Global, Politics, Religion

No longer a threat

They’re not threatening any more: this month, two Toronto-area “traditional Conservative” congregations have voted to leave the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. (Another four voted to remain in the USCJ, while others have votes scheduled for the next few weeks/months.)

[T]he Conservative movement’s shift to the left – including the 2006 decision by the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary to accept openly gay rabbinical students – stands in contrast to the attitudes of Toronto’s typically more traditional congregations. Of the synagogues [who have voted or will be voting], for example, only Beit Rayim is fully egalitarian.

What about the youth whose groups are now no longer affiliated with USY? Some of these synagogues will “hopefully” be working together “provide quality, innovative youth programming.” Unfortunate, because one of the draws of USY (BBYO, NIFTY, NCSY, etc.) is meeting new people from other cities.
Read more.

17 thoughts on “No longer a threat

  1. They can try, but they’re just not going to rival the Episcopal Church for drama. Part of the problem is that Conservative rabbis can say some outrageous things, but still can’t compete with the Archbishop of Nigeria.

  2. Also, the property of episcopal dioceses is owned by a “corporate sole” consisting of the bishop, whereas shuls are owned by their members. I.e. the United Synagogue is not going to lose more than a few bucks in yearly dues over this.
    But in a way, I’m sad, because this means that people who used to be “conservative” albeit in a right-leaning way, will become “orthodox” (like their American counterparts of the 1950s and 1960s), and open their minds to negative influence from the Orthodox Right.

  3. Amit- People who say that homosexuality is a sin are hardly part of the Orthodox right. You cannot force a binary choice on these people. First and foremost, the USCJ hasn’t seemed to have supported them on monetary issues as much as they’ve liked. But, the homosexuality issue is a huge one. As someone who is a fan of halachah, I like that there are conservative congregations still yearning to follow it- so much so that they vote as a congregation on what must have been a very painful position to attempt to preserve it.
    It is disturbing to me that you assign religious affilition to what, frankly, is more of a secular matter. I know homophobic reform Jewish and orthodox Jews with many gay friends. This is a halachic matter, and it’s people like you, who put emotion over halachah, that has so disturbingly transformed Conservative judaism to the ‘normative’ ‘left’ that you so badly wanted. Well, this is just chickens coming home to roost. That, and the assimilation rates that will affect your movement for the next generations to come.

  4. The local (Toronto) Jewish press indicates that for Adath Israel and Beth Emeth, the decision to withdraw from the USCJ had more to do with insane dues payments than anything else. They were sick of dues increases with basically no services provided by the USCJ. Any ritual or theological issues were just icing on the cake.
    In terms of youth activities, from my experience growing up in one Toronto conservative shul and now involved with another, I can safely say that USY is not a big phenomenon here. There is a core of active people, but it’s not strongly promoted or widely attended.

  5. Driving on Shabbat (which is of equal halakhic weight with the prohibition on homosexuality, seeing that starting a car engine actually produces a spark) has been going on in the Conservative movement for decades as a matter of policy, yet these shuls remained part of the movement. Halakhic probity is not the only issue at work here.
    Sometimes human kindness should come ahead of halakhah. Denying gay Jews a place in the community has caused severe human suffering, and I think people who recognize that should be praised. I would not wish to be part of any religious tradition that had no legal mechanism to recognize and repair harm.

  6. It’s really not a halakhic matter -it’s almost entirely economic – United Synagogue almost lost the pacific region (and a bunch of other synagogues around the country) over a dues dispute. The reason that they didn’t actually came down to a single person (Rabbi Elliot Dorff, mensch that he is) ultimately paying out of pocket the difference in the matter.
    IMO, it might have been good for the movement to have received its wakeup call then, but perhaps this will do it. Maybe.

  7. Reb Yudel,
    Read the conservative tsuvot on mikvah. Some allow leniencies, but without exception they all say that Conservative Jews are obligated to uphold hilchot nidah, and call strongly for more communal support, encouragement, and education for the traditional uses of the mikvah.

  8. Let’s please try to be clear about the multiple, partially overlapping issues here:
    1) The leaders of these synagogues claim they did not feel well served by the USCJ and therefore the value/cost ratio no longer made sense for them.
    2) The members of these congregations are generally on the more “conservative” side of things Jewishly (this should not be news to anyone).
    3) Significant percentages of the members of these congregations presumably oppose gay ordination (after all, the majority of Canadian rabbis said they were opposed in the poll Steven Cohen did of the Movement around the time of the CJLS decision in Dec. 06). But on this one, we’re only guessing.
    This order (1, 2, 3) reflects the order of importance each issue held for these congregations based on public statements so far. Now, public statements and underlying reality don’t always converge, but I’m not sure it’s our place to second-guess these congregations. If their leaders start publicly spouting off about the “evils” of homosexuality, in the way some Episcopal bishops have done, then we can engage with that directly and explicitly.

  9. jewtah writes:
    Read the conservative tsuvot on mikvah. Some allow leniencies, but without exception they all say that Conservative Jews are obligated to uphold hilchot nidah, and call strongly for more communal support, encouragement, and education for the traditional uses of the mikvah.
    I think that was precisely Reb Yudel’s point. Perhaps the authors of these teshuvot have a consistent position on both hilchot nidah and homosexual relations, but where is the evidence that the rank-and-file synagogue members opposed to gay inclusion are motivated by “halachah” rather than by social conservatism or homophobia?

  10. I still want to make the point the halakhic issue – although I know there are a zillion other factors at play.
    Amit- People who say that homosexuality is a sin are hardly part of the Orthodox right. You cannot force a binary choice on these people.
    That is correct. “homosexuality” is never a sin. No more than coveting the neighbor’s daughter – even according to the darkest most stringent sources. Homosexuality is a 20th century identity tag for individuals who may or may not engage in acts with differing degrees of issur.
    So I would say: “people who say that homosexuality is a sin are most often evangelist christians”. Jewish legal discourse is entitled to its own rules and its own terminology – which in this case is misunderstood not only by “laypeople” (who don’t know any better) but by “rabbis” (who should).

  11. BZ,
    First off, I don’t think, and didn’t mean to argue, that the only consistent halachic position is to be for observance of niddah and against full inclusion of people of all sexualities in our communities – my halachicly motivated position is in fact to feel obligated in both.
    My point was merely that the existance of the tsuvuot show there clearly are some Conservative Jews who care about hilchot niddah and thus it was a poorly chosen example. I don’t know what motivates these particular Conservative Jews (seemingly some combination of money, conservativism, halacha, homophobia, and other things in no particular order) I was just trying to affirm that there ARE many Conservative Jews who care about and observe halacha, even difficult halacha.

  12. Amit-
    Seriously? Fine, anal sex between men is an issur d’oraita. Feel free to be semantic rather than engage in a real converstaion.

  13. You know what’s also assur d’oraita? Sex during niddah (with Karet explicitly lined out as punishment) and lighting fire on Shabbat (in this case, a car engine). Do you think these issues are “of importance” to the aforementioned congregations?
    We can play these games all day.

  14. Again, I don’t think that the JTS’ decisions on homosexual rabbinical students has as much to do with the decisions of these shuls to withdraw from the USCJ as some commenters here would imply.

  15. JW – of course, but their formal affiliation with the United Synagogue is boring, whereas the nonsense some members of the c. movement are spewing about the gay issue – most notably your friend and mine R.D. etc. Einat Ramon shlita – is interesting. So why not?
    By the way, another shul that left the US recently (sort of) is the ever popular way liberal Bnai Jeshurun. Just to prove your point.

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