Imagine Jews worshipping together

For the sake of our future, it's time for our rabbinic leadership to reach out to other denominations.

london synagogue 88 (photo credit: )
london synagogue 88
(photo credit: )
We Jews are too dedicated to defending theological turf. Consider these disturbing scenarios: Most Orthodox rabbis would sooner close the doors of their synagogue than permit a Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Reform rabbi to speak from the pulpit and violate its sanctity with "heretical" non-Orthodox teachings. Many Reform rabbis will officiate at an interfaith wedding alongside Christian clergy but refuse to stand under the huppa next to a Conservative or Orthodox rabbi and condone a halachic wedding contract of kinyan, or acquisition. At its biennial convention in 2005, the Conservative rabbinical association debated in earnest whether to expel traditional, non-egalitarian congregations from the United Synagogue's highly trumpeted, pluralistic "tent of Conservative Jewry." One rabbi referred to non-egalitarian services as "immoral" and "misogynistic." Through chauvinistic rebuffs, dogmatic authorities of every denomination mark their territory, beat their chests, and bellow a warning intended for loyal followers and heretical enemies. When the dust settles, they adopt a self-satisfied pose, accusing the other side of starting the fight. With swords sheathed, each dogmatist hunkers down in his own synagogue or temple bunker to call upon God while an air of detachment pervades the Jewish community. Today, when hundreds of thousands of Jews opt out of Judaism, internecine battles only contribute to the charge by the unaffiliated that organized religion in general and Judaism in particular leads to intolerance and fraternal hatred. When the decibel level of strident carping drowns out the beauty and positive values of all streams of Judaism, outsiders will choose to remain on the outside, and those on the way out will quickly join the ranks of the unaffiliated. THERE IS another path, one which could shore up the breach, slacken the flow of Jews deciding to opt out, and attract back those who have already left. Rabbis of different denominations should reach across the divide and find theological solutions to not only work together for the social betterment of the community, but most importantly for Jewish unity, worship together. For the sake of the future of the Jewish people, it is time for our rabbinic leadership to reach out to other denominations and find the will to pray together in one sanctuary. This would create a new paradigm of worship, in which rabbis, standing before the Almighty, will show their congregants that a Jewish world can stand together, not just apart. Students of history will scoff at such an effort. The pessimistic historian will cite millennia of Jewish theological rifts. The optimist, however, will ignore these precedents, if only because a Jewish optimist is committed to ahavat hinam, boundless love for other Jews. ALTHOUGH THE theological challenge is daunting, solutions can be found. Two recent developments illustrate the ability of Jews of different viewpoints to pray together and welcome God into their midst. In 2001, a group of Jerusalem residents created the first Modern Orthodox Partnership Minyan, which seeks to readdress the role of women in the synagogue within the strictures of halacha. As in any Orthodox service, the Partnership Minyan consists of 10 men, separates men and women with a mehitza, or barrier, and uses traditional Orthodox liturgy. Yet it allows women to participate fully in the Torah reading as readers and recipients of aliyot, and to lead certain parts of the service. Female participants deliver sermons and lead classes for the congregation. Partnership Minyans have now spread to several metropolitan areas in the US. Another promising development took place in Israel a decade ago when the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and the Masorti Movement published a new prayer book titled V'ani T'filati, a traditional prayer book which embraces pluralism and a variety of acceptable approaches to thorny issues. It does so by offering alternative texts from which a person may choose their prayer. An egalitarian Jew may sanctify not only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. A Jew who sanctifies the exalted role sacrifices played in the Temple skips respectfully over a paragraph in the musaf service that views the sacrificial system as a primitive stage in the religious development of the Jewish people. Both of these examples allow Jews on opposite sides of the theological spectrum to meet in worship. Although a Partnership Minyan is not the ideal venue either for staunch egalitarians or for traditional Orthodox Jews, it allows us to fulfill a higher value within a framework of halacha - unity among the Jewish people. In a similar vein, Jews of different beliefs can pray from Siddur V'ani T'filati because it presents, together, the conflicting sacred texts of traditional and non-traditional Jewish prayer services. Large metropolitan areas usually boast synagogues of every denomination, citadels of theological correctness. Yet, none of these fortified institutions can boast that they bring Jews together as one. It is high time for the soldiers of dogma to lay down their swords, embrace creative solutions, and cross the widening chasm of Jewish self-righteousness so that they can raise their voices to God. Together. The writer, a businessman in Baltimore, Maryland, was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi at Yeshiva University.