Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Sure Formula For Failure

The senior Rav in my community likes to tell the story of how, during the first few years of his service (perhaps overlordship might be a better word?) the congregation's leadership told him they intended to change the shul from Orthodox to Conservative.  They were fascinated by the vibrancy of the then ascendant movement and the idea of mixed seating didn't seem that odd to them.  As the story goes, he asked them about their daily minyan.  Well, came the reply, sometimes they don't get one.  His reply was quick: So you don't want us to get a minyan either?
There's a stage in the life of many organizations when the founding principles it stood for get forgotten and a desire to increase membership becomes the new principle.  However, the weaker the original commitment becomes the harder it gets to entice people to join.  People are either not interested or are looking for something specific and a poorly defined group does not tend to interest them.
If there is one thing the last 40 years of liberal Judaism has taught it is that liberal Judaism is not a formula for creating a large committed community.  Don't let the numbers fool you.  Unlike Orthodoxy, there is only one real commitment when it comes to being a Reformative Jew: paying your dues to the temple of your choice.  A Reformative congregation may have 1000 members but what percentage of them know anything about the movement they belong to?
Conservatism is especially bothered by this problem since, at least on paper, it does demand a certain level of commitment.  As much as they hate to label anyone a "bad Jew", someone who eats and bacon and cheese sandwich at a strip club on Yom Kippur is violating many of the few standards they have left.  Yet in their zeal to be "inclusive" and "progressive" they have shed as many principles as they can to avoid losing membership to the more nebulous but non-judgemental Reformers to their left.
Indeed Conservatism seems destined to ultimately split between those who really don't care about Torah and just want a place to sing songs on the occasional Saturday morning and those with a real sense of connection to Judaism who are looking for serious commitment.  The former will go left to Reform, the latter right to left-wing Modern Orthodoxy.  And the more Conservatism moves to accomodate the liberal left the faster this dissolution will occur.
The problem is that LWMO isn't going to be doing much better.  In fact, the more it trumpets its progressive nature the faster it will slide left into the failing arms of Conservatism.  For example, we are now told that a second "rabba" will soon be dealing out her wit and wisdom to the YCT crowd.
When Kaya Stern-Kaufman was ordained three months ago, her certificate looked different from those of other newly minted rabbis across the country. It included the English title “rabbi” and the Hebrew title “rabba.”

Stern-Kaufman, who was ordained by the pluralistic Academy of Jewish Religion in Riverdale, N.Y., became just the second woman in the United States to be given the title rabba. She followed the lead of Rabba Sara Hurwitz of the Orthodox Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
Of course Ms. Stern will serve God by strictly adhering to the principles of secular liberalism:
While Stern-Kaufman’s feminized title did put her in the spotlight, her work as a rabbi does not center on women’s issues. A social worker and a feng shui consultant before deciding to become a rabbi, she is focusing on outreach to unaffiliated Jews and bridging the denominations of Judaism. She is also a founder and member of the traditional egalitarian Berkshire Minyan.

She likened herself to Hurwitz in that both are “standing up for the right of Jewish women to be spiritual leaders in their communities.”
It must be the principles of secular liberalism as in Torah Judaism there is no "right" for a woman to be a spiritual leader, as the halacha demonstrates over and over.  Some have risen to the occasion and our nation has been stronger for it but the idea that there is some inequality when it comes to leadership positions in the Jewish community that needs to be righted is not born of Judaism.
It's interesting to note two things from this article.  The first is the difference between the original rabba, Sara Hurwitz, and her new companion.  While Hurwitz certainly perceives herself as breaking barriers she is very careful, at least in public, to remain as Orthodox as possible.  She talks about halacha, about Orthodox values even if one does not agree that her approach is a Torah true one.  Stern-Kaufmann, on the other hand, seems to be Orthodox in the mold of the Hartmann method: all the image, none of the substance.  If push comes to shove and Hurwitz were forced to choose between Orthodoxy and right wing Conservatism I do not doubt she'd move right.  Stern-Kaufmann sounds like she'd be just as comfortable with a radically left chavrusa from the Hebrew Union College as she would with someone actually Torah observant.
The second is the level of enthusiasm the article tries to bring.  This is a trend!  Things are changing!  Women are going to become mainsteam leaders in the Orthodox community as it changes to become more like Reformativism!
No it isn't.  No they're not.  No they won't.
Jewish history is littered with cults, groups and ideas that thought they could modify, improve or adjust Judaism in radical or progressive ways.  None of these groups have ever endured.  Despite a Conservative rabbi's enthusiastic approval, this idea will ultimately be relegated to the dustbin of Jewish history:
Like other professions in which women were once not welcome to join, the rabbinate has been forced to learn how to accept female rabbis into the ranks. Certainly this acceptance is most challenging for the oldest generation of rabbis who came of age in the old boys network -- a rabbinate sans women. Rabbis now in their middle age were the first to welcome women into the profession, but also have memories of the controversy that took shape around the seminary doors opening. But for younger rabbis -- I include myself in this cohort even though my doctor tells me I’m aging a bit each day -- there have always been female rabbis, and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
I recall the first time I jumped into a New York City cab and noticed that my driver was a woman. I did a double take, but then things progressed as usual. She got me to my destination, I paid the fare and her tip, said thanks, and was on my way.
Not so with female rabbis, however. There are noticeable differences between the sexes, and we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. Having women as rabbis has added immensely to all aspects of Judaism, and female rabbis have helped shape the conversation.
Female rabbis have added beautiful new rituals to our tradition. They have introduced spiritual rituals that most men wouldn’t have dreamed up, like prayers for fertility, teachings at the mikvah and meaningful customs following a miscarriage.
Female rabbis have brought naming ceremonies for our daughters to the meaningful level of the brit milah. They can relate to the teenage bat mitzvah girl in ways that male rabbis never could or would never even try. Their commentary on the Torah and Talmud is fresh, and they can provide voices to the hidden personas of the many female characters of our rich text that have been missing for generations.
A Judaism based on fashion, liberal values and a desire to be as progressive as gentile society around us will not appeal to Jews serious about their Judaism.  Perhaps Miller has missed it but the result of his movement's amazing and egalitarian policies is an empty pew as people search elsewhere for what Conservatives refuse to offer their congregants for fear of appearing archaic.  Is he truly wishing that type of failure on the YCT crowd as well?


Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer said...

While I agree with your sentiments, Garnel, you have to fix the post a bit. The new "Rabba" is not Orthodox and does not pretend to be Orthodox. Rather, the "pluralistic" AJR decided to allow its female graduates to choose to receive that title upon ordination. "Rabba" Kaya is to "Rabba" Sarah the same as a Conservative "Rabbi" to an Orthodox "Rabbi".

Shades of Grey said...

You may want to make a greater separating space between the quote and your conclusion. I missed the colon upon my first read and became very confused until I reread the post and went to the link to see where the quote ended and your words began again.

SJ said...

I'm thinking of visiting a synagogue I used to go to this coming year to say hi to some people I used to know. I haven't been to a synagogue regularly in basically a decade.

Problem is there's just no use for it. I constantly challenge jews on my blog to explain why judaism helps you on a personal level to no avail. Judaism only helps you either on a communal level (which means you are the one helping the community by either ass in seat in synagogue or you doing some sort of volunteer thing) or when you reach a marital level in which Judaism's only real benefits come into play.

SJ said...

Where Shmarya and other libtards have it wrong is that people don't want to go to a Jewish gathering and hear social action this social action that etc. etc. etc. It is the burden of the jewish establishment to show why judaism is something other than absolutely worthless to actual followers; not to charity cases.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I'm sorry SJ but if you're going to treat me like I'm your therapist you're going to have to tell me where to send my bill.

SJ said...

Do you take monopoly money? XD It's worth more than the U.S. dollar when B. Hussein Obama is in office. XD

Anyways I'm making a serious point here. The jewish establishment explains why judaism is useful to charity cases while the establishment is trying to explain why it's useful to followers.

Bob Miller said...

If the basic principle is to actualize one's subjective thoughts and feelings, no clergy is really needed at all---who is some mere "rabbi" or "rabba" to tell you what you yourself feel or how to act on that?

So people holding to that principle can't stay firmly attached to any institution or movement.

Anonymous said...

Garnel iron heart this is off topic but you assumed that when Rabbi Slifkin on his Rationalist blog said that it appears that Jonathan Ostroff doesn't now allow comments that that is true. If it was it isn't now. I ran a test to see if it is true. A little skepticism about Rabbi Slifkin's comment would have been in order. He gives at least as good as he got.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Good catch. I'll check it out.

Law mom said...

Is the last bit a quote that you are critisizing? Some spacing and a different font would help to make it clear.

On the post itself:

I do agree that "dumbing down" or looking for ways to demand as little as possible are not good strategies for any movement, because ultimately, the easiest and least demanding thing to do is to simply not get involved at all.

I disagree, though, with the way that you automatically associate issues of equality and inclusion with the "doing less" aspects of non-Orthodox Judaism. They are different concepts. Not keeping kosher is about doing what is easier. Not everyone gets the spiritual significance of keeping kosher, but eating kosher doesn't actually make anyone morally uncomfortable.

Equality and inclusion issues aren't about doing less; they are about a DIFFERENT approach and interpretation of morality. It isn't about impressing others, as was the case with early Reform. Non-Orthodox Jews are trying to be "as progressive as gentile society around" them. If you take an objective look at the data, they are MORE progressive than the surrounding society, and in many cases were actually leading the way. For this group, not embracing equality actually seems wrong, and directly against the deeply-held values of their families and communities.