The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006
How Should We Approach Serious Non-Orthodox Jews?

Yesterday's New York Times article about Conservative Judaism's upcoming vote to allow homosexuality concluded with the following:

Many students at the seminary say they find the gay ban offensive and would welcome a change, said Daniel Klein, a rabbinical student who helps lead Keshet, a gay rights group on campus. "It's part of the tradition to change, so we're entirely within tradition," he said. Mr. Klein said that even if the law committee did not lift the ban this week, change would come eventually.

"Imagine what will happen 10 years from now when some of my colleagues are on the law committee, when people from my generation are on the law committee," he said. "It's not going to be a close vote."

Putting aside the question of whether Klein is representative of JTS students, it is clear that younger Conservative rabbis and Conservative rabbinical students are, overall, far more liberal and less committed to even the appearance of fidelity to halacha.

Many serious non-Orthodox Jews who have identified as "traditional Conservative" or "right-wing Conservative" will, sooner rather than later, likely find the Conservative movement to be too liberal and ahalachic for them.

Some of these people might become modern Orthodox. Others, however, won't. These people are likely to find themselves on sort of a border between traditional Conservative and modern Orthodox. Already, in places like the Upper West Side, Cambridge, Jerusalem, and elsewhere, there are services at which women read the Torah, receive aliyos and lead davening, yet there is separate seating. (I am not referring to separate women's prayer groups, but to services attended by men and women.)

Should those of us who identify as Orthodox encourage participation by non-Orthodox Jews in these types of activities?

On an individual level, it would certainly seem preferable to the "anything goes" mentality of the Conservative movement. Yet on an ideological level, can we support activity that is regarded as inconsistent with halacha by virtually all rabbinic authorities, whether modern or charedi?

Further, the Conservative movement does not represent a real threat to Orthodoxy. But perhaps activities and services that blur the lines between Orthodoxy and non-Orthodoxy do. Services that are non-Orthodox but have separate seating can and do attract those who identify as modern Orthodox, and thus present a challenge to mainstream modern Orthodoxy.

It is almost inevitable that as Conservative Judaism continues to move to the left and become increasingly indistinguishable from the Reform movement, many who are not Orthodox will look for more traditional religious expression. I'm not sure whether there is an appropriate Orthodox position on this, but the issues are important and should be grappled with by Orthodox Jews.