Friday, December 01, 2006

Kiruv to the Orthodox -- Masorti's role

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.

46 Comments:

Blogger Halfnutcase said...

I will point out to you that i responded to you on dovbear.

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/dovbear/116491409491062981/

personaly i think you have seriously missjudged the nature of the teens at risk. Most of them leave because they feel they are not wanted and are not good enough. They would be equaly repulsed by much of what would be involved in what you suggest.(or they feel to constrained to fit, as I do)

the pity is that they don't realize MO judaism is actualy a kosher form of judaism. My suspicions are the at risk problem would practicaly not exist if children where informed about this, and that the MO would gladly welcome them with loving arms.

(now there are MO at riskers but...)

the other kind of At riskers, the ones who are disgusted with the lack of ahavas yisroel (and someone i love very dearly fell in to this pot) look elsewhere to find those torah ideals they so feircely cheirish. led my friend to go in to the military in persuit of achdus.

but no, neither camp would likely fall in to the conservative spectrum. there are precious few of them who are actualy repulsed by judaism's teachings, only by it's applications, and don't have the chutzpah to think that conservative judaism isn't full of it's idiocies and idiocyncracies too. It's by most accounts worse than orthodoxy.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

the pity is that they don't realize MO judaism is actualy a kosher form of judaism.

Actually, RW Conservative Judaism is pretty close to Modern Orthodoxy.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

but no, neither camp would likely fall in to the conservative spectrum. there are precious few of them who are actualy repulsed by judaism's teachings, only by it's applications, and don't have the chutzpah to think that conservative judaism isn't full of it's idiocies and idiocyncracies too. It's by most accounts worse than orthodoxy.

You are implying that Conservative Judaism is "repulsed" by the teachings of Judaism?

You are either ignorant of Conservative Judaism, or you believe that certain "repsulsive" teachings of Orthodox Judaism are such essential parts of Judaism that their elimination by the Conservative rabbis is evidence that the Conservative rabbis reject Judaism. The Conservative rabbis would disgaree with you.

The fact that Conservative Judaism has its own idiocies and idiosyncrasies is not evidence that its unsuitability. Any group activity will have these problems, but in the Conservative (and, indeed, in other non-Orthodox movements), at least, one is free to pursue one's own path without official interference from self-appointed guardians of Truth.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous bsci said...

There is no hard boundary between Orthodox and Conservative (and Reform for that matter). Not only isn't there a hard boundary, but there aren't even specific issues. I belong to a Conservative congregation where the service is done mostly in hebrew with no instruments and with many congregants taking shomer mitzvot very seriously. Our congregation also happens to be adamantly egalitarians and pro-gay rights. One of the Orthodox shuls in town is also very pro-gay right so, like I said, there isn't a clear boundary.
I don't see why you are hoping for the solution to come from right wing Conservative. Why not ask the OU to make a string of Left wing Orthodox shuls or minyans?

The strangest part of your post is that you seem to hope for the USCJ to swoop down and create synagogues. For an organization that has trouble justifiying why anyone should belong and pay them tens of thousands of dollars and is barely functional enough to provide relevant services to existing members, I'd love to hear how you expect the national organization to sweep into cities and create synagogues.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello it's called modern orthodox eg Beth Sholom of Lawrence, Hebrew Inst of Riverdale, Lincoln Sq. etc.....There is no problem with "at risk" kids. It's parents who are myopically "at risk". If a young person does not share the beliefs of his parents he (she) is ostracised, seperated, pigon holed and turns to like ninded colleagues because of parents who are embarassed that their son wears jeans or daughter listens to Shakira

7:49 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the idea has a great deal of merit. The problem isnt with the conservative movements values per se, generally, it accepts halacha as valid and it doesnt force congregations to give up more traditional practices (for example, while there are guitar playing women rabbis it is not an obligation of a shul to hire them.) The one area where there is a pretty hard border is on the issue of Separate seating and really wasnt that the original issue all along? Egalitarianism? Is it that hard to believe the there are people of a traditional bias who cant accept that in this day and age.

Why not turn a negative into a positive. Encourage Traditional Jews to join conservative shuls so they can teach traditional Jewish observance (with the exception of egalitarianism) to the people who really dont know what to do at all.

Orthodox Jews can fill the role of Personal Jewish Trainers to a whole generation of conservative Jews, reintroducing them to all of the great things about Orthodox observence without all of the superstition and Rebbe worship.

10:04 AM  
Blogger hartfield zody said...

Conservative judaism is a faiure you are loosing out to Reform Judaism!

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No orthodox person in their right mind would have anything to do with a movement that doesn't believe that the Torah is the work of God. Separate seating is actually a far bigger deal that you make it out, as is women rabbis and women reading from the Torah so frankly, your idea has no mileage.

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