A 'prophecy' sadly fulfilled

A prediction I made five years ago in the piece "Time to Come Home" has been confirmed.

avi shafran 88 (photo credit: )
avi shafran 88
(photo credit: )
Mindful of the Talmudic teaching that after the destruction of the First Holy Temple the only semblance of prophecy resides in children and fools, and well aware of my age, I should hesitate before claiming the mantleof a seer. But a prediction I made in an article for Moment magazine more than five years ago - and for which, at the time, I was roundly pilloried - has been confirmed by recent events. I entitled the piece "Time to Come Home," and it was addressed to Jews who belonged to Conservative movement congregations. That movement's claim of fealty to halacha, I contended, is dishonest. Through citations of fact and the words of Conservative leaders, the essay demonstrated how the process of determining Conservative "halacha" differed qualitatively and radically from the halachic process of the millennia. Halacha, I wrote, has always been decided (as it still is by Orthodoxy) through the objective examination of verses, mediated through the Talmud, with determination only to discern the Torah's intention. By contrast, the Conservative process has often involved first deciding a desired result, and then manipulating the sources to yield that outcome. That might not disturb some Conservative Jews, to be sure, but they likely belong in the Reform movement, which allows halacha a "vote but not a veto." Those Conservative Jews, however, who truly respect the concept of halacha and had always accepted as fact that their movement was committed to the traditional halachic process, the article contended, needed to realize that such was not the case, and that their true home (hence the title) was in the Orthodox community. Whether because of that thesis itself or Moment's renaming of the piece (against my wishes) as "The Conservative Lie," the article met with loud and angry protest. There was much positive response, too, mostly from erstwhile Conservative Jews who had left the movement for Orthodoxy and from members of Conservative synagogues who had already come to suspect that things were as I had described them. But a small army of Conservative leaders angrily blasted what one called my "nasty diatribe" and accused me of hating Conservative Jews - even though my article had dealt with a theological process, not people, and was expressly aimed at engaging other Jews' minds. IN ANY event, time has a way of putting things into perspective. In my Moment piece, I identified the issue of same-sex relationships as a particularly telling topic, since the larger societal milieu had essentially embraced such relationships as morally acceptable and yet thousands of years of halachic literature (not to mention explicit verses in the Torah itself, in the case of males) declares them sinful. Hence my "prophecy": The Conservative movement would come in time to "halachically" sanction what the Torah forbids in no uncertain terms. My prediction, of course, required no supernatural powers, only the natural one of observation. Fast-forward to September, 2006, when the media are reporting that Conservative leaders are proudly poised - as early as December - to effectively sanction unions that, by any objective measure, are halachically indefensible. A fig leaf of sorts is being planned, in the form of a contradictory "second opinion" that Conservative congregations (or, presumably, individuals) can choose to accept instead. But the abandonment of an uncontested Jewish moral verity - even as one of two or more "alternatives" - speaks piercingly for itself. Conservative Rabbi David Lincoln, the spiritual leader of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, put it well: "Jewish law is flexible in many instances, but there are certain things that are very straightforward, like this." Truth be told, Rabbi Lincoln's lament, like my prediction, has long been clear to others, even within the Conservative world. At the 1980 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, influential Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner asked his audience "Is the Conservative movement halachic?" and then answered, honestly: "It obviously is not." And so, what remains, still, is the thought with which I ended my Moment article. The courage to recognize misjudgments is a laudable and inherently Jewish trait, one the Talmud sees in the very root of the name Judah (derived from the Hebrew li'hodot, to admit), from which the word "Jew" derives. Such self-examination is what all Jews are to engage in at this time of year. And it is, moreover, why there are so many once-Conservative Jews who have already blazed a trail of return to a halachic lifestyle. In the wake of the upcoming Conservative decision, others, I hope, will come to follow. And what I hope no less fervently is that that my own world, the Orthodox, will demonstrate its own self-improvement and commitment - to other Jews, welcoming them warmly into our shuls and into our lives. Here, too, there is a well-blazed trail - and much cause for optimism. Because Ahavat Yisrael, love for fellow Jews, is not only a sublime concept and an underpinning of the Jewish people, it is as compelling and immutable as any halacha. The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.