. Aug 29, 2007

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Comments

Jonathan Naiman said:

This survey is a perfect demonstration of why the Conservative movement is disappearing. These "rabbis" and "educators" attempt to sound inspiring and eloquent, but there is no substance to their constant flow of empty catch phrases and buzzwords.

Judaism is about learning Torah, keeping Mitzvot (commandments), teaching oneself to love and fear God and do His will. Please, anyone reading this, pick up a translation of the "Shema" and observe that what is asked of us as Jews is to love God with all our heart and soul, wear tefillin, tzitzit, put up mezuzahs, learn God's Torah and teach it to our children, having God's Torah and mitzvot in our thoughts all day long.

No one ever wants to admit they made a mistake. But it is clear that Conservative "leaders" have seduced a third of American Jewry with their pseudo-intellectual approach. They have fed on the ignorance of generations that have not had the luxury of their fathers teaching them the Torah.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Hopefully, those on the sidelines observing the decline and disappearance of movements that continue to ignore the message of the "Shema" will be able to put aside their own egos for a moment, as well as the slanders put out by well-meaning lashon hara machines such as the Forward, seek out a traditional Rabbi and explore the beauty and depth of Judaism rooted in the Torah.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

flatbushjlo said:

Why couldn't the Forward find any Orthodox voices to add to this conversation?

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Dan Levin said:

Samuel Freedman was right; Reform and Conservative Judaism are moving towards each other. JTS needs to accept candidates who actually want to serve as congregational rabbis and not just sit in the JTS library and debate Talmud. Many congregations cannot afford the salaries for rabbis that USCJ mandates. My wife and I like the emphasis on Hebrew in Conservative services but prefer the shortened Friday night services in Reform synagogues. Most modern younger Jews want breezy services, music, humorous and poignant sermons. On Shabbat evening, they want to learn a little Torah. On Shabbat afternoon they want to play tennis or go to a restaurant for lunch. Most Jews want to find meaning in their lives and in the world but don't want a lot of rules.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Howard Wohl said:

It is interesting, that even before the new Chancellor's seat is warm, many observers are expressing doubts about his chances for success. Normally, we allow new leaders to have at least a short 'honeymoon,' but one writer has already pronounced non-Orthodox Judaism as irrelevant and the Chancellor as, in essence, DOA. What I've learned, if anything, is that organizations require strong leadership which provides strategic direction and i nstills hope among its stakeholders. The Conservati ve movement has been begging for this type of leader who can breathe renewed life in an organization that has lost its way. Everyone I speak with is enthusiastic about the new chancellor, his wisdom and open-mindedness and the potential he provides. There are a number of tangible recommendations that have been offered. Among these is greater connectivity among the various arms of the Conservative movement, better and stronger communications and direction from the leadership, as well as an understanding that, as with other professions, the Conservative rabbinate needs to be continually refreshed with new ideas and new directions. North American Jewry live in a contradictory great/difficult environment, brought on by acceptance, unlimited choices and freedom from physical threats to our community. In these times, the new Chancellor needs to rekindle the emotional spark that will motivate our community to reconnect and find common bonds.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Dave said:

Having a reform-like movement with longer services is not going to attract too many people.

Anyhow you forgot the part about Conservative Judaism dying out demographically.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

David Sternlight said:

"I will make of you a nation of priests" Hashem "Es ist schwer tzu zein a Yid" My Zayda, Judah Sternlicht, o"h

As long as the Conservative movement resists communicating these two principles, it will continue to struggle. "What you resist, persists."

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

David Sternlight said:

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

"I will make of you a nation of priests" Hashem "Es ist schwer tzu zein a Yid" My Zayda, Judah Sternlicht, o"h

As long as the Conservative movement resists communicating these two principles, it will continue to struggle. "What you resist, persists."

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

David Sternlight said:

"I will make of you a nation of priests" Hashem "Es ist schwer tzu zein a Yid" My Zayda, Judah Sternlicht, o"h

As long as the Conservative movement resists communicating these two principles, it will continue to struggle. "What you resist, persists."

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Mayy2kbaby said:

The ultimate question is why do we need a Conservative Jewish movement? Is it relevant to the 21st century? The answer is clear, as evidenced in the declining membership, the reduction of hours of Jewish education etc. We don't!

As Michael Steinhardt and other have suggestd, the Jewish community can best be served by a non-denominational movement that would be formed by the merger of Reform and Conservative Jewish institutions. It would also save a lot of money to have only 2 institutions, on each coast training Rabbis for non denominational congregations. It would also end the facade of a Conservative synagogue, that if successful looks and feels a lot like a Reform congregation. Let's stop kidding ourselves and make the reality on the ground equal to the national institutions.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Mayy2kbaby said:

The ultimate question is why do we need a Conservative Jewish movement? Is it relevant to the 21st century? The answer is clear, as evidenced in the declining membership, the reduction of hours of Jewish education etc. We don't!

As Michael Steinhardt and other have suggestd, the Jewish community can best be served by a non-denominational movement that would be formed by the merger of Reform and Conservative Jewish institutions. It would also save a lot of money to have only 2 institutions, on each coast training Rabbis for non denominational congregations. It would also end the facade of a Conservative synagogue, that if successful looks and feels a lot like a Reform congregation. Let's stop kidding ourselves and make the reality on the ground equal to the national institutions.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

nieciedo said:

flatbushjlo:

"Why couldn't the Forward find any Orthodox voices to add to this conversation?"

Maybe because this conversation is about CONSERVATIVE Judaism?

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Steve said:

Anyone who has attended a Ramah camp, USY Pilgrimage, USY on Wheels, and so on, knows what Conservative Judaism has to offer: it is community, lived and experienced uncompromisingly Jewishly, that is joyful and vibrant. But as several observers, including JTS's own Neil Gillman, have pointed out, Ramahniks return to their home synagogues only to find out that the brand of Judaism they experienced at camp doesn't exist there. Judith Hauptman has the right gist of it: the Conservative Movement needs to be about empowering Jews with the knowledge and appreciation of halacha, but also about providing the environment to allow the full expression of that knowledge in participation in exploration and ritual. As the examples of Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and the other "ba'al tsuvah" organizations have demonstrated, the Movement doesn't need to compromise on standards to attract adherents; Jews will respond to the challenge of living observantly if given the tools and environment to experience that life in a meaningful and joyful way. A synagogue-based movement that is driven, top-down, by rabbis and cantors, won't thrive. An open Movement, committed to halacha, education, and empowerment, will.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

lbenjdale said:

The 800-pound gorilla sitting unacknowledged in the middle of this debate is the demographic one -- the aging of Conservative Jewish congregants. The "movement," if we can still call i t one, shrinks because it has failed to engage subsequent generations. In all likelihood current, aging members stay out of habit but their children have mostly gone elsewhere, either to the left or the right.

With the acceptance of a gay rabbinate and the green light to perform gay commitment ceremonies the only domino left to fall that separates the Conservative from the Reform movement is that of intermarriage. When that falls -- and the question is not if but when -- there will be no practical difference between the movements. Then shared ideas and the inefficiencies of maintaining two sets of seminaries will force a merger for both ideological and economic reasons.

Neither Arnie Eisen nor anyone else is going to reverse that inevitability. Eisen might have come to praise Conservative Judaism but as a practical matter he also has come to bury it.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Avi Linden said:

As an active member of a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem, I would ask the new Chancellor of JTS to emulate the excellent practice of HUC and mandate all students at JTS to spend one of their years of study in Israel as an integral part of their training. Not only will this strengthen their ties to Israel, but also show them that there are Jews outside of North America.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Avraham YD Eisen said:

I'm seeing a lot of points being made in the article about improving upon and increasing the number of rabbis cantors,etc. While this is nice, what about the laity?

In Neil Gillman's "Conservative Judaism, a New Century" he says that the people who understand Conservative Judaism only make up 15% of the people who call themselves Conservative Jews. My feeling is that the majority of this 15% is among the Jewish Professionals. The rest of us need to know how to struggle with our Jewish values within our current professions, as the laity of the movement.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

not covered in a haze of half-understood midrash. If we can extract the word “conservative” from the political gutter, so be it, but what we really want is Conscious Judaism. As for degree of orthodoxy, reforming, or reconstructing we require, we shall decide for ourselves—and change our minds regularly. But give us a house where we can explore and share our love of the words in a community of men, women, and children similarly engaged—and a rabbinate that is up to the job--and we’ll come out from the woodwork to build you a shul, and help rebuild a seminary.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

r lee smith said:

The Conservative movement has a somewhat unique opportunity to apply the great insights of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov who said, “ I will show you a new way to the Creator - not through speech, but through song! Let us sing and Heaven will understand us." The Conservative Cantors, now increased by more than 50% through the inclusion of committed passionate talented women, have the motivation and the skill to soar to Heaven and lead us all with them. Nowhere have I experienced this effect more vividly then in some Conservative shuls. The Cantorial solos and group harmonies, intermixed and properly presented cannot be matched in any other movement in my opinion. It can’t be done with "men only” representing our communities and rapidly davening through the service, it can’t be done with abbreviated services and guitars to entertain the observers in the pews, and it can’t be done by the average well meaning and somewhat knowledgeable congregant. But with authentic text and creative nusach, with Cantorial knowledge combined with commitment to Conservative Judaism, informed group participation and involvement can occur every Shabbat and Yom Tov, and services can become something special and inspiring. Music plays such an important role in so much of what we do but in Judaism we seem to have too often ignored it or relegated it to our kids and Kabbalat Shabbat and Havdalah at Camp Ramah and the like, and it is too often not an adequate part of our normal Synagogue experience. I note that the word Rabbi comes up 30 times in the article above and the word Cantor only 3. No Cantor or leader in the Jewish music scene was quoted when they have so much they could have added. This omission reflects too much of what I see in the Conservative movement. Tr ue kavanah created among all the community when lead by a talented and dedicated Cantor cannot be matched by study, lectures and learning alone, in my opinion, but can provide the matrix in which learning and commitment to halacha can and will flourish.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Howard Hyman said:

As long as Conservative Judaism follows the death spirals of Reform Judaism, with its feckless political correctness, and secular basis; as long as Conservative Judaism follows the Golden Calf Jews and Clerical Error "rabbis" who validate gay anal sex and mock marriage as Halachically permitted, they do NOT deserve to exist. They are only leading Israel, Jews and Judaism to their destruction. Thank the Almighty that we have a strengthening of Orthodox Judaism, including Chabad. They are the future, and will be the survivors.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Howard Hyman said:

In the conservative movement's OWN survey, it was disclosed that OVER ONE-THIRD of Conservative Rabbis do not believe that ANY part of the Torah is the word of G-d, and that NONE of Torah was even inspired by G-d. Obviously, modern Conservative Judaism has NO STANDARDS as to who it will ordain. With such a core of twisted fools, Conservative Judaism does not deserve to exist. Reform Judaism is the exit, and Conservative Judaism is the exit ramp.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Howard Hyman said:

It is QUITE TELLING that the new head of Conservative Judaism, Mr. Eisen isn't even a Rabbi, but is an academic. Why bother having a Torah in a Conservative shul? A Golden Calf would be more apropos.

Thu. Aug 30, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

As an active member of a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem, I would ask the new Chancellor of JTS to emulate the excellent practice of HUC and mandate all students at JTS to spend one of their years of study in Israel as an integral part of their training. Not only will this strengthen their ties to Israel, but also show them that there are Jews outside of North America.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Howard Wohl said:

Perhaps some day Jews will choose to engage in conversation with other Jews instead of insulting them or, at best, hectoring them. We need not spend ink or our energies debating who is 'more' right in their Judaism. That is to say, unless you prefer to see only a 'pure' remnant of World Jewry remaining.

There are, of course, Jews who are so holy that they cannot accept the existence of the State of Israel. I would like to believe that most of American Jewry wants to remain engaged Jewishly, even if only on terms that inspire them. That is the challenge we face. We can all push forward with a notion of Clal Yisrael, or we c an pull our people apart. The Rabbis warn us that this type of mindless hatred brings on disaster. I suggest for now, that the self-righteous among you choose either to be part of the discussion or sit on the sidelines.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Art Fell said:

They are all right. All of the commentators have valid points. Arnold Eisen should take the lead in re-vitalizing Conservative Judaisim.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Daniel Schwartz said:

Is douglass rushkoff for real? Does she really think that it is conservative Judaism that carries the mantle of serious Torah scholarship and learning in the Jewish world? How many lay Conservative Jews regularly study Torah (i.e. the Bible, the Talmud and its cognate literature)? How many of them are able to do so in the original (i.e. can open a folio of the Talmud and read it in its origial Aramaic without the necessity of a translation)? What's the numbe when asking these question about Conservative rabbis? Contrast that with Orthodoxy, in its myriad forms. To the extent that Rushkoff represents one stream of Conservative Judaism, it should stop deluding itself.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Howard Hyman said:

WHY IS IT that the Conservative Jewish "leaders" are SO STRONG about legitimizing homosexual conduct (in direct conflict with Torah), yet are ABSOLUTELY silent right now about the muslim's destruction of our Temple Mount, as well as our denial of Jewish access virtually ALL of the Temple Mount and EVERY Jewish shrine and site, now controlled by the PLO muslims? Would involvement in matters of Judaism and Torah interfere with their latest "Tribute to Homosexuality Weekend?"

Inasmuch as the conservative rabbis don't believe in Hashem, and therefore have no need for the Torahs., maybe they could sell them on eBay or swap them for some nice Golden Calves. Imagine the money that could be earned, if the price of gold should continue to climb.

I attended conservative shuls for most of my life. As the esteemed conservative Rabbis were replaced by lightweights and clerical errors, I could see that there was NO PLACE for me or Torah i n conservative Judaism.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Al Lebeau said:

Now that Conservative Judaism is "reforming" itself, what's next? Will the new Rabbinate officiate at mixed marriages? Maybe in a few years they'll define mixed marriages as between species, as long as both are mammals. Now wonder Conservative Judaism is dying.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

Charnie Feldman said:

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Nothing in this article surprises me. From as far back as the '60's my perception of the Conservative movement was that of one without real meaning. Reform is upfront and honest about their beliefs (or lack thereof). The Conservative are like an ad agency constantly changing their marketing plans to try and catch the latest demographic findings for their product lines. One year it's "amending the Torah" to allow driving to synagogue, in another year it's trying to reach out to gays and lesbians. We all have a lot of inconsistencies in our lives, we'd like our religious beliefs to at least be something we can depend upon. Is it any wonder that young Jews today are not attracted to the Conservative movement, and are either going the unaffiliated or Orthodox routes?

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

R lee Smith said:

It's sad to see some posters using this forum as an opportunity to bash Conservative Judaism. The trouble with Conservative Judaism is not in it's principles but in it's lack of practitioners. If all affiliated Conservative Jews practiced Conservative Judaism, the world would be a much better place and the number of mitzvot would be greatly multiplied. So, my Orthodox friends, why not help us -- not attack us. Didn't Tisha B'Av teach you anything?

Shabbat Sholom

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Steven said:

If the Conservative movement thinks they can keep fooling Jews into believing they are not just reform with longer services then the movement is fooling itself. With the current rulings regarding ordination of gays and the sham they are making of the holy institution of a Jewish marriage, they have put the remaining nails in the coffin. A movement that doesn't have absolutes will not survive the test of time. A movement that professes to believe in the Torah and Halacha and where a significant percentage of it's clergy don't even believe the Torah was given by G-d, and that Halacha can be changed to suit it's whims is doomed. It's hard to inspire children when they know your a hypocrite. Either you believe it or you don't. The movement needs to be honest. Reform Judaism may servive because it is honest about it's lack of belief. They have replaced belief in Judaism with belief in secular liberalism. Liberalism is not only destroying our country but it is also destroying conservative Judaism. At this point there is no need to continue the farce and merge the two together.

Fri. Aug 31, 2007

Avi said:

To Avi Linden -

Most third year rabbinical students (although there are individual exceptions) and first year cantors study in Israel -- rabbis their 3rd year and cantors their 1st (which, like HUC, some -- not all -- of the cantors need as an "influx" of Judaism and basic traditional lifestyle).

However, I strongly agree with Steve: The experience of Ramah and USY have shown the potential for a vibrant and halakhically- committed Conservative Judaism. Unfortunately, many of the rabbis (and cantors) on the ground are either unwilling (the same JTS survey that showed that many clergy don't believe in the Torah as Divine or Divinely inspired) also showed a clergy that, while more observant than the laity and Jewish professionals, are not very observant (lights/driving/eating in non-kosher and non-vegetarian restaurants, albeit vegetarian, despite the halakhic problems that some -- not all -- of this entails). Too many clergy are either unwilling (because of their own lack of observance) or unable (because they feel -- often correctly, I must add -- that they will get fired) if they make the goal of a vibrant halakhically committed community one to strive for, and provide said tools.

Sat. Sep 01, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

After all this is about attracting membership. Bikinis would work.

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Now if its about Judaism then we are having a different discussion. The conservatives movements problem is the same as all non Orthodox movements. Their membership is undeducated and uncommitted. They see services as something to entertain them. As one of the people wrote people see services as boring.

If liberal Judaism is about being entertained, the Superbowl is more fun than services. A friday night at a club will always be more fun than

services followed by a Shabbat meal.

Orthodoxy's success hasn't been about entertaining people. It's been about seriously engaging people in a relationship with G-d. Something missing from every one of your commentators. It's that failure that has killed non Orthodox Judaism. Within a generation it will be gone.

Sat. Sep 01, 2007

R Lee smith said:

a substantial majority of the Jews I know, from the generation of my parents through the generation of my children, are not committed to

any Jewish movement. I don't think that's something any of us should be proud of. Intramovement striff and sniping simply serves to turn away more Jews. Unless all movements find ways to work together to bring Jews back into the fold, I'm afraid we are lost.

Shavua Tov

Sat. Sep 01, 2007

Calvin said:

Having been away all my adult life from the Judaism of my upbringing, I checked out the local Conservative synagogue for possible membership. Nice welcoming folks. The Friday evening services are trendy - as user friendly as any Reform temple. Shabbat morning is much more traditional and spiritual, which seems far more satisfying to me. "Interviewed" the rabbi by way of asking some questions about the synagogue and their support of Israel. He seemed very detached, analytical. Asked no questions at all about me, my life as a Jew, whether I might be interested in membership, etc. Just didn't seem interested. In observing him at various functions, he looks like a CEO consulting with the board members, and not at all involved with the "regular folks." I plan to attend some interesting events at this shul, but I see no reason to become a member.

Sat. Sep 01, 2007

Harold L. Greenberg said:

Dear Avi of the Masorti movement, the JTS already does have its student rabbis spend their third year of study in Israel; we had to give up our excellent student rabbi for the year because of this requirement.

Sat. Sep 01, 2007

R Lee Smith said:

Hi Calvin; Since emails aren't on this site, I have to respond in public. Your experience at services -- the davening etc -- is consistent with what I've found which is why I like Conservative shuls. I have also found some "old line" Rabbis to be unfortunately as you describe (in shuls of all denominations). The current generations of Rabbis seem much more approachable and interested in meeting congregants and new potential congregants, , inviting them to their homes, etc, generally much more people oriented. Rabbis come and go but Congregations ultimately set the style --- and in many congregations all members are invited to participate in charting the future of the congregation so don't give up but don't expect things to be handed to you on a platter. Attend, participate, volunteer, all go into building a congregation.

Sun. Sep 02, 2007

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

Daniel Schwartz said:

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Based on the above and the comments here, it seems that R. Samuel Belkin was right when he said "There are no Conservative Jews, just Conservative rabbis."

Sun. Sep 02, 2007

Evanston Jew said:

The Conservative movement would do much better if it would rename itself Not-So-Frum Orthodox. It would triumph if it would swallow its feminist conscience, institute some vague mechitzah and follow the model of Shira-Chadasha in Jerusalem. Male bonding, gossip and singing would go a long way to invigorate the services. Women would attend if the men found it interesting.

Sun. Sep 02, 2007

shaye eibe[word deleted]z said:

I would recommend Conservative rabbis once a year recommend to their congregants that they introduce young men and women, of whom they have knowledge, to one another.

Sun. Sep 02, 2007

Sephardiman said:

My family attended Conservative synagogues in Chicago and Indianapolis when I was growing up. Around the time I was Bar Mitzvahed I became dati and have been in the Orthodox Batei Knessot every since. That was almost 35 years ago.

In looking at many of the comments posted here, from my fellow Orthodox Jews, it is very clear that the majority of these posters really aren't the most informed on any of the "Liberal" Jewish denominations, including the Conservative movement. When I'm not working at my day job, at an inner city Chicago hospital, I teach in the religious schools of two suburban Conservative synagogues, so, as one Conservative poster here asked, I did stay around to help out.

That said I think the Conservative movement made many mistakes that got them where they are today but that doesn't mean they are irreversable and that Chancellor Eisen's proposals won't bear fruit down the road. I think a good start might be to end the compartmentalization that is very characteristic of Conservative congregations, much more than their Orthodox and Reform counterparts.

Mon. Sep 03, 2007

David S Levine said:

To paraphrase George C. Wallace, "There isn't a dime's worth of difference" between Reform Judaism and what Conservative Judaism is moving toward. At least Conservative Judaism should admit where it's going, go there and go out of business.

Mon. Sep 03, 2007

yidkid said:

Conservative Judaism, as it stands, is not a movement. For it to reclaim that, USCJ must be active, not passive. Conservative shuls are decelerating into a b'nei mitzvah factory that gives these 13-year-olds no reason to remain active participants. How to do this? For starters, make the synagogue a central part of the Jewish community, a place for prayer but also for much more. The 7 a.m. minyan won't draw in high school students and unaffiliated twentysomethings. Give them a reason to come to shul on a Tuesday night, and odds are they'll stick around for Shabbos.

Then, when Shabbos comes, celebrate the occasion. Elevate the day. Have a catered lunch in the shul, maybe target a different demographic each week (teens, twentysomethings, young marrieds, alte kockers). Right now, most Conservative Jews will go to the mall after shul, assuming they go at all. Think of a Shabbos-permissible board game or card game and have a tournament in the shul after

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

lunch. Start a book club that meets on Shabbos afternoon. Have a shiur that's hip but still about Judaism. Before you know it, it's time for mincha.

Most important: Everyone is not only welcome, but encouraged to attend. Conservative rabbis should not officiate at or even condone intermarriage, but they should still actively engage these people. Turn the synagogue into a full community center, where people can just drop in as they desire, with no large entrance fees and no judgment from the gatekeeper. Make synagogues fun places to socialize and people will come back to learn Torah, so long as it's engaging, not just top-down preaching. All of this can--and must--be done within the framework of halacha.

Second most important: USCJ needs a large, well-funded public relations arm. Good marketing can get people to do all sorts of things they don't intend to do--including a lot of foolish, expensive things. Just look at how many people drink bottled water.

Mon. Sep 03, 2007

yidkid said:

One more thing: JTS is an honorable institution, but it has to start teaching about more than Torah and Talmud. Rabbinical and cantorial students should be required to take a class on synagogue leadership.

Leaders must greet every new congregant. Smiling is mandatory. When the new guy comes back a second time, you absolutely must remember his name and give him more than a token wave. Leaders must be required to let everyone know what page number we're on. They should walk congregants through the service, elucidating very briefly on the meaning of, say, the Amidah. Finally, having a hazan for Shabbos should be mandatory. People want prayer that's engaging, not rote. Reform is engaging, but it's so untraditional it can hardly be considered prayer. Orthodox is rote; most of its congregants want just-the-facts prayer. Conservative should offer something that's traditional yet stimulating. If you want people to become awed and inspired by the Divine, you must start acting like it.

Some of this may sound obvious. But they are real problems that I have encountered at several Conservative shuls. I enter eager to join a community, but leave shaking my head in disbelief. It's little wonder why few people under age 60 attend Conservative shuls, and why Conservative Judaism is on life support.

Mon. Sep 03, 2007

Sephardiman said:

Yidkid-As to your suggestions for revitalizing Conservative Judaism, my NCSY (the Orthodox youth group) chapter in Indianapolis did everything you mentioned back in the 1970's. It was very successful and most of those Indy NCSY alumni continue to lead very active Jewish lives three decades later. I might add, that as a Chicagoland NCSY adviser in the 1980's I saw similar programming, that was matched with equal success.

At the Conservative synagogue in Northbrook, IL, where I teach 7th graders two nights a week, both the clergy and laity are very much in tune with the ideas your post promotes and are implementing them. I think that Bait Knesset will continue to be in a good place as a result of this foresight.

Tue. Sep 04, 2007

R Lee Smith said:

The last few posts set the framework for user friendly synagogues. A next step could be to truly engage the members and make optimum use of committed and talented Rabbis and Cantors. I am proposing is a shared bimah: Rabbi, Cantor and congregants. I think Rabbis should encourage and help congregants deal with the intellectual aspects of Torah, with hearing God's voice through study and analysis, and 50% of sermons should be given by committed congregants. Similarly Cantors should help those congregants with musical talents learn the intricacies of nusach and prayer and apply there talents and knowledge to leading 50% of services and help the congregation to speak to God. In addition all Rabbis and Cantors should be chosen from among those committed to leading a life of Conservative Judaism as well as having the appropriate professional skills. All congregants who participate should also be expected to sincerely struggle to rise along the ladder of halachic committment. This latter point is extremely important for a meaningful Conservative movement. Synagogue in the end need to be viewed as portals into Judaism, a Judaism of the individual, the family and the community. Living the life of a

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Conservative Jew needs to be emphasized and the existence of standards and goals needs to be made clear -- in a non threatening way, through the encouragement of the Rabbis and Cantors. The unique opportunity Conservative Judaism provides is the opportunities for full participation of all Jews, male and female, and the framework of participation in a relatively traditional and fully halachic based system that has the ability to change to apply halacha to the times, while still maintaining that at the core is a system of halachic obligations which we are all mandated to try to meet.

Tue. Sep 04, 2007

Charnie Feldman said:

This is a lasting memory exemplifies for me how the Conservative synagogues have messed up when they c ould have brought in new congregants.

A number of years ago, when I was just remotely becoming interested in Judaism (but not any particular denomination), I went to the Conservative synagogue on Yom Kippur (a major one in a boro of NYC), that my father ZT”L had helped to found. It was my desire to say Yiskor for him there. First a security guard stopped me to ask if I had a ticket. I ignored him, as I figured he’d been instructed to ask everyone about tickets. By the way, this was more than a decade before 9/11, which is to say, we weren’t so cautious yet). Then a man came out from the main sanctuary, wearing his tallis, and asked me the same question. I told him I only wanted to say Yiskor, and that my father was a founder, but he wouldn’t be budged. So I walked out, and went a few blocks to a YI, where no one at all questioned me. Perhaps if the conservative shul had been more interested in people then their money, they’d be in better shape today. Ironically, a young man relates a similar experience in Aish H’Torah’s film “Inspired”, so I was not alone to have this happen.

One final note, we have a friend who was teaching Talmud to Rabbinical Students from the UofJ in LA. His feeling about them was that any Orthodox Yeshiva boy in about 6th grade knew more then they did.

Tue. Sep 04, 2007

R Lee Smith said:

Charnie: There are friendly shuls and unfriendly shuls and I don't think it correlates with denomination. Most people I know who won't set foot in any shul have their own horror stories. Most of them involve Orthodox synagogues since in my y ounger days that was the main game in town. Untold thousands of Jews were turned off by what they experienced there. Many of them were brought back in by welcoming Conservative shuls. A big turn off for many, including myself, was the treatment of women in many Orthodox shuls. A lasting memory I have is of my grandfather, of blessed memory tipping his hat to a woman at my Bar Mitzvah as was his custom. A probably self appointed guardian of the faith standing near the front door (we had already left the building) told my grandfather, sir, you have to keep your head covered and are not allowed to tip your hat even an inch. Funny how I remember that isn't it -- the day of my Bar Mitzvah. Although I don't remember making a conscious decision, I think that was the last time I set foot in a synagogue for about 10 years. I'm glad you found a community that you felt comfortable in. By the way, were you allowed, as a woman, to say the mourners Kaddish. At my father in laws funeral, the Rabbi told my wife she couldn't say Kaddish and would have to find a man to do so. We can go on trading stories about how bad this and that denomination is for a long time --- I'm sure that will really bring in non affiliated Jews!!!

Tue. Sep 04, 2007

Charnie Feldman said:

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

R. Lee Smith, the examples you site were presumably 20+ years ago. Since that time, the Orthodox and Conservative synagogues seem to have switched places as kiruv has become all the rage in many communities. In fact, the first Orthodox shul I was affiliated with started as a breakaway minyan from the aforementioned Conservative synagogue(and believe me, this is a very well known synagogue to anyone in NYC), and didn't even start out as an Orthodox congregation, it just evolved that way over the years.

Vis a vis Kaddish, I did have a man say kaddish for my mother (I don't know who said it for my father because I was very young when he passed away). Unfortunately, my husband is able to say kaddish for both my parents on their yahrietzeits. This was never a personal issue for me, but I know many strictly Orthodox women who attended services 3x a day to say Kaddish during their year of mourning. However, in accordance with Halacha, they still had a man saying Kaddish for their parent(s) as well. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between the two denominations - a clinging to halacha as defined in our Torah, versus "adjusting" it to fit the latest trend (as referred to in my first comment).

However, discussions about women don't really belong on this particular comment thread.

Wed. Sep 05, 2007

Sid said:

The Conservative movement was at first an attempt by European rabbis in America to control Judaism in th USA. It wasn't a popular, mass movement. Its current ossification is clearly seen in the failure by the staff in New York City to communicate the movement's principles, benefits, virtues, and value and by the New Yorkers' lack of understanding of Jewish life, even Conservative Jewish practice, elsewhere in North America. In the age of the internet, USC J has failed to reach out to Jews, in contrast to Chabad, for instance. See the dull and disorganized www.uscj.org as an example. As a member of a Conservative synagogue, I find my fellow members seemingly indifferent and ignorant of the Conservative movement. If USCJ disappears, then it will join the innumerable other deceased streams, movements, and paths of the Jewish people, but Judaism and Israel will live on in other, flourishing ways.

Wed. Sep 05, 2007

yidkid said:

The last few posts have alluded to the elephant in the room: egalitarianism. Ever been to a fully participatory shul? I'm talking women layning from Torah on Shabbos, getting aliyot, leading prayer, etc. Shuls that have embraced egalitarian worship--clearly the exception to the rule--are much larger and much more vibrant.

I am not educated enough to have an informed, halachic-minded opinion about this (I'm working on it). But consider this: Egalitarian shuls are not only larger, but their congregants are more serious about Judaism and tend to be more observant than their "traditional" counterparts. How's that for ironic?

Should USCJ embrace every flavor of the month for a quick jolt of lightning? Absolutely not. But this is at the heart of what Conservative Judaism offers that no other stream can: A modernist's view of traditional worship. I can't help but think that if USCJ embraces the egalitarian model, it could reap some of what NCSY and kiruv has sown.

Thu. Sep 06, 2007

Charnie Feldman said:

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the expression “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. Perhaps the issue here is that the Conservative movement is driven these days by the opposite of that phrase. What I’m saying is that Torah Judaism has been functioning very well for over 2000 years, and probably has more adherents in the USA now then it’s ever had due to success of organizations like NCSY, Chabad, Aish, etc. Conservative Judaism, from my perspective, having grown up in the shadow of the movement, keeps trying to fix itself (such as the aforementioned description of egalitarian congregations), but there was nothing wrong with the religion on the first place. By the way, the enthusiasm among the congregants in the egalitarian congregations (not withstanding any halachic issues) doesn’t surprise me. Enthusiasm and spirituality was something I always saw as severely missing in the rather austere and cold synagogues I’ve known. They may have been beautiful buildings, but there was a lot missing in the spiritual end.

We always get a giggle at freilich Orthodox weddings how any Conservative attendees always look upon our “schtick” as being undignified

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Jews. Maybe if they’d loosened up a little, as opposed to copying Episcopalians, they’d be more alive today. And therein lies the fact about why the Egalitarians are flourishing – they’re enthusiastic, and that carries over to others.

Thu. Sep 06, 2007

R Lee Smith said:

Channie: I'm glad that you are happy with what you have found. The more Jews who are seriously committed to any of the movements the better off Judaism is, since the real problem is uncommitted Jews. We should all strive to help one another find meaning and it doesn't

have to be our way. Furthermore, and with all due respect, the reason Judaism is still around is that mechanisms for change are built into the system and Judaism has always been evolving, so if you want to comment on this you need to study the history of Judaism and where

all the movements of today have come from since they didn't exist in the past. In my experience the merit of the Conservative movement

doesn't lie within the numbers of members but rather in what it has to offer: an intellectually stimulating and consistent approach to Judaism that really makes sense, and the particular set of applications of the laws of Torah to allow for the full inclusion of women in

synagogue life. The beliefs in the literal nature of revelation demanded by Orthodoxy are not acceptable to me. The treatment of woman in Orthdoxy is not acceptable to me. So without the Conservative approach, I would really be floundering and Conservative Judaism was able

to bring me to Kashruth, Shabbat, Torah study, Israel, and hopefully continuing growth as a committed Jew. The main problem I see is

that there aren't enough committed Conservative Jews (or as I noted enough committed Jews of any movement). As far as weddings, I've been to lots of freilach Conservative weddings and been able to sit with and dance with my wife as well which I couldn't do at many Orthodox weddings. I do appreciate occassional circle dancing with men but as a general approach, I don't think that should be the only way to celebrate weddings.

Fri. Sep 07, 2007

Charnie Feldman said:

"

R Lee Smith said: The more Jews who are seriously committed to any of the movements the better off Judaism is, since the real problem

is

uncommitted

in

In my experience the merit of the Conservative movement doesn't lie within the numbers of members but rather "

what it has to offer: an intellectually stimulating and consistent approach to Judaism that really makes sense

I wish there was a way to highlight a word here. You refer to Conservatives as having a CONSISTENT approach. If only that were the

case! Based on the participants, both in the Forward's article and here on this comment board, that is it's biggest failing. Flavor of the month religious observance. But I definitely agree with you 100%+ that committed Jews, no matter what their denomination, remain Jews, and hopefully, transfer that to their children. This has been the principle behind the very successful Birthright program. I'd love to discuss some of the other issues you've mentioned, but not on this board, as they're off topic.

Fri. Sep 07, 2007

Jewish Idea said:

Why is Conservative Judaism dying? It's obvious. It's the decline of the Jewish family!

Judaism is built on God, Torah, and Israel. What is Israel other than a land? Israel is the Jewish people.

But people are not born into this world autonomous individuals. We enter this world in families. Thus, the family is the basic, fundamental building block of Jewish life. It is in the family from which we each are created and from which we learn the mystery of God. Our parents are God's representatives in our early lives. It is in the family that we are first taught the Torah. And it is the aggregate of many Jewish families together that makes up the people Israel.

The acceptance of same-sex marriages, same-sex life-styles, and rabbis by the Conservative movement is the death of the movement. Gays cannot produce children. Since they cannot make children, they cannot be builders of the Jewish future.

A Jewish movement built on the dissolution families, rather than on a powerful strengthening families, is a movement that will die.

The salvation of Conservative Judaism will only come, if at all, when they become first and foremost a Jewish Marriage Movement of Jewish men and women committed to marriage as defined between one man and one woman.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

Otherwise, the Jewish Theological Seminary will continue to dissolve further and further down the road until it becomes the Jewish Theological Sodom-ary.

Why are the Orthodox so strong? Because they are wedded to strong marriages - marriage between one Jewish man and one Jewish woman - as the essential mitzvah of Jewish peoplehood.

Fri. Sep 07, 2007

R Lee Smith said:

Charnie: I don't know what you mean by "flavor of the month". The Conservative movement needed to struggle with issues such as women's involvement and treatment of homosexuals, because these are not easy issues. It's always easy to say -- "no changes allowed" -- but that is not intellectually honest, rather it stiffles things. Have you read any of the responsa that you are labeling "flavor of the month". If so, what flaws do you find with them? The Conservative movement's greatest strength is its unwillingness to find simple answers to complex problems. NO CHANGE is the simplest answer of all. DROP HALACHA and change whatever seems logical is the next most simple answer. Then there is the Conservative answer -- let's struggle with the needs of the times and with the laws that define Torah, and find answers that satisfy both. The movement doesn't always succeed -- I think the "driving decision" is an example of a decision that doesn't make sense and is not justified nor applied in a way that can meet it's goals. However, the decisions on women are clearly needed and appropriate from my experience and this is an area where Orthodoxy fears to tread for reasons that go far beyond the requirements of Jews law, even as assumed by Orthodoxy. I realize that you don't want to discuss women's role, but that is the most important aspect of Conservative Judaism for many who wish to lead halachic lives but choose CJ rather than OJ to do so.

Shabbat Sholom R Lee Smith

Fri. Sep 07, 2007

Harold B. Cohen said:

I just read the Sept 7 editorial on the decline of Conservative Judaism. According to the Forward; The movement is in trouble because " the movement’s rabbis and leaders have sought to raise the flag of ideology — adherence to Torah and commandments — and called on their congregants to choose sides. It should be no surprise that many preferred to leave." Well if only that were true. The reality is that the movement is suffering because of a generally inability to proudly raise the above flag, which places in doubt its reason to exist. It's not a question of numbers leaving but of quaility of Judaism of those remaining. the non committed unfortunately drag the movement down.

Sun. Sep 09, 2007

Edward Wolkowitz said:

It was interesting to read Rabbi Kushner's comment characterizing Reform Judaism as an "extreme." I've never considered myself to be an extremist. From my perspective, Reform Judaism is a moderate alternative to no Judaism at all. Shana Tova.

Tue. Sep 11, 2007

aazucker said:

Has the movemnt lost its vitality ? Define that vitality.

Is it unresposive to its members ? Should it be responsive or lead

or

something along that scale ? Who decides ?

Is Judaism in general relevant ? Are ethical, cusisine-oriented, musical, symbolic, historical references our strongest suits ? Is that our legacy, but not necessarily our present/future play book for future ?

Is the great bearded legend getting old ? If so, how long has it been getting stale ?

Can Zionism ( but reside in the US) and Holocaust memory ( losing its authentic, primary witnesses) be the mainstays of Jewish interest and rallying points ?

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

What is the true Jewish role -as defined by the movement and does anyone care to follow it ?

Why does passion usually reside so well at the extremes ?

Is Darwinian selection to be the ultimate arbitor as people opt out ? Is that unreasonable ?

Does Conservative Judaism matter ? and to whom ?

Sat. Sep 15, 2007

Dennis D said:

Conservative Judaism cannot survive as long as Jews continue to support extreme left wing anti religion Democrats. Talk about voting against your own interests. Visit holocaust denier Ahmadinajead at Columbia Univ and learn why.

Thu. Sep 20, 2007

Barry S. Kalt said:

Why have the Chasidic Jews seperated themselves from mainstream Jewish life. I remember how shocked I was last year when I heard a Chasidic Rabbi say of Yiddish, "I do not care if Yiddish dies outisde our community, I only care about us" How can a person consider themselves a Jew when having so little regard for fellow Jews or something that is part of the foundation of Jewish life in America? This could be the very reason that many young people view our religion as a waste of time.

Thu. Sep 20, 2007

M Kaumstein said:

The essays above are short on specific recommendations. Here are mine. 1) Aggressively move away from obsessive adherence to Halacha - leave that to the Orthodox. 2) 90 minute services. Ruthlessly edit the liturgy to a tolerable length. Attendance will quickly improve. 3) Court Reform Jews who feel they are too traditional for the congregations they attend. 4) Tone down the ritual, amp up the Zionism - will yield more interest among the key adolescent/young adult cohort.

Otherwise, Conservatism is doomed as a relevant stream.

Fri. Sep 21, 2007

Sephardiman said:

M. Kaustein suggests that the Conservative movement re-edit the Siddur to reduce the duration of Religious Services to "90 minutes." There are actually many Orthodox minyanim, usually "Haschama" groups that hold religious services very early on Shabbat morning, that achieve this without skipping any of the traditional tefilot. My Sephardic synagogue in Chicago rarely goes more than 2.5 hours each Shabbat and this in a Bait Knesset where all tefilot are read out loud by the Chazzan, the Rav's Kriat HaTorah is done in the Tunisian troupe which often takes longer to complete than its Ashkenazic counterpart, and there is a weekly Dvar Torah given by the Rav as well.

The last time I worshipped in a Conservative synagogue on a Shabbat morning was 8 years ago and on that particular Shabbat, mind you there were no Bnot Mitzvot, the Tefilla took 3.5 hours+ to finish. This was because the Rabbi gave a mini Dvar torah before each Aliyah was read from the weekly parasha, a different person chanted from the Torah for each aliyah, there was a 30 minute sermon given by the Rabbi before Musaf, the Chazzan embellished Musaf with various melodies, and members of the Junior Congregation were called upon to lead the concluding hymns of Anim Zemirot, Alenu, and Adon Olam. Needless to say I walked away from the experience exhausted, and as a dati Jew I attend religious services daily. I could well appreciate how a more nominal member of that congregation might have felt overwhelmed once the tefilla had finally ended that morning.

The problem is that Conservative Judaism has cornered itself into the paradigm of what a close friend of mine in Maryland, a lifelong observant Conservative Jew, describes as "Jews on stage" whereby too much of the tefilla is structured into a kind of performance. That needs to change.

Conservative Judaism at a Crossroads - Forward.com"

http://www.forward.com/articles/11511/

This past year I attended Selichot services with my elderly mother at her Reform temple in suburban Chicago and there there was an effort to maximize congregational participation so it wasn't all done by the Rabbi and Chazzan. That could be answer for the Conservative movement as well.

Mon. Sep 24, 2007

David Strauss said:

Jewish Idea said: "Since they cannot make children, they cannot be builders of the Jewish future."

A number of the rabbis interviewed in "Trembling Before G-d" would disagree with this sentiment, even if they agree that homosexual

relations are against Torah.

I have a friend who has no children but has contributed extensively to Jewish education. Is he not a contributor to the "Jewish future" you

desire? Is a heterosexual couple that raises their child without exposure to Jewish culture or other participation in the Jewish community a contributor to the "Jewish future"? How about a heterosexual couple in which one partner is infertile? Do you expect the acceptance or rejection of gay marriage to affect the procreation rates of people with a homosexual orientation?

Your uncompromising insistence on procreation is narrow-minded and unsupportable. Even the most orthodox consider it but one mitzvah among many.

I assume you own a home, have a credit card, or have received a loan in some form. Through your participation in usury, you have failed

to affirm a mitzvah yourself. What makes your voluntary refusal to affirm a mitzvah more acceptable than a homosexual's involuntary

inability to affirm a different mitzvah?

Mon. Oct 01, 2007

Jeff said:

Any "Judaism" which is man-centered instead of G-d-centered is doomed to attrition. If all you are appealing to is what makes people feel comfortable or good, well, our lives in America are pretty great and the vast majority of people don't need a religious movement to do that unless their lives are miserable. Renaming, rebranding, repackaging and remarketing is not the issue. Let's be honest: Does anyone actually believe there should be or really are multiple authentic Judaisms? Does anyone really believe that the Torah defines different standards for you depending on to which shul you pay membership dues? That's just silly.

There is one Torah and no individual is in perfect synch with the Torah's demands, but the flaw of Reform, Conservative,

Reconstructionist, whatever, is the idea that there is an entitlement to do as you please and call it Judaism - but of a different sort (the "Orthodox" aren't included here because "Orthodox" is a name that came into existence after the anomalous "Judaisms" started to appear

- it simply is normative, authentic Judaism).

No Jew should believe he or she is engaged in anything but a lifelong struggle to grow closer to the Torah's demands - defining new "streams" to justify weakness dilutes Judaism to the point of absurdity.

This is why all the blah, blah stops short when confronted with the simple reality that the only sector experiencing growth is "Orthodox" - because it is real and because it demands rather than entitles and the soul yearns for spiritual truth and substance, not platitudes and reassurances.

We are One People with One G-d and One Torah. Any group which teaches otherwise is doomed to wither and die and, tragically, to take along so many innocent Jews.

Wed. Oct 03, 2007