Sunday, March 01, 2009

Telling It Like It Is

Guest post by R. Reuven Spolter
(cross-posted here: link)

In a "Modest Proposal" styled op-ed piece in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi David Forman finally throws down the gauntlet. After years of trying to gain recognition from the government as legitimate streams of Judaism and years of failure, it's time for the Conservative and Reform movements to declare themselves as a separate religion. He writes,

IN LIGHT of all the above, if, together, the Reform and Conservative movements were to declare themselves a separate religion from Orthodoxy, which in fact they are - perhaps not in some of their ritual and liturgical traditions, but most certainly in their ethical moorings regarding their respectful tolerance and concern for the "other" - the state would have no choice but to grant them the rights and privileges enjoyed by other religions in the country, which would necessarily include control over life-cycle events for their own constituency.
Several thoughts crossed my mind:
Click here to read more1. I find it fascinating that he automatically binds Conservative and Reform Judaism together, as if they share identical values, religious beliefs and dogma. Do they really share that much in common? His inadvertent bundling reminds me of my earlier post on the issue, and serves as just another indication that the two streams flow ever-so-slowly towards the inevitable merger. See also this article in the Jewish Standard (that I found via Hirhurim) about the chairman of the Conservative movement which said that
Eisen — co-author with sociologist Steven M. Cohen of “The Jew Within: Self, Family and Community in America” and a respected scholar of American Judaism — acknowledged that he hears much talk about post-denominationalism and has visited some successful, non-affiliated synagogues. “I think that movements are indispensable,” he said, but noted that there’s room for those congregations that are “beyond” movements as well as for cooperative ventures among the different institutions.
2. Despite the derogatory rhetoric about Orthodoxy, I find it refreshing that Forman is finally willing to face the truth: Reform and Conservative Judaism might not be the same religion as Orthodoxy. This raises thorny questions about what a religion really is. How do we distinguish between different faiths versus dividing different streams within a single faith? What would the implications truly be were the two more liberal denominations to declare themselves distinct religions?

Finally, to the practical. Does Forman really think that the move would help the movements? While they might achieve minor benefits in Israel (which is truly doubtful, to be honest), what would the costs of such a move be? To me, even raising the possibility of secession only further marginalizes movements struggling with continued apathy and membership loss.

And that doesn't help the cause of Reform and Conservative Jewry either in Israel, or in America.

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