What the Conservative Driving Teshuva Represented

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism’s Centennial Conference starts this weekend. It comes at a time when the future direction and health of the movement is unclear. This series of posts will examine one of the factors behind the movement’s current challenges.

There is a certain variety of critique that tries to trace all the movement’s problems to the 1950 “Driving Teshuva,” which said it was ok to drive to synagogue on Shabbat. The usual line is that the driving teshuva was when the movement turned away from something-or-another, which led to its intellectual decline and eventual doom. The teshuva was a turning point for the movement. The Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards was only formed in 1948 [correction: CJLS was formed in 1927, but significantly reorganized in 1948]. This teshuva, in 1950, was a clear statement that Conservative rabbis were willing to publicly disagree with Orthodoxy. Still, placing the movement’s decline on a theological disagreement has always seemed weak to me. Despite current challenges, the movement has survived for 60 years since this decision and Conservative rabbis and leaders have played central roles in halachic and theological discussions that have affected all of Judaism. The link between saying it is ok to drive and the movement’s decline seems to be based more on wishful thinking among those who disagree, than on historical analysis. I do think the driving teshuva has hurt the movement in ways that are less often discussed, but this requires examining the text.

The driving teshuva is actually titled, “A Responsum on the Sabbath” (1950) by Rabbis Morris Adler, Jacob Agus, and Theodore Friedman. You can read the full text as part of this pdf file. I am borrowing some explanation liberally from this 2005 blog post by elf’s dh. In short, the teshuva’s goal was not to broadly permit driving on Shabbat. It was not even to permit driving to synagogue on Shabbat. It’s goal was to allow driving to synagogue on Shabbat when the alternative was that people wouldn’t have an active connection to Judaism without going to synagogue on Shabbat. In short, the teshuva says, if people are at risk of separating from the Jewish people, but regularly drive to synagogue on Shabbat, there are better ways to engage these Jews than harassing them to stop driving. Perhaps shunning drivers and delivering drashot against driving might not be the best way to encourage people to increase their connections to Judaism..

Put this way, this is little different from the many Modern Orthodox and Chabad synagogues which maintain an official position against driving on Shabbat, but still have seats and honors in the service for people who park down the block.

The problem with this teshuva is less its conclusion and more the assumptions that got it there. It assumes that the future of Judaism would be in communities where people could not or would not walk to synagogue. Conservative Judaism staked its future on the rise of suburbia. This was an intentional decision, not a recognition of the inevitable. It meant not just looking the other way when people drive on Shabbat, but, but accepting that driving on Shabbat would be a fundamental necessity. The driving teshuva was a key part of an active decision to embrace suburban life and actively abandon urban, walkable living. It meant abandoning cities in a way that Orthodoxy never did. It meant abandoning cities to an extent that non-Orthodox Jews never actually did.

As an example, here is a story told to me by the emeritus rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in an outlying area of a city with mostly single-family homes. He recounts asking Conservative movement officials for help around 1970, when the synagogue was losing members due to a shrinking local Jewish population, and most of the other local Conservative congregations moved to the suburbs. The Conservative movement officials told him that synagogues in cities were doomed to closure, and they only help they could give him would be to help help him find a new (suburban) pulpit. He declined their offer, and some decades later, the neighborhood (and the synagogue) have seen a great resurgence of Jews. His synagogue has more than doubled in size in the last 15 years.

The suburbanisation of Conservative Judaism served the movement very well during the rise of the suburbs. But nowadays, more and more Jews want to live in walkable neighborhoods, and the Conservative synagogues have left these city neighborhoods for suburbs that no longer attract enough Jews to support them all. Meanwhile, the movement’s key institutions still have a mindset that focuses on suburban-style synagogues/community centers. While the rise of Jewish suburbanization was marked by the driving teshuva, the movement has had decades to readjust how it interacts with Jewish in different types of communities. My next post will focus on what is currently happening and what could be done.

15 Responses to “What the Conservative Driving Teshuva Represented”

  1. Your reasoning is consistent with a thought I had. To fully enjoy/experience Shabbat is great and involves more than just going to shul. So I’ve always wondered why the ruling didn’t also allow driving for other Shabbat activities such as meals or even socializing with fellow Jews on Shabbat. The answer may be that the Rabbis were so synagogue centric that the didn’t consider these activities were likely to occur. In any case it seems now that geography and community are also keys to successful Judaism and CJ overlooked that.


    Robert L Smith · October 10th, 2013 at 12:18 am
  2. Below is an English summary of the most recent decision by a Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee. This is the Law Committee in Israel. For the full Hebrew version see: responsafortoday.com/vol4/3.pdf

    Riding to the Synagogue on Shabbat

    (OH 305:18)

    Question:
    There is no Masorti synagogue in Petach Tikvah where we reside and my wife will not attend an Orthodox synagogue since it makes her feel inferior. Is it permissible for us to ride to a Masorti synagogue in Hod Hasharon or Ramat Aviv in order to participate in the mitzvah of public prayer on Shabbat?

    Responsum:
    This question was asked in the United States as far back as 1933. In 1950, two responsa were published by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement in North America (Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, Vol. 14 (1950), pp. 112-188). The majority ruled that a person who lives far away from a synagogue is allowed to ride to the synagogue and back on Shabbat on condition that he will make no stops on the way. The minority ruled that in general it is forbidden to ride to the synagogue on Shabbat except for emergency situations, in which the individual will have to decide for himself. The majority emphasized that ”the program that we propose, then, is not to be regarded as the full and complete regimen of Shabbat observance, valid for all Jews for all times and for all places. On the contrary, it is aimed to meet the particular situation that confronts us…” (ibid. p. 360). “It shall be understood that in their wisdom and in the light of the conditions prevailing in their respective communities, individual rabbis may find the easements here proposed unnecessary for the achievement of the larger goal herein envisaged” (ibid. p. 371).

    Therefore we have come to re-examine the lenient decision from the United States of 1950 in light of the conditions in Israel forty years later. It is clear that the reasons for that leniency do not apply. In those days most Jews in the United States worked on Shabbat, did not pray in general, did not know how to pray alone at home and lived at great distances from the nearest synagogue. Thus, prayer at the synagogue on Shabbat was the only remnant of their Shabbat observance. This is not the case in Israel today where almost no one works on Shabbat, where every Jew can open a siddur and pray if he so desires and where there is a synagogue in every neighborhood. We therefore agree with the minority that it is forbidden to ride to the synagogue on Shabbat.

    From a halakhic point of view, riding to the synagogue on Shabbat is forbidden for the following reasons:

    1. Kindling a fire is a biblical prohibition (Exodus 35:3) and turning the key in the ignition creates sparks.

    2. It is forbidden as a shevut or rabbinic prohibition lest the car break down and he be forced to fix it and then he may transgress both biblical and rabbinic prohibitions.

    3. It is forbidden to go more than 2,000 cubits outside of your own city on Shabbat (Eruvin 49b). Therefore, in this specific case it is forbidden to travel from Petah Tikvah to Hod Hasharon or Ramat Aviv.

    4. Any item, which may not be used on Shabbat is considered “muktzeh” and may therefore not be touched or carried. When one drives a car, one normally touches a wallet, money, a credit card and other forms of “muktzeh”. In addition, one frequently buys gas, which is also forbidden on Shabbat. It is therefore forbidden to drive on Shabbat, because it will lead to carrying and touching muktzeh.

    5. Another type of “shevut” is “uvdin d’hol” or weekday activities. In other words, Shabbat should not look and feel like a weekday. There is nothing more weekday-like than driving a car. Shevut is also an activity, which may lead to biblically forbidden labors. Driving may lead to biblical prohibitions such as carrying outside of the eruv, commercial and agricultural transport, writing, building, fishing and more. Thus even if driving were biblically permitted it would be forbidden because of shevut.

    6. Driving is also forbidden because of “lo pelug” which means that the rabbis do not usually decree partial prohibitions. This is because they were familiar with human nature. If we allow driving to the synagogue many people will think it is permissible to drive everywhere on Shabbat and indeed, that is what happened in the United States.

    7. Rabbi Moshe Sofer forbade inter-city train travel on Shabbat because of physical and mental stress. There is no question that driving a car entails physical and mental stress, which are not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.

    8. Public prayer is not a biblical requirement. It is either a rabbinic requirement or simply a recommended form of prayer and can therefore not push aside the biblical prohibition of starting a car on Shabbat.

    Furthermore, many rabbis have ruled that public prayer on Shabbat does not even push aside a shevut or rabbinic prohibition, so even if driving is only a rabbinic prohibition it would not be set aside for the sake of public prayer.

    9. The Masorti movement wishes to create kehillot (communities), not just synagogues. It is impossible to create a community when every family lives a great distance from every other family, and in order to create a community which observes the Shabbat together, its members must live in close proximity to each other.

    10. In light of the above, driving to the synagogue on Shabbat is a “mitzvah achieved through transgression: which is forbidden (Berakhot 47b and more).

    There are, however, three possible solutions to the question that was asked:

    1. Efforts should be renewed to found a Masorti synagogue in Petah Tikvah.

    2. Just because a mehitzah is not necessary does not mean that it is forbidden. We should not be as intolerant as those who refuse to pray in our synagogues. It is better to walk to an Orthodox synagogue on Shabbat than to drive to A Masorti synagogue.

    3. It is also possible to move near a Masorti synagogue. This may be an expensive or inconvenient solution, but Jews have traditionally made great sacrifices in order to observe mitzvot. If people move to another city for the sake of a good job or a good school, why shouldn’t they move for the sake of living near the kehillah of their choice?

    The appendix discusses the use of public transportation and bicycles on Shabbat. It suggests that it is permissible to hire a non-Jew to drive a Shabbat bus or taxi which will transport the elderly or the handicapped to the synagogue providing that the bus does not leave the city limits.


    Meir Eynaim · October 10th, 2013 at 6:31 am
  3. @Robert: I am not a fan of the Tshuva from the fifties but apparently you did not read the PDF link Dan provided. The Tshuva includes a program for the revitalizing of Shabbat that includes, candles, kiddush, shul, study,and more (see page 4). It was a realization that for many, if they did not attend shul, they would not have any real Shabbat experience. Thus the Tshuva also indicates that it is not approve of driving and sees the ok as period related.


    Meir Eynaim · October 10th, 2013 at 8:43 am
  4. Meir, I’ve also seen that recent Masorti teshuva and I agree that the Alder one of the 50′s isn’t phenomenal on textual rigor. It’s also worth noting that there were CJLS teshuvot on driving that were written in parallel to the Morris one, but come to different conclusions. I haven’t read enough CJLS tesuvot to know, but it seems to me that the CJLS in 1950 was still trying to find its voice and the right balance between modern issues and traditional texts. This is one reason I didn’t focus on the actual mechanics of the driving teshuva here. The interesting parts to me are the assumptions that led to their conclusions rather than the actual decision.

    That said, there is a critical difference between the Morris teshuva and the current Masorti one. Teshovot are responses to specific questions. The Morris one was responding to what to do about mostly non-observant Jews who are only interested in a few forms of communal engagement. The Masorti one is responding to a question from an observant family. Questions I’d be curious to see how Masorti Israelis and even Modern Orthodox synagogues respond are: If a Jew drives to your synagogue on Shabbat, do you count them in a minyan? Do you give them an honor in the service? If not, how aggressively does the synagogue police to make sure they know who drove on Shabbat?


    Dan Ab · October 10th, 2013 at 9:50 am
  5. Several years ago I wrote the following refering to a symposium in Conservative Judaism but I still think the reasoning applies. To me the question isn’t how someone gets to shul — just get there. But what is the “gold standard” the ideal — that’s what we lost with this ruling in my opinion. My experience is limited but I have yet to meet a nominally Conservative Jew who follows the Tshuva — my friends, if they drive to shule tend to stop off at the mall after shule as well. I do however know folks who attend the local modern Orthodox shul and effectively follow the teshuva although eventually many move closer. Does it matter — well the ruling certainly isn’t saving the movement in our day and age. Perhaps we need a responsa on Kashruth since many of us don’t have nearby Kosher restaurants and would like to be able to eat out (or wait, I think we have that to). And what about Friday night and Saturday in the burbs for our kids — there are sooo many activities is it fair to ask them to miss them? So lets rewrite all of those rules and we will have a great movement won’t we. Sorry for the sarcasm but the movement is failing and I have yet to see a good explanation. Anyhow here is my response from some years back:

    I believe that a careful reading of the Teshuva shows that the composers fully expected, and even hoped that the time would come when the teshuva would be reconsidered and revoked.
    For example, near the start of the teshuva (reprinted in Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants by Elliot M. Dorff) Rabbis Adler, Agus, and Freedman note: “Emphasis on this immediate program should in no way militate against the ultimate objective—the cessation of all gainful employment on the Sabbath.” Well, this objective has been met by and large.
    They go on to assert: “Refraining from the use of a motor vehicle is an important aid in the maintainance of the Sabbath spirit of repose. Such restraint aids, moreover, in keeping members of the family together on the Sabbath…” This says to me that they viewed the normative goal as eliminating driving.
    They add: “we must adjust our strategy to the realities of our time and place…” and since it’s now a new time and place we can certainly re adjust strategies without any insult to the considerations of the Law Committee of 55 years ago.
    They stress the temporary intent of the ruling when they state: “in crucial periods, our sages did not hesitate to make special enactments for their own time or for a limited period of time, in order to meet the challenges of new circumstances..” Hence their decision was meant to be for a limited time.
    Finally in recognition of the destructive component of their decision they present a striking comparison: “Even as the physician cuts off a hand or a foot in order that the patient might survive, a rabbinic court may teach a violation of some mitzvoth for a time, in order that the totality of Judaism might be preserved..” Is this the message that Conservative Jews who drive are told– to envision which of their body parts has been removed so that they can survive?
    Based on the above, the question, it seems to me. is not whether to reconsider the teshuva, but when to do so. How long must the movement limp along on one foot? If the teshuva worked and has indeed saved Shabbat, then it’s time to reconsider this emergency decree. On the other hand if it hasn’t worked then it’s also time to reconsider.
    Rabbi Fine astutely points out that if indeed the driving decision is to be permanently grafted onto the halachic system, it would be necessary to develop a “halacha” of driving. How much gas would have to be in the car on Friday, and how would one deal with such things as carrying a driving license, an automobile breakdown, and carrying from the car, not to mention being stopped by a police officer, getting into an accident such as backing into a fellow congregant’s car in the shul parking lot, the car alarm going off, and having a battery run down while at shul, . Surely the authors of the responsa were aware of these omissions and in 50 years I have not heard of anyone who has attempted to address them. This means to me one or both of two things: that the authors didn’t see this as a permanent decision, and that those who are committed to halacha see the “halacha” of the Shabbat automobile as an oxymoron.
    Rabbi Abelson points to some of the successes of the Conservative Movement which have occurred in the time following the teshuvah: “Day schools, Ramah camps, United Synagogue Youth, Israel programs.” In addition the expansion of the roles of women to include Rabbi and Cantor has doubled the number of potential leaders of the Conservative community. I would say that these advances occurred in spite of the driving teshuvah and that it is the most successful products of these programs who are among the most disturbed, and negatively effected by the teshuvah. In contrast to a situation of 25 or 30 years ago, when we recently searched for a new Rabbi, all viable candidates insisted on living within walking distance of the shul. They wanted to live in the kind of community that they experienced in all of the great institutions noted above. Anecdotally, search committees from across the country report that this is true of all candidates under 40 years of age.
    Rabbi Abelson suggests that those interested in walking “should establish a havurah of like minded people…” and “pioneer a new project within the Conservative movement…” We are trying to do so, but, quite frankly can use some help from the movement. As Chancellor Schorsch points out in his response, “in sanctioning driving to the synagogue on Shabbat, the Conservative rabbinate relinquished its ability to advocate living close to the synagogue.” Hence, the typical response of too many walkers is to indeed seek likeminded folks, but they are often in the Orthodox community. How long must we continue to lose some of our best and brightest to Orthodoxy not because they reject the principles of Conservative Judaism, but because they seek a community which will help them to more fully live according to those principles?
    In conclusion, it seems to me that the driving teshuvah was written in a way that cried out that it be reconsidered, and in the words of the great sage Hillel, “if not now, when”. Conservative Judiasm is experiencing a potential rebirth, and reconsideration of the teshuvah will help ensure and nurture a healthy baby that will grow into a major and serious pathway for North American Jews. Let us grow from strength to strength.


    Robert L Smith · October 10th, 2013 at 5:11 pm
  6. Although the idea of driving police is an interesting one, it would probably need to be a “Shabbos Goy” to keep notes and write things down. The guidance counselor in my kids public high school voluntarily served the that role. He had helped my kids deal with teachers who didn’t believe that they were staying home for legitimate religioius holidays “How could there be so many?” they asked even the Jewish teachers. Anyhow, the counselor one day told my (daughter with a wink) “Rachel, I saw you walking to the synagogue yesterday for the Jewish holiday. I hate to tell you this, I also saw some of your fellow congregants driving into the grocery parking lot and walking across the street to the synagogue.

    To me the question isn’t how someone gets to shul — just get there. But what is the “gold standard” the ideal — that’s what we lost with this ruling in my opinion. My experience is limited but I have yet to meet a nominally Conservative Jew who follows the Tshuva — my friends, if they drive to shule tend to stop off at the mall after shule as well. I do however know folks who attend the local modern Orthodox shul and effectively follow the teshuva although eventually many move closer. Does it matter — well the ruling certainly isn’t saving the movement in our day and age. Perhaps we need a responsa on Kashruth since many of us don’t have nearby Kosher restaurants and would like to be able to eat out (or wait, I think we have that to). And what about Friday night and Saturday in the burbs for our kids — there are sooo many activities is it fair to ask them to miss them? So lets rewrite all of those rules and we will have a great movement won’t we.


    Robert L Smith · October 10th, 2013 at 5:22 pm
  7. Still, placing the movement’s decline on a theological disagreement has always seemed weak to me. Despite current challenges, the movement has survived for 60 years since this decision and Conservative rabbis and leaders have played central roles in halachic and theological discussions that have affected all of Judaism. The link between saying it is ok to drive and the movement’s decline seems to be based more on wishful thinking among those who disagree, than on historical analysis.

    One of the assumptions behind that weak claim is that rank-and-file Conservative synagogue members pay attention to what the CJLS says, and structure their lives accordingly. This doesn’t seem to be supported by evidence. It’s hard to support a causal story that Conservative Jews weren’t driving on Shabbat until the CJLS told them they could drive to shul, and then they started driving everywhere (and moving to the suburbs, out of walking distance of the shul). More likely, they were already moving to the suburbs and driving on Shabbat, and then this teshuva reflected the reality on the ground.

    As an example, here is a story told to me by the emeritus rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in an outlying area of a city with mostly single-family homes. He recounts asking Conservative movement officials for help around 1970, when the synagogue was losing members due to a shrinking local Jewish population, and most of the other local Conservative congregations moved to the suburbs. The Conservative movement officials told him that synagogues in cities were doomed to closure, and they only help they could give him would be to help help him find a new (suburban) pulpit. He declined their offer, and some decades later, the neighborhood (and the synagogue) have seen a great resurgence of Jews. His synagogue has more than doubled in size in the last 15 years.

    I don’t know if this is unique to the Conservative movement. If you’re talking about the synagogue I think you are, the Orthodox shul across the street went through a similar trajectory (membership decline in the ’70s, and a surge in more recent times with more Jews moving to the neighborhood). I don’t know whether they went to the OU for help, or what the OU would have told them if they did, but if they did, it’s clear that no effective remedy was found at that time. And there is at least one former Orthodox shul in the same neighborhood that moved into deep suburbia.


    BZ · October 11th, 2013 at 11:06 am
  8. Robert L Smith writes:
    Your reasoning is consistent with a thought I had. To fully enjoy/experience Shabbat is great and involves more than just going to shul. So I’ve always wondered why the ruling didn’t also allow driving for other Shabbat activities such as meals or even socializing with fellow Jews on Shabbat. The answer may be that the Rabbis were so synagogue centric that the didn’t consider these activities were likely to occur.

    I think this is an important point. They say that one man’s reductio ad absurdum is another’s In hachi nami; I’m in the In hachi nami camp here, while (based on your other comments) you seem to be a reductio kind of guy. But I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense to distinguish going to shul from other Shabbat activities. This synagogue-centrism reflects a general attitude that can be found in many Conservative teshuvot of that era – see, e.g. the teshuvot on 1-day vs. 2-day yom tov (discussed here and here), in which people on both sides of the issue conflate yom tov observance with synagogue attendance or the question of whether synagogues hold services.

    In any case it seems now that geography and community are also keys to successful Judaism and CJ overlooked that.

    To be fair, this isn’t unique to CJ or even to Judaism. There are advantages to walkable neighborhoods, which America as a whole overlooked for decades.


    BZ · October 11th, 2013 at 11:12 am
  9. Some of the arguments in that Masorti teshuvah (posted by Meir Eynaim)are pretty weak.

    3. It is forbidden to go more than 2,000 cubits outside of your own city on Shabbat (Eruvin 49b). Therefore, in this specific case it is forbidden to travel from Petah Tikvah to Hod Hasharon or Ramat Aviv.

    This is questionable. The techum begins when you leave the populated area, not at the municipal boundary. Since all 3 of these places are in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, you would probably never leave the techum traveling from one to another.

    4. Any item, which may not be used on Shabbat is considered “muktzeh” and may therefore not be touched or carried. When one drives a car, one normally touches a wallet, money, a credit card and other forms of “muktzeh”. In addition, one frequently buys gas, which is also forbidden on Shabbat. It is therefore forbidden to drive on Shabbat, because it will lead to carrying and touching muktzeh.

    There’s no direct connection between driving and touching any of those things (other than keeping a driver’s license in your wallet, but you can easily take it out before Shabbat).

    When I walk outside my home (during the week), I normally carry a wallet, money, a credit card, and other forms of mutzeh. In addition, I frequently buy groceries, which is also forbidden on Shabbat. Therefore, one could argue that it is forbidden to walk on Shabbat, because it will lead to carrying and touching muktzeh.

    5. Another type of “shevut” is “uvdin d’hol” or weekday activities. In other words, Shabbat should not look and feel like a weekday. There is nothing more weekday-like than driving a car.

    This reasoning is as circular as it gets! If driving is permitted on Shabbat, then it isn’t inherently “weekday-like”, just like walking, eating, and praying (which are all weekday activities) aren’t prohibited on Shabbat. It’s only “uvdin d’hol” if it’s already prohibited on Shabbat for some reason.

    You could argue that this teshuva is asking about a narrow exception, and that outside of this narrow case, driving would still be generally prohibited and therefore is still generally not a Shabbat activity. But that’s basically the same as the “lo p’lug” argument (below); it’s not an independent argument.

    Shevut is also an activity, which may lead to biblically forbidden labors. Driving may lead to biblical prohibitions such as carrying outside of the eruv, commercial and agricultural transport, writing, building, fishing and more. Thus even if driving were biblically permitted it would be forbidden because of shevut.

    Ok, eruv I can see (though yom tov is an interesting question), and maybe writing too (in newer cars with digital readouts). But fishing? Fishing???

    6. Driving is also forbidden because of “lo pelug” which means that the rabbis do not usually decree partial prohibitions. This is because they were familiar with human nature. If we allow driving to the synagogue many people will think it is permissible to drive everywhere on Shabbat and indeed, that is what happened in the United States.

    See my comment above – this is one of those lazy causal stories (see also intermarriage).

    7. Rabbi Moshe Sofer forbade inter-city train travel on Shabbat because of physical and mental stress. There is no question that driving a car entails physical and mental stress, which are not in keeping with the spirit of Shabbat.

    No question? There’s no question that driving a car 10 minutes to the next town entails more physical stress than walking 2 miles each way to shul (which the authors of this teshuva would presumably permit)? And “mental stress” is subjective and depends on the person. Who are they to say that driving would lead to more mental stress for this person than going to an Orthodox shul, or staying home on Shabbat?

    This may be an expensive or inconvenient solution, but Jews have traditionally made great sacrifices in order to observe mitzvot.

    This seems to contradict the concern about “physical and mental stress”.


    BZ · October 11th, 2013 at 11:33 am
  10. There’s a thread of comments here asking whether the actual halachic ruling mattered. In many ways it didn’t. Some people drove to shul before and after the Morris Teshuva. The writers were trying to direct that reality into ways to nurture Jewish life. Still, I think the Teshuva mattered in decisions made by Jewish leaders. Even in suburbia, do you put a huge building on the edge of the town and become completely dependent on drivers or do you try to build in a walkable community so that critical mass of people have the option to walk? Do you advocate for sidewalks and other pedestrian safety features around the synagogue? Do you build your synagogue with welcoming entrances on a street or facing the parking lot in the back of the building?

    I have no clue how to do the study, but I strongly suspect the synagogue buildings that were located and designed for walkability are more likely to be in still Judaically vibrant neighborhoods. This also speaks to denominations. I don’t know enough to talk about Reform, but, even in suburbia, Orthodox congregations advocated for walkable neighborhoods. For example, BZ mentioned an Orthodox synagogue near a Conservative synagogue. This is speculation, but I suspect that Orthodox synagogues that shrunk, but remained in place were more common than Conservative Congregations. Even in moving, the other Orthodox synagogue that BZ mentioned moved, but left a minyan in Orthodox minyan place for those who remained. While small, this is infrastructure that the Conservative movement lost in many areas. Even after moving suburbia, this Orthodox synagogue is in a semi-walkabout area while the Conservative synagogue 2 miles away as no sidewalks on the entry street and a huge entrance through the parking lot.

    Suburbanization and car-centric living was universal in the US, but I still suspect that how movements and communities responded to it affects their health today.


    Dan Ab · October 11th, 2013 at 1:38 pm
  11. I haven’t been digging much into the halachic reasoning of the various driving teshuvot because that’s tangential to my point in this post, but BZ missed the biggest issue of the Masorti teshuva, which is bothering me more and more. It begins, “There is no Masorti synagogue in Petach Tikvah where we reside and MY WIFE will not attend an Orthodox synagogue since it makes her feel inferior”

    Whose question are they answering?!? The wife has a concern, not the husband. Several rabbis I know and respect would refuse to answer such a question since they can’t understand the context through a second-person interpreter and their answer isn’t even directed at the original person. Perhaps, if the question was from the wife, she would have had more detailed and pointed reasoning than “feels inferior” and the response would have also been different.


    Dan Ab · October 11th, 2013 at 1:46 pm
  12. [...] Dan Ab on What the Conservative Driving Teshuva Represented @1:46 pm [...]


    Why would a new congregation join USCJ? | Jewschool · October 11th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
  13. I wholeheartedly agree with your points in this post. I actually wrote about this topic recently myself.(marcdreyfuss.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/judaisms-community-problem-how-hyper-suburbanization-is-hurting-the-jewish-future/)

    This problem, moreover makes it awkward for younger adults (I’m 25) to engage with a synagogue, especially when the option is suburban, which I have also written about. (marcdreyfuss.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/rebuilding-jewish-communities-the-new-generation/)

    I think the USCJ engaging synagogues to return to the city is crucial, but I have to disagree with one of your lines. “It meant abandoning cities to an extent that non-Orthodox Jews never actually did.” In the 1970s-1990s, many cities in this country were void of anyone but those who could not afford to leave. Philadelphia, for example, saw its synagogues race to the suburbs, same as Boston and Chicago. While there were always some liberal Jews left in the cities, there were certainly not enough to keep the vast majority of non-orthodox synagogues afloat. If the USCJ managed to change for the trend of suburbanization 60 years ago, however, it can certainly relocate itself inward today, and maybe start encouraging its new congregants to walk on Shabbos.


    Marc Dreyfuss · October 12th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
  14. They all abandoned the cities. They left one neighborhood for another, at first within the city borders, and later to the suburbs. For some of the Orthodox, they abandoned orthodoxy at the same time.


    Rosel · October 13th, 2013 at 11:32 pm
  15. If not, how aggressively does the synagogue police to make sure they know who drove on Shabbat? –
    In Orthodox synagogues that are not-affiliated with Chabad, drivers can spotted by being almost universally senior citizens. Many will wear extremely small “tallitot” that are really scarves. They often wear nylon or satin kippot, but occasionally they wear crocheted or leather. It is very rare that they wear the velvet ones. They never wear hats other than kippot. I hope that helps.


    Upsiditus · October 16th, 2013 at 9:34 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik