16 thoughts on “Towards A Transdenominational Future

  1. money quotes:
    “Pluralism is a very useful antidote to dogmatism and close-mindedness, but it also carries its dangers,” says JTS’s Held. “The danger of being non-denominational or post-denominational is that it’s not always clear if you’re saying anything.”
    Some in the Orthodox world suggest that all this talk about moving beyond denominations is simply a sign of the insignificance of the religious distinctions between all the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, and that the rise of post-denominational Judaism has made few inroads into Orthodoxy.
    There are some indications of this. Schools with enforced pluralism, such as JCDS, have a dearth of Orthodox students, though that’s at least partly because there are far more educational options available for Orthodox students in the Boston area than for non-Orthodox ones. And Green says there is only one student at his
    (nondenominational) rabbinical school who identifies as Orthodox.
    In other words: once you have thrown off the binding covenant at the core of the Judaism of the Ages…. it don’t really matter what color your love beads and dashiki are…

  2. uh, conservative jews haven’t thrown off the binding covenant at the core of the judaism of the ages.
    but we’re also not willing to let orthodoxy arrogate to itself the title of “traditional” judaism. orthodoxy today is just as modern a phenomenon as reform judaism is.

  3. if I wanted to look at this positively (and being in Boston, I do) I’d say it may show an interesting shift.
    A lot of people who inter-marry start going to Reform services, since their spouses were more comfortable there than at Orthodox or even Conservative services.
    Many also shortly became unaffiliated because they don’t “fit in” with the Reform movement.
    If this Trans-Denominational movement allows them to come back and bring their kids up as “observant” Jews (who would then be more likely to want to be observant adults) then I wouldn’t say it’s a terrible thing.

  4. Sam:
    Read the referenced article. One point made is that these new non-denoms are appealing to/stealing the fire from suburban Conservative shuls that don’t seem to offer an engaging alternative. I don’t know where you are at on the Conservative spectrum – some Conservatives take the Torah’s covenant very seriously – but it is clear from the article that these folks are seeking something less binding, more flashy. This is not the way to “sell” Judaism.
    You nicely skirt the main issue by putting “observant” in quotes – what exactly are these people being drawn to?
    Intermarried people who find cherry-picking, anything-goes Reform Judaism too, uh, restricting are not exactly prime candidates for *any* meaningful Jewish identity… whether it’s got drums and chanting or a regular format.
    It is not possible to extend pluralism indefinitely without dissolving the group. This is especially true of a religious/moral group such as the Jewish people. People turn to their religion for a connection to unchanging, transcendent truths which can guide their life. That means – almost by definition – that not everything can be tolerated or included in a religious community.
    Judaism’s moral yardstick is expressed and formulated in the system of mitzvot, and the covenant obligating us to live before G-d in this world. The American Jewish community has already tried to insure “continuity” without this content – and failed miserably. Plurastic programs like these are just another gimmick to try and cajole the stragglers lingering around the gate after the herd has flown Judaism entirely – and intermarried, and found even Reform irrelevant to them.

  5. Sam,
    I have to agree with Ben David,
    Sam, I have a great Uncle who was the leader of the University of Judaism the main conservative stronghold in california.
    His name is Dave Leiber you can check it out if you don’t believe me.
    He doesn’t really believe that the Torah was given on Sinai.
    Sam this IS “the binding covenant at the core of the judaism of the ages.”
    Yes the conservative movement threw away the covenant.

  6. I put observant in quotes because in the context of that sentance I was trying to incorporate that fact that observant in the sense of trans-denominational means whatever-the-heck a person wants it to mean, therefore not the actual meaning of observant.
    Watering down Judaism, bending Religion to conform to what a person wants, obviously isn’t an answer if a person is looking for a way to deal with intermarriage or secularism in the US. Should Jews be trying to cajole stragglers back to Torah observant Judaism or should the stragglers be left alone, because if they really wanted to be observant they’d be so on their own, with no support from a community?

  7. Pluralistic Judaism and the Liberal Paradox…
    I found the most interesting section of the article to be:
    “At JCDS…all forms of religious expression are welcomed at the seminary – except for fundamentalist ones.
    ‘Can a pluralist accommodate people who are non pluralist? I don’t think so,’ says Green, explaining that students are not pluralists if they do not accept the religious legitimacy of other faiths.'”
    This strikes right at the heart of the liberal/pluralistic paradox. We accept anyone’s right to choose their way of thinking or worshipping…SO LONG AS they agree with us on accepting others. That is, anyone’s mode of faith/belief is as good as anyone else’s as long is it is not the traditional type which holds that there is one correct way. There is really not a good way around this problem for liberals (religious and otherwise). To be truly pluralistic, you must accept as equally valid non-pluralistic folk.
    Think about it… Rabbi Green is saying that anyone can be accomodated: those who practice a Buddhist version of Judaism, those who don’t believe in God, those who accept halakha as binding but a product of man, those who think halakha is outdated, etc. However, he outright admits that someone whose belief and practice systems follow the strict Jewish tradition simply cannot be accomodated at the school. Bizarre. And telling.
    Frankly, as a liberal and a traditional Jew, I think pluralism is a bit overrated. No one should be expected to think another’s beliefs are just as valid. Tolerance is the key. I may think that you are wrong for putting a tallit and tefillin on your dog while you meditate on the floor at shacharit time. But, I will not try to keep you from doing so. I accept your right to make a decision. That’s not pluralism…it’s tolerance. And it makes more sense.

  8. fineline, well put. “Pluralist” and “non-denominaitonal” are really just code words for very liberal/Reform. “Non-denominational implies broad acceptance. The broadest acceptance is in the Reform movement. Personally, I would rather be in a movement where I am pushed to improve myself, rather than have everyone saying that my observance/piety is “equally valid.”
    Even so, I could not be Orthodox. Conservatives should see “non-denominational” synogogues as a threat because they suggest that extremely liberal standards are compatable with halacha. But, the most liberal standards are the elimination of halacha. The Orthodox will not be fooled, but Conservatives might be.

  9. I attended a pluralist school growing up, and I have to say that it was probably the most meaningful Jewish experience I have had. When I got to New York, I was really floored by the imcompatibility of reform, conservative and ortho Jews here. If anything drove me AWAY from tradition it was that– the lack of dialogue, conversation. The disgust and contempt with which Jews look at one another here is incredibly frustrating to me, and I even sense the condescension in the posts in this thread. I always felt that, regardless of my personal decisions, there is a great deal to learn from absorbing a variety of perspectives. It helps us appreciate and respect individual Jewish experiences and mentalities. Dogmatic people that believe that they are right and that there is no room to question their beliefs are pretty much missing the crux of Judaism itself– to question, to struggle. After all, we are Israel.
    I have never fit in cleanly into any category of American Judaism, and frankly I’m still searching for my way. There are a lot of conflicts I need to straighten out. The advantage of pluralism is that it keeps the “tribe” together, and more importantly IMO, educated.
    Whether or not the Jews with whom I went to school end up observant or not, they are knowledgeable and have a deep understanding of their roots. What’s more, I am able to count all these people as friends and compatriots (as it were). Regardless of our differences, the bonds formed in those formative years taught us that we, as Jews, have a great deal in common. I am sad that some people prefer to isolate themselves and further deepen the divisions in our community when the opportunity to learn from one another is presenting itself.

  10. Lynne wrote:
    Should Jews be trying to cajole stragglers back to Torah observant Judaism or should the stragglers be left alone, because if they really wanted to be observant they’d be so on their own, with no support from a community?
    There is another way – that has proved its effectiveness: Torah-true outreach that does not involve gimmicks or dilution of the Jewish covenant.
    The only demographic trend that even approaches intermarriage in magnitude is the “ba’al teshuva” phenomenon. This flowering of interest and mitzvah observance is largely the result of Orthodox outreach that did not compromise or sugarcoat the message of covenantal Judaism.
    There is plenty of appealing content in Judaism. And American Orthodoxy has invested much money and effort in outreach. The combination works.
    What keeps many “straggling” Jews from engaging Judaism is the simple but deadly combination of ignorance and apathy that are inevitably results of the assimilation process. We now have a 2nd generation of halachically non-Jewish children of Reform intermarriages. Many of these people are better described as “Americans of Jewish descent” than as American Jews.
    No doubt some would be insulted by this distinction. But many in the committed Jewish community have convincingly argued that “inreach” to Jews with some live connection to Judaism is more important at this point that “outreach” to the assimilated fringe.
    Sam: I agree with Joe Schmo. There are a lot of individual C Jews who feel bound by the covenant – but the movement is losing it.
    Ronen: what school did you attend? I’d be interested to hear more.

  11. fineline:
    It is only “fundamentalist” Jews who are beyond the pale. Muslims whose fundamentalism leads them to murderous brutality are lionized by the Jewish lefties – even when the target is their fellow Jews.

  12. When I attended, there was no web page and only one “campus”. But I suspect that the same values are in place– in fact, several of my friends even returned as teachers for a while. enjoy

  13. I guess I just think that Conservative Judaism is worth keeping alive because I think that it has a more realistic view of the interaction between the call of the covenant and the response of the Jews where they are than the Orthodox movement, which thinks that if we all keep doing what 16th century Polish rabbis said that we are doing “original” Judaism.
    At the same time, you’re right to point out that many Conservative Jews have trouble figuring out why they shouldn’t be Reform, and that if the movement doesn’t solve this problem then Orthodoxy will indeed predominate.

  14. Ben-David…
    “Fundamentalist” is a meaningless catch-phrase here. You are implying a link between the “fundamentalist” belief in the necessity of halakha in Jewish life and the “fundamentalist” approach of militant Islamists who wish to impost a Taliban-like regime through terrorism. That’s absurd.
    When they say that “fundamentalists” aren’t welcome in the pluralist Jewish setting, they are simply noting that anyone who believes in the Jewish _fundamentals_ (God, halakha, etc.) is unwelcome. What kind of Jewish environment is that? Jew-bu is fine, but orthodox is not? That is simply an left-leaning intolerance instead of a right-leaning one, and it shows why pluralism is fundamentally flawed. Tolerance should be the goal.

  15. “At the same time, you’re right to point out that many Conservative Jews have trouble figuring out why they shouldn’t be Reform, and that if the movement doesn’t solve this problem then Orthodoxy will indeed predominate.”
    Sam, you’re a riot. Anyhoo…I was a huge Conservative mouth piece in the mid-90’s. And then I applied to JTS, brought Neil Gilman to McGill University…w/o mentioning names, I will say a few things about Conservative Judaism:
    1) Sounds great on paper
    2) Worked in the 60’s and 70’s
    3) Some great thinkinkers
    4) Less than .05% of the movement, at least in Montreal, do anything that resembles “Conservative Judaism”
    5) Most rabbis, behind closed doors, have told me that the only people doing Conservative Judaism are rabbis (and a friend of mine who recently graduated JTS told me that even rabbinical students are more lax these days visavis halacha) and one or two board members.
    6) If you’re young (20’s and 30’s) good luck finding a healthy Conservative community in Canada.
    7) While Davening with the one of the Conservative big-wigs, he read a magazine during the whole Amidah. When I asked him about this, he replied: “I daven in my own way”. Nice.
    8) After having worked for USY and the Conservative movement for over 6 years, I started davening and studying with Ortho Jews. The difference is fast food and well prepared and catered meal by quality chefs.
    Sam, Conservative Judaism is going to be something we study in 50-100 years. Probably in a museum or Jewish history class. My prediction is that Conservative, Reform, Renewal will all band together to target Jews who want a lax, no guilt alternative to Orthodox.

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