|Photo by: www.masorti.org|
Rabbi Adam Frank shares his thoughts on Conservative Judaism.
Though I serve a most public face of Conservative Judaism in Israel – certainly
in the eyes of Diaspora Jewry – I speak neither for the movement nor for any of
However, in this ever-changing landscape that is
Conservative Judaism, I feel compelled to share the following: Conservative
Judaism was birthed as a result of a modernizing Jewish population’s desire to
continue to observe Jewish law in the face of new intellectual and political
liberties that invited Jewish participation in this developing
Just as the early founders of Conservative Judaism adjusted and
retooled approaches to Jewish tradition in reaction to changes in the modern
world of its time in order to “conserve” Jewish practice, so too must
present-day Conservative leadership adjust and retool Conservative Judaism to
preserve Jewish practice – which means changing messages and ways of doing
business that have shown themselves to fail in helping Jews maintain a fealty to
I BELIEVE that allowing
demographic trends to dictate movement stances and synagogue policy is a
misguided capitulation to a mostly non-engaged public.
I believe that
Conservative Judaism’s most passionate youth are turned off by Conservative
pragmatism over passion, ideology over actuality, by the snobbery termed
“intellectual honesty” over the character building and shared sense of mission
created by a community of Torah-observant people who believe that God has
expectations of them.
I believe that intellect is different from wisdom
and that the Conservative Movement has been unwise in placing too much emphasis
on biblical criticism and not enough on psychology, emotions, and human needs as
they relate to belief in God.
I believe that faith in God is not supposed
to be put under a microscope for dissection.
I believe that many
Conservative Jews would benefit from a clarion call that validates the belief in
God and the belief in the literal Divinity of the Torah.
I believe the
Five Books of Moses were given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
BELIEVE synagogues should sell off their large, expensive, empty sanctuaries and
replace them with intimate havens whose size matches the demand of a 52-week
community rather than a three-days-a year membership list.
I believe that
Conservative synagogues should be communities that set public levels of
expectations on its members in the areas of kashrut, Shabbat, Torah study and
acts of hessed (loving-kindness).
I believe Conservative Judaism should
encourage our boys and men to wear kippot outside of school, synagogue and the
I believe that not living near the synagogue due to the cost of
housing is an excuse that does not get used in the factual observant
I believe that membership to a shul should be a
I BELIEVE that the North American Solomon Schechter Day school
system should require parallel learning for parents of students and require a
level of observance from its member families.
I believe that teachers of
Jewish studies in our Jewish day schools must have a commitment to living an
I believe that in a Jewish school environment that
espouses pluralism of its students’ practices, the biggest lesson taught to the
student is pluralism at the expense of Judaism.
I believe that the name
“Conservative” contains no descriptive or prescriptive meaning. It communicates
no sense of expectation or definition of its members’ philosophy or
I believe that most of my modern Orthodox friends are
“Conservative” and I believe that most of my Conservative friends are
I BELIEVE that for too long, Conservative leadership has tried to
work behind the scenes.
I believe the leading bodies in the Conservative
Jewish world should be rattling the cage at society’s indecencies.
believe that religious leadership requires courageous, charismatic personality
and upstanding character and that both can be taught and developed.
believe that our seminaries must impose expectations on our rabbinical students
that demand more than simply “being on the spectrum of Conservative
I believe that our observant Conservative Jews in their 20s,
30s and 40s must have vibrant communities to join other than our institutional
I believe that Conservative Judaism should focus its finite
resources to strengthen its core rather than to expand its numbers.
believe that the largest institutions of the Conservative Movement – USCJ, the
Rabbinical Assembly, JTS, the ZSRS, the Women’s League and the Men’s Club must
fund/financially support kollels of youthful, charismatic master teachers in
city centers in order to create the foundations of communities for our committed
adults, which will support the implementation of intensive, observant-based
I believe Conservative Jewish leadership neither embrace nor
emphasizes enough that the Jews are a chosen people with a special, unrivaled
relationship with God.
I believe that Conservative Judaism should more
vocally espouse that the Land of Israel is holy ground where God’s presence in
the world is felt strongest.
I believe that many Jews want and need the
message that according to Judaism there is a correct way to live in this world
and that there are absolute rights and wrongs that apply to ritual, as well as
I believe the Conservative Movement’s Committee on
Jewish Law and Standards should be viewed as the modern day Sanhedrin – but
first it must start acting like a Sanhedrin by issuing edicts that are clear and
worthy, humble and certain, relevant and important and unwavering.
believe the Conservative Law Committee should repeal the ruling that permits
driving on Shabbat and holidays.
AND I believe that parents of young
families will appreciate their Conservative rabbi saying to them: Parents, you
are not responsible for the level of Jewish literacy you were or were not gifted
with during childhood; your parents are. Just as you are responsible for your
child’s level of Jewish literacy.
Will your child feel panic or comfort
with a siddur in her hands? Will your child be able to chant and understand the
full kiddush on Friday nights? Know how to kasher a kitchen? Be able to open the
chumash or Torah and read it in its original Hebrew? Will your child be able to
explain why being Jewish is relevant and important, and why finding a Jewish
partner is a no-brainer?
Will your child find comfort and pleasure upon entering
a synagogue or will it cause anxiety and resentment? Will your child have the
critical positive memories of living in a Shabbat-observant home?
and especially if it means helping them to exceed your own level of knowledge,
give your children the gift of literacy and the experience of their heritage,
which will be the key that opens their Jewish futures... a gift that too few of
us received from our own parents.