Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Another Step Towards Reform

Conservative Jews hate it when you point out that the movement today is essentially Reform with more ritual.  They try to point out that they observe a form of halacha, that they have principles and rules and are more than just fun-in-the-sun types and some of that might be true but not by much.
Once upon a time the Conservatives were actually a serious force within North American Judaism.  They combined a serious approach to tradition with what they felt were necessary compromises to secular culture in order to provide their members with a Jewish experience.  Over the decades, declining enthusiasm for that approach led to one compromise after another, one "adjustment" of the halacha after another, until today there is objectively little to distinguish them from the Reform other than with their commitment to some form of ritual.
One way to mark this descent is to observe the prayer books the movement has used over the years.  Back in the day it was the Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book, a decent siddur which, other than lacking the korbanos could actually function as a real siddur.  In the late 1980's it was replaced by Siddur Sim Shalom.  The prayer book began to openly reflect the movement's lack of interest in remembers our holy Temples (may they be speedily rebuilt).  The few mentions of the Temple were yanked out of the various parts of the liturgy they appeared in, including the "alternative" Mussaf service.  It did include the prayer for the State of Israel but only the first paragraph, reflecting the author's fears that a shortened attention span wouldn't last the entire recitation. 
Apparently this wasn't enough to entrance the movement's declining membership so now we have a new prayer book on offer, Lev Shalom.  As the linked article points out, the Conservatives are continuing to embrace the "we cater to you" form of secular religion prevalent in North America.  In addition to the usual confusion of claiming to be contemporary and traditional at the same time, there are additions to encourage those in relationships the Torah frowns upon or straight out prohibits to feel good about themselves.  And then there's this gem:
One of the most controversial additions was to include an optional line in the Sabbath service that seems to acknowledge mixed families by saying that Sabbath is a “gift for all,” not only a “gift for Jews,” said Feld. “There are people in our congregations who have not converted to Judaism. What does it mean to say: we haven’t given Shabbat to you?”

Smacking of Reconstructionism, it reminds one and all that the Conservative movement has forgotten the core values of Judaism in its rush to shore up its leftward flank as that bleeds into Reform.  After all, it's a basic tenet of Judaism that Shabbos is only for us, that non-Jews are actually forbidden to have a strict Sabbath of their own based on a pasuk in parashas Noach.  What does it mean to say we haven't given Shabbos to non-Jews who attend services?  That there is something special about Jews and their relationship to the Creator.  It's not the same as the other peoples of the world.  It has elements unique to it.  To blur those out in order to appeal not just to the non-religious but to non-Jews seems quiet radical for a movement that has members that still delude themselves into thinking they're practising a form of Torah Judaism.
Within the Conservative movement there are basically two kinds of people.  The small minority is the group that really believes Conservativism is a valid form of Jewish practice.  They are sincere, decent people who try to balance chesed with other commitments and religious values with secular ones.  The other group is the one that thinks that to be a Conservative Jew all you need to do is have a membership in one of their synagogues.  While the former group may represent the ideal of the movement, the latter has its essence nailed: to be a Conservative Jew, your dues cheque has to clear, nothing more. 
This has always been one of the essential differences between Orthodoxy and Conservativism that non-religious folks don't seem to get.  A person can join an Orthodox congregation but remain non-Orthodox if he drives on Shabbos or doesn't keep kosher.  A person who joins a Conservative congregation is now Conservative, no questions asked lest ye be judgemental.
The other essential difference is the religious focus. For Orthodoxy it's about making oneself relevant to God.  For Reform and Conservativism it's about making God relevant to oneself.  The reason for this new prayer book is obvious - as North American society, non-Orthodox Jews very much included, descends further into self-centred liberalism God is expected to cater that much more to whatever His "followers" want.
Perhaps it won't be many years before we see the first joint Reform-Conservative prayer book.  A pity for a movement that once promised so much but an inevitable end to one that wants to stand for everything while actually providing nothing.


RAM said...

Why do they even need a siddur for their movement? Each of them, or each congregation or faction, could wing it.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Conservatives still official think they're a form of religious Judaism so they need some central siddur to show unity in the movement.

Mr. Cohen said...

*** QUOTE 1 OF 3: ***

Rambam’s Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 3, paragraph 8:

If any Jew denies that even ONE WORD of the Torah is Divinely-revealed, then he or she is a heretic [apikuris].

In the same paragraph, Rambam teaches that any Jew who denies the Oral Law [Torah SheBeAl Peh] is also a heretic [apikuris].

In paragraph 6 of the same chapter, Rambam teaches that a heretic [apikuris] has no place in the afterlife of the righteous, and will be punished eternally.

What percentage of Reform Jews and Conservative Jews fit these categories?

Last but not least:

Since Orthodox Jews believe that the entire Torah is Divinely-revealed, why should they accept the validity of conversions that were performed by Reform Jews who reject the Divinely-revealed nature of the Torah?

Since Orthodox Jews accept the authority of Judaism’s Oral Laws, why should anyone expect them to accept the validity of conversions that were performed by Reform Jews who reject the authority of Judaism’s Oral Laws?

Rambam was born in 1134 CE in Córdoba, Spain and died in 1204 CE in Egypt.

*** QUOTE 2 OF 3: ***

Pele Yoetz, Perek Apikuris [Heretic]:
“And it is not even necessary to teach that a person who doubts the words of the Torah or the words of the Great Ancient Sages [divrei Sofrim], or mocks even one word of the Torah or one word of the Great Ancient Sages [divrei Sofrim], he is a complete heretic [apikuris gamur]; and behold, he has abandoned the faith, and denied a foundation [of the Jewish faith]…”

Pele Yoetz was completed by Rabbi Eliezer Papo (Sephardi Tahor) in Bulgaria on April 28, 1824 CE.

*** QUOTE 3 OF 3: ***

Mishnah Berurah, siman 126, sif katan 3:
“Understand that according to all opinions [literally, according to the entire world], that if we know that he [a Jew] denies the Resurrection Of The Dead [Techiyat HaMetim], or that he does not believe in the future redemption [Geulah HaAtidah], and how much more so if he does not believe that the Torah is divinely revealed [Min HaShamayim], or [if he does not believe in] reward and punishment; [then] according to all opinions, he is a complete heretic [Apikuris Gamur], and it is forbidden to allow him to act as prayer leader [Shaliach Tzibur]…”

Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaKohen Kagan, was an Orthodox Rabbi who lived from 1838 CE to 1933 CE in Poland. He wrote the Mishnah Berurah from 1894 CE to 1907 CE.