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What About Halacha?
Tue, 12/03/2013 - 19:00

I am in agreement with Chancellor Eisen and I also treasure what the institutions of the Conservative movement have done for my family and me (“Lets Drink A L’Chaim To Conservative Judaism,” Opinion, Nov. 29).

Our growth as Jews has immensely benefited from the leadership and teaching of Conservative rabbis, the support of Conservative congregations, years at Camp Ramah and the Jewish Theological Seminary. However, what happened to an explicit reference to halacha and its presumed centrality for Conservative Judaism in the chancellor’s comments?

In his classic work “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice,” which for many of us also helped define our (Conservative) Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Klein of blessed memory wrote as his first statement: “Judaism rises and falls in accordance with the degree to which halacha permeates and penetrates the life of the Jewish people.”

Clearly many of the best and the brightest products of the Conservative movement, trying to apply what they learned through the institutions of Conservative Judaism, have been struggling with finding their place in organized Jewish movements and some, too many in my opinion, are opting out of the Conservative movement. This is of more concern than the numbers in the Pew report.

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With all due respect, to think that halacha plays any role in Conservative Judaism at this point is foolish. From the moment that Conservative leaders removed the mechitzah, gave permission to use a car on Shabbat and gave license to eat non-Kosher dairy meals, the movement lost any connection to halacha.

One of the things that many Rabbis don't realize is the premise that in order to study Torah and the rest of the Tanakh is that first people must be able to experience the divine.Soulful music (Debbie Freedman) does it for me. I will never forget Chancellor Shorash giving a talk at my Synagogue and very clearly and firmly stating the above.

I also recall the words of the Clergy at BJ who say that everyone is seeking, that in order to join one must be able to experience the divine and if you don't like touchy feely go to a cemetery.

Bob Rubin

I really do not think this is rocket science. Too many people who belong to Conseravtive synagogues are not Conservative Jews. They have no affinity for Halachah. They beieve that a Conseravtive Synaogue is a Conservative synagogue if it falls anywhere between no adherence to Jewish law (that's a reform synagogue) and the blackest of black hats (which is orthodoxy) and so they would prefer something just a little to the right of nothing. They are essentially Jewishly illiterate and are comfortable if the Rabbi studies Talmud and observes shabbes for them. Being a Conseravtive Jew requires work and study and practice (doesn't anything worth anything?) If you ask them, they will tell you (even if they do not believe it in their hearts) that the Torah (and the rest of the Tanakh) was given to Moses at Sinai (and that a more critical approach to our Scriptures is off-limits, beyond their comfort level and maybe even blasephemous. And our clergy will not tell them otherwise. And of course, it is their dues that keep our institutions from foreclosure. We have to welcome all comers and respond to their needs when they ask for shorter services, more English and less demanding observance. We have gotten ourselves into this mess through our desire to be ever bigger. Now it is time to talk about how to get out of the mess.

If your basis is observance of Conservative halacha, actually there are no Conservative Jews.