Conservative Jews Need Orthodoxy

December 4, 2014

I have never considered myself Orthodox or even Conservadox. I have always felt a part of the wide spectrum of the Conservative Movement. However, I attended an Orthodox high school, which I loved and tag my Orthodox rabbis for triggering my passion for Jewish learning. I also take pride in playing a large role in the non-egalitarian minyan (that still exists) while at the Jewish Theological Seminary. And yet today I proudly serve a fully egalitarian synagogue that prides itself on its progressive nature and historically experimental decisions in the realm of Jewish law. I am a Conservative rabbi and a Conservative Jew.

Last year I embarked on a journey I labeled ““>Conservative Judaism Journal, Rabbi David Golinkin tackles a question that has linked the two sects for decades; was Rabbi Saul Lieberman Orthodox or Conservative? Perhaps the greatest Jewish scholar of the 20th century sat in an office at JTS while at the same time was arguably the most pious man of his generation. In the Conservative Movement’s heyday, with Rabbi Lieberman’s leadership, the lines between Orthodox and Conservative Jews were at times blurred. So much so that one of, if not the, leader of Conservative Judaism was Orthodox or at least some claimed him to be. But today things are different and numbers suggest not for the better.

For arguments sake, let’s say Orthodox leadership is not afraid of liberal Judaism. The truth is that most of the young Conservative Jewish leaders find themselves with two options post college; either become a rabbi or find an Orthodox shul (maybe an independent minyan) to daven at. Of course there are exceptions; small percentage become educators, work for AIPAC, or hold non-Jewish jobs. It is a running joke amongst Conservative rabbis because there is a lack of serious traditional minyanim and surrounding practitioners in the Conservative Jewish world. It has little or anything to do with egalitarianism or even the hard working rabbis; but in general our services are not compelling enough to keep serious practicing Jews around. There are coastal exceptions, but our traditionalists do not want gimmicks, shtick, or guitars during services (unless played really well). There are many who do, and I respect that, but there are plenty who do not and our Movement has lacked finding a space for the observant leaning Conservative Jews.

The truth is that we do not only need to look to the right for guidance, partnerships, and opportunities but frankly Conservative Jews need to accept that it is because of Orthodoxy that our brand of Judaism can thrive. For example, without the Orthodox world Kosher food would basically be non-existent. Kosher restaurants would vanish and also in smaller towns the availability for kosher food would be insufficient. I understand there are issues regarding Orthodox Hashgacha (kosher supervision); however without the Orthodox Jewish community our options would be sparse.

The Conservative Movement needs the Orthodox community for far more than just food, but for most religious aspects in a community: mikvah, day schools, etc. and we need Orthodoxy for the survival of the Jewish people. Conservative Jews have spent a lot of time over the last 30 years working on opening all kinds of doors, and I think it’s time to reopen another one. The Conservative Movement needs to invest more time making closer connections with the one sect that has been able to maintain Jewish growth. By no means am I suggesting cutting ties with other sects and I am not suggesting a move right for Conservative Jews, but I am suggesting looking at best practices as we continue remodeling. The saying goes: Look both ways before you cross the street. If the Centennial Convention was meant to steer us down a new path, then I hope we are looking in all directions.

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