Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Conservative Movement Should Be So Talented
by: Schvach Yid

Chabad bashing by the Conservative Movement of Judaism? Tzvi Fishman of Arutz Sheva – the Israel National News website - and of his own Jewish website, might call this ‘Yesod envy’. Yet the on-line edition of the Jerusalem Post has posted an article by Andrew Silow-Carroll titled The Chabad Challenge at The Chabad challenge | Jerusalem Post. Hah!

I’m a big fan of Chabad Lubavitch, and contrary to the article’s stated premise concerning the Conservative Movement’s stance toward Chabad, that "Chabad is the religion closest to Judaism", Chabad Lubavitch is undoubtedly the best thing that has ever happened to Jewish outreach. Chabad does in fact ‘beat the pants’ off the Conservative Movement’s number one concern, the quest for so-called ‘Jewish Continuity’.

I attended a Conservative Movement Hebrew school as a child. I spent several months on the Conservative Movement’s kibbutz in Israel. I’ve had various dealings with a few of their synagogues.

I don’t like the Conservative Movement of Judaism. They do, and I think that’s their number one problem.

Why problem? In the November 2, 2007 issue of The New York Jewish Week, Stewart Ain wrote a piece titled Adrift Branch Searches Anew for an Anchor. Not to eschew the role of wannabe poet, Mr. Ain went on to report about the Conservative Movement’s current effort to – well – define itself. After all, they don’t call themselves ‘Judaism’, do they? Their name is ‘The Conservative Movement of Judaism’, so they need a platform – a schtick.

Here’s the link:

And here’s my opinion of what’s wrong with the ‘The Conservative Movement of Judaism’.

First, they are about themselves. The Conservative Movement is about The Conservative Movement. They are all about their organization, not about providing for the Jewish community. They exist to perpetuate themselves and their success as an organization. If they were on the hunt for employees to whom they would provide salaries and employment benefits, they might have a chance, but like all movements, they’re after members. Their concern is with losing members. They’re worried about retention. They might as well run a country club.

A corollary is that The Conservative Movement does not do Judaism. They do surrogates of Judaism. ‘Look at our beautiful synagogue’; ‘look at our beautiful sanctuary designed by that world famous architect what’s-his-name’. ‘Here’s our gift shop; look at the beautiful chotchkas we offer for sale’. ‘Here’s our beautiful ballroom; you can rent it for all the important ‘life cycle’ events in your life. It’s not the least bit ongepotchket’. Minyan? Huh - where’s the bar mitzvah?

These are substitutes for the real thing. The Jewish Community Center in my Bible Belt locale does exactly the same thing. It’s basically a health club with a Jewish theme. Garbage!

Second, The Conservative Movement is about what former Vice President Spiro Agnew called in one of his speeches, ‘effete snobs’. Years ago, on the Conservative Movement kibbutz in Israel, an American Conservative Movement rabbi said of the ‘rank and file’ membership of that Movement, ’they don’t a thing’ about Judaism. What a nice perspective for a rabbi to have of the followers of his Movement. Today, he’s on the faculty of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the Conservative Movement’s rabbinical school.

Once I had relocated to the Bible Belt, I met another Conservative Movement rabbi who said the same sort of thing. He had been hired by a local Conservative Movement havurah to lead High Holiday services, which he did. He belted out one niggun after another with his mellow, silk-like voice - right into a microphone - on the High Holidays. Yup, he sure do know! After one of the services he said to me, ‘I could sing or do anything, they’d never know the difference’. Nice!

Third, the Conservative Movement has abandoned the ‘Jewish way’ in favor of assimilation. No wonder its members assimilate. Take, for example the Movement’s seminary mentioned above – please! It’s not a yeshiva. Yeshiva University, the so called ‘flagship’ institution of higher learning of the Modern Orthodox, is a real, honest-to-goodness university, with a real, honest-to-goodness rabbinical yeshiva (RIETS) as its rabbinical seminary. But at the Theological Seminary of America, the Conservative Movement has abandoned pilpul for term papers and dissertations. Moreover, they have abandoned traditional Jewish learning for apologetics. Just listen to them the next time some appear on TV, as in a recent rerun of PBS’s Three Faiths, One Gd. Dreck! A university is a university, just as a yeshiva is a yeshiva. When a student changes yeshivas – OK! When a student changes universities and leaves JTS – bye, bye! Judaism as an academic subject is not emunah; it’s not even religion. An academic subject is no basis for personal identity.

I could go on. The bottom line is that the Conservative Movement’s approach of competition against and abandonment of the real thing has never worked, and its snobbery is self destructive.

I have a couple of ditties from my time on that kibbutz, but not now.

Baruch HaShem for Chabad Lubavitch, and for the efforts of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, olav hashalom, and if the Lubavitchers take liberties and do the ‘yechi’ routine, so what.

Lastly, if you’d like to read an entertaining and informative account of how the Conservative Movement got started (it was really in response to the success of the Reform Movement, and rejection of Orthodoxy), read Nathan Glazer’s American Judaism – it’s still in print.


Tamara said...

I do understand how you feel about the wealth, trendiness, who's wearing what mentality; however, if you look at the guidelines of conservative Judaism and how they interpret practice, you'll see it's quite close (not exact) to modern orthodoxy. It's far from how I feel you put it.

Yes, they say driving is not acceptable by halacha, however, they do say that it's more important to daven in a community than alone. Therefore, driving to shul and back is considered o.k., but it is clearly stated as not preferable. Other things the conservative movement promotes...
KOSHER, maintaining Shabbas, attending shul, visiting Israel, Hebrew knowledge, tikkun olam, K'lal Yisroel, I could go on and on.

I think NO movement is perfect. Even orthodoxy, in my opinion, has it's wrongs. For example, how converts are dealt with and treated. Many converts go through the ritual circumcision/circumcision, the mikveh, the beit din, and STILL are not recognized as Jews. Worse yet, aren't counted as a minyan even when learned, studied, etc. This is most assuredly not in the spirit of Klal Yisroel.

Anyway...thanks again for linking our blog and I really am interested to see your comments on it.

Schvach said...

I think you hit the bull's eye with the example you invoked from Orthodoxy, although I have never observed this. In fact, I wouldn't, and shouldn't, be able to know who is/isn't a convert - it's not allowed. The point is, policy is policy, and practice is another matter; you know, the proof of the pudding is in the taste, not in the sales spiel.

Tamara said...

So, what you're saying when you say: "The proof is in the pudding" is that if a convert, orthodox or not, is a good Jew, knowledgeable, davens, etc. etc., then you don't have issues considering him a Jew?

Schvach said...

If the converted Jew has passed muster with a rabbinical committee, regardless of the Jewish religious movement involved, then as far as I'm concerned, he/she is a legitimate Jew. Do you have any idea how many Jews can't be bothered with Judaism, and haven't a flea's brain idea of what Judaism is about, and don't care to? Those non-Jews who legitimately what to be Jewish and live lives of Torah and mitzvot, regardless of how extensively, are welcome as far as I'm concerned.

Tamara said...

I agree fully with your last comment. If only the orthodox world felt the same. You may think they do, but they don't.

A non orthodox convert will not be counted in a minyan. This is a big issue for me because...well, I'll respond in another response to that other post :)

Schvach said...

The Orthodox world shouldn't feel the same way - they are as entitled as you and I. Remeber, they keep 'kosher' and they in fact define kashrut (in compliance with Torah). The other movements appear to work their way around the requirements.

Anonymous said...

Can you show me evidence of how "The other movements appear to work their way around the requirements."?

As far as the Conservative movement goes, they have the same (written) laws of Kashrut. Now, there may be groups who choose to be Kosher-style. Meaning they eat out, but only vegetarian, won't eat shell fish or pork. I do know many like this, as I was the same way.

However, my husband and I do keep strict kosher. We will eat at Vegan restaurants and when there is an event at a family member's home, we'll eat vegetarian. In all honesty, the Conservative movement DOES say one must keep kosher. AT least everything we've read says such a thing.

Jack Steiner said...

The Conservative moment is not monolithic. Different shuls have different ways.

Schvach said...

I think there is great continuity among the member schuls of the Conservative Movement. It used to be that the subject to be sermonized for each Shabbos was determined by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Each week, the rabbis received their 'marching orders' - I know nothing of their compliance, but the policy and practice of the central organization was in place. Of course, the prayer services are fairly fixed (English vs Hebrew prayers, responsive readings), with Erev Shabbat as the so-called 'showcase' service. not to mention the siddur. And halacha is not as stringent. How many Conservative schuls have mikvahs? How many Conservative Movement members do you know who go to mikveh, men as well as women?

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