Jews' Next Dor

Congregation Beth David's Young Adult Group for Jewish 20 & 30 Somethings

JTA: Stanford’s Eisen to give Conservative Movement some much-needed backbone

Posted by Oyster on May 2, 2007

Eisen RA convention

Picture of Eisen leading Havdallah at the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly meeting. In analogy to the fact that he is not a rabbi, he is not really holding a kiddush cup.

Cross-posted at Oy Bay!.

I just read an article from the JTA covering (former?) Stanford professor and Kol Emeth Yid, Arnold Eisen.

Some choice quotations:

He suggested the movement has “largely dropped the ball” by allowing pluralism — the notion of competing views of halacha, or Jewish law, coexisting harmoniously — to become its core message. … “Let’s be mature about this,” Eisen said. “Agreeing to disagree is not enough to keep a movement going.”

This is something that I struggle with as a Conservative Jew trying to understand what our Movement actually believes. More often than not, I get references and books from Conservative rabbis, rather than straight answers. Some tell me that we believe in Torah m’Sinai. Others say that Moses kinda-sorta existed in some historiographic sense, whatever that means. What the “modern critical analysis” crowd in the halls of JTS teach rabbis is not the same as what rabbis teach their Conservative congregations. I have yet to hear a Conservative rabbi give a drash explaining how the Torah was actually written by “D”, “Q”, “T”, “N”, “P”, “X”, and sometimes “Y”. Yet that is what “critical scholarship” teaches them in our yeshiva. Having some theological cohesion would be nice.

Some have argued publicly that a gap between the more observant practices of Conservative clergy and less observant laypeople challenges the accuracy of the movement’s self-description as “halachic.”

The joke that “a Conservative synagogue is one with an orthodox rabbi and a reform congregation” is kinda true. We make vociferous claims to our movement being halakhic, but one sees very little emphasis on observance from the majority of the membership of any given Conservative kehillah. And I’d hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but its this lack of observance of the Halakah that we claim to uphold that is the real problem with the Conservative Movement, not homosexual ordination or egalitarianism. Those issues are important, but they aren’t what is causing the rot at its core. Those who want a halakhic community usually defect to Orthodox communities, which brings me to this:

Above all, the movement must intensely engage its congregants in a way that rivals what is frequently found in Orthodox communities. There is a hunger for that, Eisen said, and the Conservative movement must provide it. “If we can’t win on that count,” Eisen said, “we can’t win.”

I think its very true. Though I’d be hard pressed to explain what “engage its congregants” means, precisely. I’ll give an example. I’ve been organizing, with my chevruta, an after-oneg parasha / Torah study at my shul for a few months now, and our numbers are increasing. We mix in classical commentators, and modern critical analysis. All young adults. Now, this spontaneous and voluntary desire to study Torah amongst young adults in the Conservative movement would be enough to give most liberal rabbis convulsions of ecstacy. Yet there has been very little interest shown in our Torah study meetings by the leadership of our shul.

In summary, I hope that, by virtue of his drive and his intellect, that Eisen is able to breathe some much needed vitality into the Conservative Movement, and not let us slip from “doldrums” to moribund.

One Response to “JTA: Stanford’s Eisen to give Conservative Movement some much-needed backbone”

  1. [...] Rashi, you’re always commenting on everything!” JTA: Stanford’s Eisen to give Conservative Movement some much-needed backbone « CBDYAG on JTA: Stanford’s Eisen to give Conservative Movement some much-needed backbonejlifer fo’ sho’ on [...]

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