Nathaniel Popper writes in the Forward that the Conservative Movement does not seem to be living up to their push for better wages for workers. I’m not entirely sure what the point of the article is; is it to point out that some congregations (and not just Conservative ones) underpay their workers? Is it say that the whole Magen Tzedek enterprise is hypocritical because not everyone in the movement lives up to it already?
If it’s the first, he’s a little behind – we already knew that; if the second, again, he’s a little behind the curve; I certainly have not backed off from critiquing the Conservative movement in the past – it certainly has plenty to critique, but I’ll have to say, I disagree. I don’t disagree because it’s not true, but because I think he’s missing the point.
As Rabbi Jill Jacobs says in the article, “It’s always easier to look slightly outside yourself rather than to look inside… There certainly hasn’t been any large-scale change.”
That’s true – but it’s a little premature to write off the whole project becasue it hasn’t been perfectly realised prior to beginning. Having Magen Tzedek has spurred some shuls to reexamine their own policies towards their own workers; Rabbi Jacobs is part of a movement of many people who turned to rabbinical school not necessarily because they loved to give sermons, but because they were driven to repair the world, and thought that a uniquely Jewish vision could help to do so. Rabbi Jacob’s tshuva is not the end; although it has gotten less press than Magen Tzedek, over time, I think both will be understood as the fulcrum for major change in the Jewish community as a whole.
Of course, there are still people like those quoted in the Forward citing the same tired arguments for why we shouldn’t do the right thing (they could work somewhere else; we’re doing important work that couldn’t get done if we paid our employees more; another variant of the “businesses might have to close and pay nothing at all if you made them provide benefits”…), but having Rabbi Jacob’s tshuva and the Magen Tzedek will help rabbis do their job better – and that job is to teach – to help people become knowledgeable, practicing Jews, and to have a relationship with God – which we achieve through mitzvot which include paying the matzah bakers enough to eat, and the people who clean the shul enough to not have to work two jobs or go on welfare. If we haven’t achieved it yet, well, even Moses couldn’t get Israel to quit worshiping idols. It’s a start and Baruch haShem it’s starting rather than not!