If you didn't know, I have a shining vision of a new form of non-tribal secular-humanist Judaism that will transcend the narrow limits of the current "Abrahamitic" faiths (i.e Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and ensure the universal spread of Torah without the narrow-minded bigotry and violence that has been an all too often side-effect so far.
But I'm not here to discuss that grand high-level vision. I'm posting about smaller practical steps to set it in motion.
What started this was a recent post by DovBear,
who was channeling a post by Rabi Yaakov Horowitz
concerning "at-risk teens" in the black-hatter Orthodox community. It seems that there is a growing amount of dissatisfaction with the black-hatter lifestyle, a lifestyle that is circumscribed by their ideology and thus capable of change only with the greatest of difficulty.
Chevrei, this could be the start of the greatest defections from Orthodox Judaism that k'lal Yisrael
has seen since the days of my grandparents, when millions of Jews were finally emancipated from Czarist oppression, and realized that a good deal of that consisted of oppression by the Orthodox establishment in the Old Country. These defections can be an opportunity to build a new Jewish community based on the principles of "Torah v'sekoolar hoomaneezm,"
but we may lose that chance if the defectors leave the Jewish fold so fast that they become totally secular, or even, (God Forbid) become Christian. Or Mormon. Or Buddhist. We must ensure that defectors from Orthodox remain religiously Jewish, as participants on one of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
And here is where the Conservative (Masorti) movement can play a vital role, the same role they played in Grandpa's day. These Orthodox defectors, while they may have found the lifestyle of their community difficult and the theology of their community preposterous, have still been thoroughly indoctrinated that black-hatter Orthodoxy is the Only One True Form of Judaism. Thus, when they attend services at a non-Orthodox synagogue and encounter a lady rabbi strumming on a guitar, they cannot accept that this, too, is one of the 70 faces of Torah. These lost souls need to find a way station, a half-way house, as it were, where they can remain within the fold of k'lal yisrael and learn to accept the principles of the new Judaism in a setting that is familar to them. And Conservative Judaism can provide that setting, just as it did from my grandfather of blessed memory, a Lithuanian yeshiva boocher
who wouldn't have been caught dead in a Reform Temple ("goyish mishugass"), but came to enjoy and appreciate his local Conservative minyan, mixed seating and all.
But is the Conservative movement ready for this historic task? Alas, they've been navel-gazing and otherwise self-absorbed with issues related to the career ambitions of women and gay rabbis, and they may yet miss this historic opportunity. Orthodox defectors come to Consertaive shuls, and they may be attracted by the similarities in the rituals, but they get turned off by the growing trend of Conservative shuls becoming ritually indistinguishable from Reform Temples. i.e., the Conservative shuls are becoming too goyish. Too many prayers in English, too much explanation during services of the rituals. Too much of major changes merely to accommodate the wishes of a faction outspoken members. Not that all of that is wrong, and may be what that particular congregation of Conservative faithful need. But will such congregations attract the defectors from Orthodoxy?
I maintain that it is in the best interest of the Conservative movement, and indeed of k'lal Yisrael, to make sure that these defectors find a proper Jewish home. To do that, the Conservative movement should consciously work to m'karev this spiritual searchers and be sure that they have Conservative prayer-space that is culturally familiar to them and allows them to be slowly weaned from their fundamentalist indoctrination. This means that the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism should ensure that every Jewish community of reasonable size have some sort of "right-wing" Conservative minyan in a functional state. This could range from an alternative minyan in a larger established synagogue to an independent free-standing synagogue. "Right-wing Conservative" could cover a wide range of practices, including orthodox-style ritual (very little English, use of orthodox prayer-texts, no heche kedusha, full annual Torah reading, no microphones on Shabbos, etc.), to fully or partially ritually non-egalitarian. What's most important is a congregation in which the zeitgeist of the membership is supportive of people who try to be shomrei mitzvot,
unlike many Conservative synagogues, where observant people are made to feel like out-of-place religious fanatics. An indoctrinated Orthodox defector is going to be going through enough emotional turmoil, what with feelings of guilt that he or she has rejected the faith of his or her parents, they don't need to be made to feel bad about ritual practices that the need to continue, at least for a while, as a stabilizing force in their life.
And it should be noted that the theology and ideology of Conservative Judaism does
allow for the "right-wing" practices, so its not like the movement would be hypocritical by sponsoring such institutions. And these "right-wing" institutions can be safe places where the Orthodox defectors can be exposed to the Sages of Liberal Judaism who can show them that the authentic teachings of Torah need not require and abusive social system or a fundamentalist theology. And so, most of them will slowly grow in Liberal observance and assimilate into the non-Orthodox community, thus helping build my vision of a new universal House of Israel for everybody.