One of the great historical ironies of "Conservative Judaism" is that it initially started off as a reaction to "Reform Judaism". Solomon Shechter and friends felt that the Reformers of their day had gone way too far in their rejection of traditional Jewish values and norms and sought to create a movement that would combine the best of secular values of the day with those traditional norms. The irony, of course, is that today Conservatism is little more than a ritual-heavy version of Reform and continues to move ever left in its attempt to blur the distinction between the two groups.
A great example of this is one Rachel Isaacs, the first openly homosexual graduate of the Conservative rabbi school, the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Now, it is no surprise that the first homosexual graduate of JTS would be female. After all, Conservatism officially still does lip-servce when it comes to accepting the authority of the Written Torah even though the Oral Torah is either discarded or modified to avoid conflict with post-20th century liberal values. It is in that very Written Torah that homosexual intercourse between males is forbidden which means that just as JTS would be uncomfortable graduating a person who shouted to the world "I eat ham and eggs for breakfast every morning!" so too a male homosexual graduate might still be considered too controversial.
Now I'm sure Ms. Isaacs is a very nice person, studied very hard and knows her requisite material quite well. Just because I disagree with her theologically doesn't mean I have any right to villify her as a person. However, her "ordination" has revealed a great deal about how many people in her camp view Judaism. Selected excerpts follow. In response to this rather bland and non-controversial statement:
I'm not trying to minimize how difficult it would be to live without giving in to one's sexual desires, but the Conservative movement, if they're writing off certain commandments, has got to be intellectually honest and stop claiming that they're a halachic movement.
we get the expected:
That’s just the type of thinking that sends us into the dark ages. The fact that there are people who use the bible and religion to suggest that sexuality is a choice and if you don’t make the right choice you cannot be considered a certain kind of Jew.
Talking about picking and choosing, my dear man everyone, no matter what affiliation or sexual orientation picks and chooses on some level. It’s not the same as deciding to pick this law over that law because it suits you, it’s a matter of living in a way that is genuine and congruent to who you are, and when you do that you most certainly are living the life of a halachic Jew or any other kind of Jew one wishes to be.
Not living as your genuine self goes against what G-d wants from us, and G-d makes everyone in his image that includes, gays, lesbians, transgenders, and every other combination that you can think of. He loves diversity, otherwise we would all look and act like robots.
I applaud anyone who lives their true lives and doing it within the Jewish community will only bring marginalized Jews closer to their Jewish selves and isn’t that more important than judging which laws are being so called followed and which laws are not.
In other words, as I noted in a recent post, "real" Judaism is a make-it-up as you go religion in which whatever makes you happy is automatically what God wants because, after all, God wants you to be happy. And if you protest that Judaism should have standards?
Newsflash: You haven't the slightest clue as to what God wants. You need to cling to your security blanket, and you're perfectly willing to condemn others to lives of loneliness and despair in order to have it.
Belief in God is only a security blanket. Judaism could do just fine without Him. Not exactly the Jewish values that have sustained us for 3000 years. Are these Ms. Isaac's supporters? Is this her "Judaism"? All the blintzes, none of the berachos?
Interestingly enough it seems that there is a disconnect between this crowd and the dwindling masses of Conservatism. It seems, from this article, that when it comes to practising what their leaders preach, Conservative congregations aren't so eager to dump the few remaining Torah values they still have in favour of enlightened secular thinking:
Rabbi Elliot Schoenberg, director of placement at the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents 1,600 Conservative rabbis, was equally bewildered.
“I wish I knew what’s happening,” he said. “Women have had a harder time this year than last year, and we are very frustrated and surprised.”
Others suggested that a host of factors might have been involved this year: the number of women in the class — only eight out of a class of 26 — was relatively small; the number of Conservative congregations has dwindled over the years to about 650 today; fewer congregations were looking for rabbis, and not all of the women wanted a pulpit. In addition, several observers suggested that gender bias may have played a key role.
Given the Conservative movement’s unique position in the American Jewish landscape — perched between tradition and modernity — it is perhaps not surprising that some synagogues would favor male rabbinical candidates. The movements to its left — Reform and Reconstructionist — report little or no gender bias in hiring. To its right, the Orthodox do not have women rabbis at all, although a handful of liberal Orthodox institutions, such as the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, are allowing women — most notably Rabba Sara Hurwitz — to take on many spiritual, pastoral and educational responsibilities traditionally handled by rabbis.
A 2004 study of women rabbis in the Conservative movement concluded that there was gender bias in employment and salaries.
Rabbi Schoenberg said that since then the outlook for women rabbis seeking pulpits had improved.
In 2005, about one-fourth of the women graduates landed pulpits, a figure that rose to 50 percent in 2009. “We had a track record of women being a success,” he said. “That’s why the conversation this year is about how disappointed we are … and we don’t know why it’s happened or what congregations are thinking.”
One of the typical arrogances of the liberal left is that it becomes perplexed when the unenlightened masses fail to live up to the values they preach. I am sure that the Conservative leadership, ensconced in its progressive offices in New York, has no idea what's happening in the hinterland or why anyone would think differently than them, just like Canadian Liberals still have no clue why 60% of the country voted against them in the last general election. After all, isn't their brilliance and encultured appearance enough to convince you to follow them obediently?
Perhaps there is still a little real Judaism left in the souls of some Conservative congregations. It would be interesting to see if any outreach from the Modern Orthodox community might not fan those sparks into a legitimate flame and return those people to proper Torah Judaism.