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August 25, 1989 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-08-25

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Most Conservative Jews agree
that until recently the leadership of
the movement has had difficulties
conveying that commitment to the
average member.
"We've created this wishy-washy
mentality that whatever you can do
• is okay, and that Conservative
Judaism is whatever the congregants
need at the moment, within the con-
text of having a little more Hebrew
than Reform congregations, and I
think that's a fallacy and a great
mistake," Rabbi Meyerowitz says.
"I think rabbis have been very
timid over the years and congregants
have not wanted to hear this, but the
Conservative movement demands and
requires of people that they observe
Jewish laws in their personal lives as
well as in the synagogue."
Among the demands and re-
quirements of Conservatism are
• following the dietary laws of kashrut
and observing Shabbat. But, says
Rabbi A. Irving Schnipper of Con-
. gregation Beth Abraham Hillel
Moses, very few actually observe the
Conservative tenets according to the
dictum of the movement.
"There is not a commitment to
observance by most:' he says. "We
have these laws; why don't people
observe them?"
"Remember," says Rabbi Efry
Spectre of Adat Shalom, "We're deal-
ing with a public that has only a
three-minute attention span. That's a
big problem. How do you reach them?
"Then there are budgetary and
economic problems. You can't have

creative, interesting programs
without funding."
"We are terribly underfunded,"
▪ Epstein says. "We need to find some
way to capture the imagination of our
People come to the movement for
various reasons. Most, like Shaarey
Zedek member Jacqui Elkus, were
simply raised Conservative and
"wouldn't feel comfortable anywhere
Others, like Dr. Walter Coleman
of West Bloomfield, made a conscious
decision to become Conservative.
"I was raised Orthodox. I guess
you could say I changed with the
times. I found that it was necessary
for me to work and drive on Saturday
and to do things that aren't accep-
table for Orthodox Jews, so I became
Conservative," he says.
Unlike Orthodox Judaism, which
considers Halachah unchanging and
eternal, Conservative Judaism
believes in a growing, developing
Jewish law.
"We feel that in every generation
Halachah must be re-interpreted,
without changing the halachic in-
tent," says Goldie Bober Kweller,
president- of Merkaz, the Zionist arm
of the movement, and past president
of the Women's League for Conser-

vative Judaism, of New York. But
Kweller adds that the process is a
slow one of "evolution, not revolu-
Among the most notable and con-
troversial halachic changes the move-
ment approved was the decision to ac-
cept the ordination of women rabbis.
Right-wing Conservative con-
gregations assailed the move as a
break with Halachah, and derided its
proponents as "gradualists" — as in
"gradually becoming Reform."
But Rabbi David Nelson of Con-
gregation Beth Shalom disputes the
idea that Conservative Judaism is
"just 10 years behind Reform," poin-
ting out that for the Reform move-

sider my work . . . a complete failure
if this institution would not in the
future produce such extremes as on
the one side a roving mystic who
would denounce me as a sober
Philistine; on the other side, an ad-
vanced critic, who would rail at me as
a narrow-minded fanatic, while a
third devotee of strict Orthodoxy
would raise protests against any
critical views I may entertain."
In other words, as Epstein says,
"We can disagree without being


ne of the joys of Seminary
education," says Merkaz's
Kweller, "was that one could

movement has
always stated
that Jewish law is
the heart and
soul of Jewish

Rabbi Allan Meyerowitz




Rabbi Allan Meyerowitz: "We've created this wishy-washy mentality that whatever you can do is okay."

ment Halachah is not considered
"Consequently, they had no trou-
ble with ordaining women from the
beginning," he says. "For us it was a
long, slow, constructive process."
In a 1975 responsa by the
12-member Committee on Law and
Standards of the Rabbinical
Assembly, a nine-rabbi majority rul-
ed that women should not be ordain-
ed as rabbis. However, the opposing
minority of three was considered, in
the spirit of pluralism, to be large
enough to make the dissenting view
a valid option for congregations.
This commitment to pluralism
has marked the movement since the
founding of the Jewish Theological
Seminary at the turn of the century.
Solomon Schechter, the Seminary's
first headmaster, said, "I would con-

study under Saul Lieberman, who
was very right-wing, and Mordechai
Kaplan, who was as left-wing as they
came, and Abraham Joshua Heschel,
who was in the center, all at the same
time. It's that diversity that
strengthens the movement?'
But there may be a limit to how
far that diversity can stretch. !`The
idea of an umbrella movement is all
right for a while," says Rabbi Milton
Arm of Congregation Beth Achim.
"But today the variations in obser-
vance are so great that it borders on
non-observance. How much variety
can you have and still be in the same
Rabbi Arm is a member of the
Union for Traditional Conservative
Judaism, a group of Conservative
Jews concerned about what they see
as the erosion of what Conservatism


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