"It never rains but it pours." (Dr. Leonard McCoy, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
For Conservatism, it's been a lousy few years. First there was the appointing of a non-rabbi as the head of the movement. Then came the split over gay marriage, then the financial crisis hit home. Now apparently many congregation within the movement are upset with how the Jewish Theological Seminary is running things:
In yet another indication of the problems plaguing the Conservative movement, as many as 40 synagogues are considering withdrawing from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism because the movement’s congregational arm doesn’t serve their needs, according to a leader of a new group pressing for change.
“I say stay and change from within, but 30 to 40 other synagogues may leave,” said Arthur Glauberman, a founder of Bonim (“Builders”). He was referring to multiple comments on a United Synagogue listserv.
Bonim, which claims to represent about 50 synagogues along the East Coast, is now speaking openly of ousting the current United Synagogue leadership, slashing the group’s $14 million budget and restructuring the organization. It is also calling for the closing of all 15 of the
movement’s regional offices in order to save money on rent and staff.
“The United Synagogue has become so absorbed with its own power and is out of touch with providing services to member organizations,” said Glauberman, president of Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale.
Perhaps Rav Lamm was aware of this when he made his controversial statements regarding the future of Jewry at a recent function:
Rabbi Norman Lamm, former president and now chancellor of the Orthodox Yeshiva University, was even more blunt about the future of the Conservative movement. He told The Jerusalem Post last weekend: “The Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism. They are closing schools and in general shrinking.”
Rabbi Lamm, who was in Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University, was referring to statistics from the National Jewish Population Survey. It found in a 2001 survey that of the 46 Jewish households that belong to a synagogue, one-third were affiliated with Conservative synagogues — a 10 percent drop since 1990.
Although the Reform movement grew from 35 percent to 38 percent during those 10 years, Rabbi Lamm said it was “because if you add goyim to Jews, then you will do OK.”
The Reform movement in 1983 adopted a policy of patrilineal descent, which recognizes as a Jew the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother provided the child is raised as a Jew.
“Reform is out of the picture, because they never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture,” Rabbi Lamm told the newspaper. “With a heavy heart, we will soon say Kaddish on the Reform and Conservative movements.”
Naturally the response to this from the non-frum portions of the blogsphere has been understandibly harsh. However, while Rav Lamm made one good point in the excerpt quoted above, I believe he was incorrect in his conclusion.
His point regarding Reform's Jewish dilution is, unfortunately for us as a people, spot on. The bottom line is that Reform has, for the last 25-30 years, bolstered its numbers by creating what any country would call a very lax immigration policy. Are you the child of a Jewish parent? Do you want to convert by having some chicken soup sprinkled on your forehead? Well then you're a member. It is only by counting non-Jews who have been falsely told that they are Jewish that they have managed to maintain their dominant position in the Jewish demographic situation in North America. Eventually the dilution will go to far and Reform will pay the price through lack of identity.
Conservatism, on the other hand, has had the opposite problem. In a society where the mushy middle is considered out of fashion as opposed to a firm position at one end of the spectrum or another, they have suffered as they have tried to be all things to no people. They have attempted to maintain a facade of halachic legitimacy to satisfy their traditional side, but have acquiesed to every politically correct initiative to satisfy their avante garde members. As a result, it has become blindingly obvious that anyone who is serious either about Torah observance or about being on the cutting edge of lack of observance has no place in the movement. That's why they're hemorrgaing and their stubborn insistence that they must occupy the middle ground (the only thing they seem to be stubborn on) is costing them.
However, as I mentioned, I don't think we will soon be saying Kaddish on the Reformers or Conservatives. What Rav Lamm did not wish to address is the issue of Orthodox dropout, a phenomenon that is too real to be ignored. Even without statistical information, it is quite obvious that it's happening. After all, if the old statement that no Reformer has a Jewish grandson, then who's filling all those grand ol' temples two days a year? It's our folks who have not felt an adequate sense of connection to Torah and mitzvos to remain in the fold and who have gone looking for faith and spiritual satisfaction elsewhere. That Reform and Conservatism still exist is a sign of failure on the part of Orthodoxy to retain our own.
We can stand back and enjoy a feeling of smug satisfaction at the ongoing downfall of Conservatism (thus ignoring Shmuel HaKatan's advice not to gloat over the downfall of someone you don't like) or we can reflect on the tragedy of the loss of so much Jewishness on both their side and ours.