Thursday, July 14, 2005

Conservative Judaism on Decline II

(See this post)

Last week, The Jewish Week featured an opinion piece by Prof. Judith Hauptman about the declining ranks of Conservative Judaism. She argued that by failing to mandate egalitarianism, the Conservative movement gave a message that it is unfair and hypocritical. This, she claimed, drove off members. (Here is the article. Note that she is not Orthodox and the opinion piece does not reflect Orthodox views. Do not read the following quote if you are not prepared for a non-Orthodox view.):

It was at this point that the Conservative movement lost its moorings. In the wake of its egalitarian transformation, the leaders needed to actively advocate the point of view that this change fulfilled the mandate of the founders, that it was the highest order of good...

But they failed to do so. Instead of aggressively promoting equality for women as a grand and welcome new ethical truth, the leaders gave a choice to Conservative synagogues: to integrate or not to integrate women into leadership roles. Both options remained equally valid.

If the Conservative movement wants to stop losing members, it needs to clarify its moral vision. It must withdraw permission to be anything other than fair to women. Talmudists like me know with precision that feminist changes, and others on the agenda like the ordination of gays as rabbis, are all doable within the framework of halacha. Persuasive books have been written on the subject.
From where I'm sitting, this evaluation seems to be almost totally divorced from reality. Rabbi Alan J. Yuter has proven, once again, in a letter to The Jewish Week, that there are few people more entertaining that disgruntled former Conservative rabbis. He writes in this letter (note that, while Orthodox, he is not right-wing and those sensitive to left-wing Orthodoxy should not read the following quote):
If Professor Hauptman insists upon denying its traditionalists the right to be different by viewing morality, modesty and rabbinic legislation differently than she does, Conservative Judaism will lose its most intensely committed adherents, with little evidence that it will be embraced by non-observant feminists. This policy will also undermine Conservative Judaism's claim that unlike Orthodox Judaism, it accepts religious pluralism. The issues on which Conservative Judaism compromises and the issues where it draws lines in the sand will determine its actual rather than professed identity.
There is no lower blow than calling a liberal "intolerant." In this case, though, the label seems to fit.

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