Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Conservative Judaism- Which Way Does It Go

Rabbi David Wolpe has an interesting idea about direction for Conservative Jewry. I am going to grab a couple of excerpts from a piece in The Jewish Journal for your review:
"Many of us have learned that Conservative Judaism is either a complex ideology (at least we never get a straightforward explanation) or simply a movement that stands in the center between Reform and Orthodoxy. An early classic of Conservative Judaism was titled, “Tradition and Change,” but tradition and change is a paradox, not a banner of belief.

Conservative Judaism is crying out for renewal and revitalization. Some of the most spiritually charged, socially sensitive prayer groups and institutions in the country choose to not affiliate themselves with the Conservative movement. Yet they are led by rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement and attended by congregants who grew up in that movement.

In synagogues that do define themselves as Conservative, the congregants often expect halachic observance from their rabbis, yet they are not moved to emulate them. Conservative Jews are increasingly confused and uncertain about their spiritual direction.

As I posed these problems and questions, some turned the question back to me.

“Who are you, and what do you believe?”

When I reflect upon the beliefs with which I was raised and how I have grown in my faith, I realize that the word “Conservative” does not best fit who I am and what I believe.

I am a Covenantal Jew."

Ok, what does that mean.

"Covenantal Judaism is the Judaism of relationship. Three covenants guide my way — our way: The covenant at Sinai brings us to our relationship to God, the covenant with Abraham to our relationship with other Jews and the covenant with Noah to our relationship with all humanity."

The article elaborates on all three covenants. It is too long to post in its entirety but I do think that it is important to highlight a couple of things so here are a few more excerpts.

First Covenant: Relationship to God

The Jewish relationship to God may be seen as a friendship, a partnership, though of obviously unequal partners. In the Midrash, God swears friendship to Abraham, is called the “friend of the world” (Hag. 16a) and even creates friendships between people (Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer). Friendship is one aspect of the Divine-human connection.

The Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts. When we speak of friendship or partnership, all of these relationships and more must be understood.

The terms of all friendships are fixed by history — we define our partnerships by our memories. One friend can speak a single word, “Colorado,” and the other knows that the word refers to a trip taken together 15 years before. However, vital friendships do not dwell solely in the past. They are always creating new memories, entering new phases and enriching what has gone before.

Some Jews believe that everything important in the friendship between God and Israel has already been said. The Torah, the Talmud, the classical commentators and codes have said all the vital, foundational words. Our task now is simply to fill in a few blanks, but otherwise the work is done. We are the accountants of a treasure already laid up in the past.

This is not a covenantal understanding. It is a Judaism frozen in time, as though all the clocks stopped in the 18th century.

Conversely, there are those who think the past weightless, because times have so radically changed. This is a friendship that tries to recreate itself each day, dictated by the demands of the moment. While the past is acknowledged, it is seen largely as something to be overcome, not to be cherished and integrated into the present. This creates a relationship with predictably thin and wan results.

Covenantal Judaism believes in the continuous partnership between God and Israel. When we light Shabbat candles, God “knows” what we mean — we have been doing it for thousands of years. It is part of the grammar of relationship. Our past is the platform from which we ascend. The covenant at Sinai is the first, reverberating word."

I can relate to this as I believe that it is important to have a living, breathing and flexible Judaism.

Second Covenant: Relationship Between Jews

"All Jews are involved in the Abrahamic covenant — not only those Jews whom we like or those of whom we approve but all Jews.

Jews have always fought within our own community, and undoubtedly, we always will. Devotion to Torah does not free us from the constraints of human nature.

Still, a Covenantal Jew seeks active dialogue with Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist, as well as secular Jews. The covenant does not depend upon movements or ideologies; it is a covenant of shared history and shared destiny."

Exactly. We are all responsible for each other.

Third Covenant: Relationship With the Non-Jewish World

"The first covenant was not made with the Jewish people. God sent a rainbow in the time of Noah as a sign to the world, to all of humanity. Noah lived 10 generations before the first Jew.

The meaning is clear: We have a responsibility toward others of whatever faith; we have a covenantal relationship to the non-Jewish world."

What do you think?


Pragmatician said...

He sure is throwing a whole new twist to the whole "what kind of Jew are you" issue.
It’s kind of true though that many religious and non religious people don’t differentiate between conservative and reform.

Robbie said...

He seems to me to be attempting to justify Conservative Judaism as it is now - I know there's more to what he said - but I don't remember being totally impressed. I like the grand statements, like not being stuck in the 18th century, accepting other Jews, etc, but it seems to follow the traditional problem that Conservative Judaisim has:

How will the other movements see us?

That's been a major stumbling block for the Movement - everyone's more concerned that the others will reject us if we make a defining statement about who we are. (Egalitarianism, etc.)

Anshel's Wife said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anshel's Wife said...

When I was a kid, there were two shuls, one conservative (where we went) and one reform. My father (who worked and ate on Yom Kippur, who never had a problem eating a cheesebuger) always commented on the fact that we were "real Jews" because our men your yarmulkes in shul and because most of the service was done in Hebrew. Oh, and because we didn't have an organ at our shul. Until I became an adult, that's pretty much how I saw it, too. And until we started attending an Orthodox shul, my husband and I really thought we were SuperJews because we went to a shul with a lot of conservadox people there. Or so they called themselves.

Looking back, I see that we took what we wanted and ignored or excused the rest. It's a feel good approach. We are more "observant" than the reform, but not as rigid as the orthodox.

By the way, and not that this matters, but Rabbi Wolpe's wife and I were bestfriends growing up.

Stacey said...

The Reform shul I attend has no organ, uses the same Conservative prayer book that I grew up with, the services are mostly Hebrew, and the men wear yarmulkes.

The Reform movement has gotten substantially more conservative. There is no crisis in the Reform movement. It has the largest numbers of any Jewish denomination in this country.

Conservative Judaism needs to figure out what it is. My biggest problem with it is its stance on homosexuality. If a student "comes out" during rabbinical school, they are kicked out. I cannot stand the intolerance there.

Riches In Christ said...

Very Curious/The Jewish Connection

The Jewish Connection
I came across your post, and I enjoy how you relate your perspective. I intend to check in from time to time to educate myself on your point of view. I have Jews in my lineage, (Grandmother = Arnoff) from the Kiev area. I myself was raised Roman Catholic. I have several Uncles who either converted to Judaism, or otherwise practice it. I have always felt, and do so more now, a certain affinity to the Jewish people. I read your blog on the Covenantal Jew. I enjoyed it. I would like to hear your comment to this question.

You listed three covenants. I am familiar with those and several others. What are your views on the Covenant mentioned in Ezekiel 36:25-27, and Jeremiah 31:31-34,32:37-41. Do you feel it was already made? If so when? If not when?

I hope you reply, I would like to hear your thoughts about this.

elf's DH said...

What's wrong with the idea that Judaism (or specifically, Conservative Judaism) is a complex ideology? It seems like the "Covenants" are ways of simplifying (read:dumbing down) the Torah into platitudes. Take this example:
The Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts.
But, the Torah's description of God's relationship with Israel is much more complicated than that! Sometimes, it's those things, other times it's adversarial.

I also don't see how this statement of philosphy could have any practical impact to revitalize Conservative Judaism. Conservative Judaism has always had two sides pulling each other: one towards a cultural Judaism, and one towards a halachic Judaism. Wolpe is clearly on the former side, and this makes no attempt to unite them.