I believe

Rabbi Adam Frank shares his thoughts on Conservative Judaism.

Masorti Movement service 370 (photo credit: www.masorti.org)
Masorti Movement service 370
(photo credit: www.masorti.org)
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 its institutions.
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 world.
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 Jewish observance.
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.
I 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 home.
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 world.
I believe that membership to a shul should be a privilege.
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 observant lifestyle.
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 practice.
I believe that most of my modern Orthodox friends are “Conservative” and I believe that most of my Conservative friends are not.
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.
I believe that religious leadership requires courageous, charismatic personality and upstanding character and that both can be taught and developed.
I believe that our seminaries must impose expectations on our rabbinical students that demand more than simply “being on the spectrum of Conservative Halacha.”
I believe that our observant Conservative Jews in their 20s, 30s and 40s must have vibrant communities to join other than our institutional seminaries.
I believe that Conservative Judaism should focus its finite resources to strengthen its core rather than to expand its numbers.
I 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 outreach.
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 ethical, behavior.
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.
I 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?
Parents: even 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.