Friday, September 01, 2006

How Have the Once Mighty Fallen...

When I was growing up in the Conservative movement in the 1960's, there were few sobriquets that were worse than 'Ortho.' An 'Ortho' was someone who took his religion and religious observance seriously, even in classic Conservative terms. "Orthos were ridiculed (or treated with bemused condescension), in USY for example, because they prayed, studied and observed Shabbat. I will never forget the way the USY'ers and adult advisers reacted when the regional president became fully observant and transferred to an Orthodox day school. He was treated with a mixture of fear, compassion and concern for his mental health. He wasn't well. How could he be? He went over to the dark side (a few years before Star Wars IV). He became an Ortho. After all, why was there any need for him to do so. Conservative Judaism, it was argued, is the real halakhic Judaism. Orthodoxy is a thing of the past and will atrophy away.

As I underwent my own transition into Orthodoxy (in which the Conservative movement played a positive role), I became increasingly aware of the fact that the putative loyalty of the Conservative movement to Tradition was a facade. As a professor of mine in college (himself an ordained JTS rabbi) noted, the essence of the movement may be summed up as 'Tell me where the crowd is going. I'm it's leader.' Or, put differently, Schechter's 'Catholic Israel' had morphed, with Mordekhai Kaplan's help, into a system that deified the Jew and subjected God and Torah to the whims of man. Whatever the people want, wherever the ideological winds might blow, Jewish tradition could be coerced to reflect the latest fad (or Orthodoxy). After all, Judaism has no integrity of its own. It was created by Jews to serve them.

It, therefore, comes as no surprise that JTS and the United Synagogue will now rip more verses out of the Torah by ordaining practicing gays as rabbis and countenancing same-sex marriages. It was inevitable. They are simply playing out a scenario that was scripted decades ago. They are playing themselves out of Jewish history, and out of Jewry, much as the Hellenized Jews of the late Roman Empire.

It's amazing to me that this socio-religious phenomenon, which numbered 44% of affiliated Jewry in the United States in my youth, has come to this. I'm also sad, though I'm not sure why. This lack of authenticity; this flippant attitude to God, Torah and Mitzvot; their arrogant, consigning of Orthodoxy to the dustbin of Jewish history were critical factors in my leaving Conservatism, already in my middle teens.

Perhaps I'm sad because Conservatism will no longer serve as a path back to Torah, as it was for me and countless others.

On the other hand, the choice will now be clear for anyone who seeks to be part of the Jewish future. Only a life of Faith in God, Study of Torah and acceptance of the Yoke of Mitzvot, evn when inconvenient and at odds with conventional mores, will stand the test of time.


mycroft said...

Perhaps I'm sad because Conservatism will no longer serve as a path back to Torah, as it was for me and countless others.

Important that is where a very high * pf BT's came from-not from totally unaffiliated Jews.

Chananyah said...

As someone with a similar background, I totally agree with you. My parents are "observant" Conservative Jews which means they go to shul every Shabbas and keep Kosher. However, I feel the movement really failed them, and never showed them the true kedushah that living a life dedicated to Torah is all about. While my parents and their friends would testify to a belief in G-d, it plays very little to no role in their daily lives.

Chananyah said...

I just read your article on HaKarat HaTov, and I have to say I'm a bit taken aback. I too went to public school and am also a Prozdor Hebrew College graduate albeit almost 30 years after you. I feel that most of what you said matches my own experience.

Ben Bayit said...

The direction of the Conservative movement should come as no suprise. It's an inherently American movement that came to its heydey just as the "winds" of "American Legal Realism" swept through the American legal system. They applied these same priciples to the Jewish legal system. These ideas still remain influential, and institutional dogma and intertia have kept them going within the Conservative movement.

The real danger is that these ideas have permeated Modern Orthodoxy and there are Modern "Orthodox" leaders who still believe that the law is God made but that we can apply these same principles to certain areas of the law - e.g. mitzvat mechiyat amalek