The rise and fall of a Conservative BT - part 2
Encouraged by Conservative Jewish e-mail listservs that appeared to show that there was a core of Conservative Jews who were committed to living the halachic lifestyle, my wife and I bgean our quest.
In some ways this quest was made easier by the fact that we were living in a large city with a large Orthodox Jewish population. Heck, we even lived inside the eruvv (and our shul was also inside the eruv.) No problem finding a kosher butcher, baker, or even candlestick maker. And we were having a great time at the shul, where the people were very friendly and appreciated active new memebers, even if they weren't millionaires. (In fact, I'm not sure if we have any really rich people in our shul, which still suits me fine.)
So before long we had our kitchen duly kashered under the auspices of an Orthodox outreach organization. Why Orthodox? One, the Conservatives are behind the 8-ball on this and don't offer the service. We not only had a rabbinic consultant review our kicthcen and equipment and make a plan for us, we had another rabbi, who taught in a yeshiva, come over and personally help me boil the plates and pots and blowtorch the sink. You try and imagine your typical RA rabbi wearing rubber gloves and fishing spoons out of a kettle of boiling water. The other reason what that this Orthodox outreach organization had a deal with the local kosher butcher to provide a $100 coupon for anyone who kashered their kitchen under the organizarion's auspices. Ideological purity is all well and good, but $100 is still $100.
These guys even prevailed upon us to tovel our dishes in the community mikveh. (The special mikveh for toveling, you wise guys!) You should know the traditional attitude in the Conservative movement to this custom can be summarized by the word "obsolesecent."
"Numerous illustrations may be cited of laws and practices which have become so obsolescent that few, if any, Jewish leaders would now campaign for their reintroduction. Thus, the prohibition against milk and bread made by Gentiles, the requirement to dip newly purchased dishes in the mikveh, or to abstain from newly harvetsted grains, chodosh, are esamples of laws that the quietly lapsed." -- Rabbis Morris Adler, Jacob Agus, and Theodore Freidman, A responsum on the Sabbath, 1950
"Quietly lapsed?! " Not among the black hatter frum in my town. And, tell the truth, the toveling is actually a pretty neat ritual. It's kind of like converting your dishes, even the German knives, to Judaism. But 1950 was a different time, and the Conservative rabbis were worried about different things than they are today.
Now the kitchen was kosher, and we were already Shabbos regulars at shul. The next thing was that we were going to be Shomer Shabbat, in the spirit of Conservative Judaism. That did not mean that we were going to drive to shul, despite the so-called pseudo-"permission" given in the Adler-Agus-Friedman responsum cited earlier. In fact, I read the responsum and found it to be one of the few Conservative halachic pieces that was less than convincing. But I also read Rabbi Neulander's responsum on electircity and found its logic comprelling, so we had no problems with using the light switches. Hey, we were trying to be frum Conservative Jews, not drive ourselves crazy.
So started our new lifestyle. Friday night started for me with a shot of some sort of distilled spirits, which help lift my spirits as I puttered about the kitchen cooking Shabbos dinner. Then kiddush, the full ritual, with the singing of Shalom Aleichem, Eishet hayil, belssing the kids, kiddush, washing hands, motzi, more ways of cooking chicken than I care to think about, accompanied by hekhshered wine, dessert, slivovitz, and bentshing. We tried to learn z'miros, but no one in my family can carry a tune. Eventually, I figured out a reasonable approximation of Yom Zeh Mechubad and Mi Pi El. Sometimes I would read the weekly parsha, but this stopped after I read the story of Jacob and Esau and started sympathizing with Esau, who got royally screwed by his rather insensitive father. (What can I say, I have father issues. Maybe I should worry, because, after all, I am a father.) Come on, Isaac, what do you mean, you only have one blessing to give?
Anyway, I would go to bed with a nice buzz. Shabbos is about the only time I drink and get a bzz like that. But I would wake up in the morning, and walk to shul, get there on time and pray my head off. Then kiddush and schmoozing, and home for a traditional Shabbos lunch (we even made choulent sometimes! How many Conservatives do you know who make choulent?), a traditional shabbos nap, a traditional shabbos walk, shalosh seudos, and finaly havdalah. OK, so we never made it back to shul for mincha and ma'ariv unless we were visiting frum Orthodox neighbors and stayed late enough to attend their minyan out of courtesy. But, believe me, we were pretty frum for Conservatives.
But, alas, these spiritual heights, while attained, could not be maintaned. In our next installment, you'll get to hear why we started our downward spiral.
-to be continued.