I love halakhic, religious, observant, yet egalitarian and non-fundamentalist Judaism. We can call it Conservative/Masorti Judaism, or Trad-Egal Judaism. Other names are fine, too. The particular name doesn’t matter. But in the past, it was the USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism ) and JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary of America) that that did the most in building and creating this center of Jewish life in North America.
But today the Conservative movement has a problem. It has lost almost half of it’s congregations in the last generation, and thus polarization in Jewish communal life has increased. There are many more non-halakhic Jews to the left (many of whom view Orthodoxy as an opponent, instead of an ally), and many more hard right-wing Orthodox on the right (many of whom view all of Judaism, even Modern Orthodoxy, as heretical)
The halakhic, non-fundamentalist center has so much to offer, but it does have a problem. Why? Many of us have concluded that since the 1960’s, it has not had significantly competent leadership. My friends and I have met many RA members in leadership positions, but too few of them “got it”. They were wonderful people – smart, educated, brilliant, ethical, moral, and had meaningful halakhic positions. Their rabbinic credentials are valid and valuable. Yet none of that is a useful skill set for reaching out to create new congregations, or supporting failing ones, or reaching out to unaffiliated Jewish people and bringing them into religious, halakhic Jewish life.
The leadership of the Conservative movement hasn’t come close to understanding the post 1960’s reality of Jewish life. Too many were ivory tower experts, or nice people – but we need people brimming with passion that reach the masses. We need leaders who can simultaneously inspire passion, as well as effectively fundraise, and restore our institutions.
Here’s an example: In my geographical area I know a Chabad Lubavitcher rabbi and rebbetzin couple who have more zeal, energy, enthusiasm and optimism than any five regular rabbis. This couple has spent 20 years building a network of growing Chabad synagogues in areas of declining Jewish populations around the Boston area. He and his wife, and his proteges, are increasing synagogue attendance, observance of mitzvot, people having passion and pride in Judaism, and do the necessary fundraising to make this sustainable.
Yet who are the majority of their members? Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, secular Jews, and some Orthodox-leaning traditional Jews. Most members certainly are not truly knowledgeable about Chabad Hasidic Orthodox Jewish theology, halakhah, and minhag. In fact, if they knew the details of Chabad theology on certain points, they would certainly disagree. Yet more Jewish families are here instead of in Conservative synagogues because this dedicated group of Chabad emissaries is doing the hard work of shaking hands, making phone calls, going out to public areas, and dynamically creating opportunities.
To be clear, I am not saying this to knock Conservative/Masorti Judaism. I am a passionate proponent of our halakhic egalitarian hashkafah. The purpose is to point out an issue that some in our community have not dealt with, so we can move forward in a new direction that inspires and builds our community.
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