Because I haven’t generated any controversy in a while, I’d like to call your attention to this story about everyone’s favorite polarizing issue (that is, after “who is a jew,” the issue of premarital sex of any sort, the role of women in contemporary Jewish life, whether or not Israel should withdraw from Gaza, whose Judaism is authentic, whether the Pope was good or evil, etc): that is, the Conservative Movement’s position on the role of gays in the rabbinate and whether or not rabbis will be permitted to sanction gay marriages with religious ceremonies:

Experts in religious law for Conservative Jews gathered last week in Baltimore, where they reconsidered their 1992 decision opposing ordination for homosexuals and commitment ceremonies for same-gender couples.

The vote of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards was not taken at this conference, but would not have been binding, nor would it have resolved disagreements over homosexuality among Conservative Jews. But it would have sent a strong message to the wider community about how far the Conservative branch will go in re-interpreting traditional understanding of Jewish law.

Conservative Jews adhere to tradition but allow some re-evaluation of Jewish law for modern circumstances. The movement occupies a middle ground between the liberal Reform branch, which ordains gays and blesses same-sex couples, and the stricter Orthodox Judaism, which bars gays from becoming rabbis and condemns homosexuality.

I’m no rabbi. I don’t have any particular expertise on this subject. So consider this whole discussion IMHO and FD (in my humble opinion and for discussion…)

Conservative Judaism often suffers from this definition: instead of being its own movement with identifiable positions, CJ is most often defined by the average layperson as “neither Orthodox nor Reform, somewhere in the middle.” People who observe what they consider a little too much to be Reform, opt for the Conservative label. Or you get people like me, with an Orthodox day school education and Ramah during the summers, who might be Modern Orthodox in some circles but Conservadox or Egalitarian Traditional Conservative in others, and who determine that a Conservative synagogue is the best synagogue choice available. But the reality is, the labels (as I’ve said before) are nearing irrelevance at this point, where everyone observes a Judaism that is a little more a la carte and a little less prix fixe.

But the issue of labels aside, the decision to either allow or not allow increased recognition of and participation for gays in Conservative Judaism is going to be a watershed moment. More conservative (small c intentional) leaders within the movement adhere to the more Orthodox position, that homosexuality is prohibited by the Torah and therefore is not sanctionable, not matter what the political correctness of the climate or our own sense of morality might dictate. More liberal leaders embrace all Jews regardless of sexual preference (or any other criterion). If CJ chooses to become more liberal, then the movement’s essential character may require a marketing makeover to better distinguish it from Reform Judaism. If CJ chooses a more exclusionary position than the one adopted thirteen years ago (happy Bar Mitzvah, anti-gay decision!), it runs the danger of losing people to the Reform movement. (Mr. Rock? I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Hardplace.)

Anyone who’s seen “Trembling Before G-D” has a glimpse of what it’s like for gay Orthodox Jews to struggle within a religious context that out and out rejects their sexual preference, in a contemporary analog to the excommunication foisted on heretics in the Middle Ages (disclaimer: I’m no historian, so for the purposes of this entry, consider “Middle Ages” to mean some time between the post-Second Temple period and the American Revolutionary War in 1776). I emerged from that movie uncomprehending, how could parents reject their children in favor of tradition/community, and more puzzlingly, why would gay Jews want to be part of a group that didn’t want them? (Although this is admittedly a weak example) if a stream of Judaism decided that being a singles columnist or a blogger was prohibited by the Torah, would I still want to be part of the system that rejected me? Is the pull of tradition, the desire to belong to a community (even one that rejects you), that strong?

The tension between faith in a set, standing tradition and compassion for the emotional well-being of others on this big blue marble is substantial, and in this case, not likely to be resolved in a single day’s ruling (or in this case, non-ruling) by one stream of Judaism. It’s times like these when I’m glad I’m not a pulpit rabbi, or a halakhic decisor, or on the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Here, on the ground and somewhat between movements, I have the luxury of operating by my own understanding of how you should treat people who live differently but still wish to embrace a committed Jewish life. I don’t represent a movement, only myself. But sometimes that’s hard enough.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

87 Comments

  • I was raised Jewish but in my teens i got heavily into satan worship and paganism. I’ve since returned to my Jewish roots so to speak and I regularly attend services etc. However I have to keep an important part of myself suppressed for fear of being ostracized by small minded members of my community. Why can’t I be a full Jew and a Satan worshipper? Why must I hide my devotion to Satan in order to participate in my community? I look forward to the day when Judaism unshackles itself from restrictive anachronistic rules and embraces all. I would love to be the first Jewish Satanist Rabbi. Why not?! It’s only fair.

  • I’m waiting for the day for some queen to lead Kol Niedre services at your local Reform (and it looks like Cons…one day anyway) shul.

    Look…
    In general, people don’t join shuls cuz of theology/halacha (in the liberal movements anyway). They do so for the following reasons:

    1) My family goes there
    2) I can sit with my wife/kids/golf partner
    3) It’s close by
    4) My grandparents went there

    Ask your average Reform/Conservative (Renewal folks are suprisingly aware and active in their movement) the differences b/w the two movements and they’ll say something like:

    “Well, we’re not sure. We do know that men and women can sit together”.

    And that about sums it up.

    The Cons/Reform shtick is a throw back to the 50’s-60’s. It’s a dying idea. It stinks. Let it die already. MORPH!!!!

  • BTW, my above post is in response to Esther’s comment that:

    “it runs the danger of losing people to the Reform movement.”

  • Dalomar-

    You may want to try the Renewal Movement. They’re really, like, open to anything. And if you have multiple tattoos & piercings, you should try the Kabballah folks, preferably the ones in LA, because it seems like they’re the most, errrr…. “open minded,” shall we say? Just make sure to bring your checkbook, and if you can’t be a Satanist rabbi, maybe they’ll at least let you be a high priest.

    All kidding aside, Esther makes a few geat points regarding CJ, Jewish homosexuals, and pretty much everything else she’s ever written about. Halachically, CJ is going to have a very tough time with this, given that homosexuality is a big Torah no-no, not just a piddling, annoying little rabbinic prohibition. The Conservative movement is very gung-ho to get up to speed on societal norms (egalitarianism in everything, for example), and this makes it difficult for them to fall back on a quick, easy decision: because G-d says “no”. I wish them luck.

  • In the previous post, substitute CJ for UTJ- it’ll make more sense. Or maybe it won’t.

  • Ah UTJ…

    We had a rabbi from UTJ in Vancouver. Dude got no respect. After a few years of UTJ’ing, he got his Ortho smicha. Dude’s much happeir now.

  • Muffti says go for it Dalomar. Of course you should believe in Satan and God and worship both. You may as well worship Crom (from Conan) while you’re at. Once you believe in one creature of legend, do you really go wrong by believing in many?

    (After all, the story of Job mentions Satan and God seems happy to make deals with him, even to the deteriment of Job. Why shouldn’t Dalomar believe in all the things mentioned in the Ol’ Testament?)

  • As far as “big Torah no-nos” are concerned, violating the Sabbath carries the same penalty as male homsexuality: the death penalty at the order of the court. Therefore, it should be clear that the Torah considers Shabbat desecration to be just as serious a sin as male-on-male buggery and that therefore both sins are of a similar nature. And what is that? Both sins are statements to the effect that the perpetrator does not believe in G-d. It is really pretty simple. Therefore, the Torah does not make a distinction between the two sins.

    The non-Orthodox, however, have taken it upon themselves to distinguish between the so-called “important” and “not so important” mitzvot. This is usually undertaken in response to fashions in the gentile world. Once this is done, they cannot say, “Well, driving a car and shopping on Shabbat is OK, but guys making out is gross“. There is no internal logic to support making this distinction.

    For the Reform and Conservatives (especially the Reform) to be OK with Shabbat desecration yet draw the line at homsexuality is nothing but rank hypocrisy. I am sure that the Conservatives will OK this. They really don’t have a choice.

    And the world will go on and each individual will make the choices that seem best to him or her.

    One quibble, though, with Esther’s otherwise cogent post: if homosexuality is really a “preferance”, then Judaism owes nothing whatsoever to people who prefer to thumb their noses at it. Only if a person’s homosexual orientation is truly beyond their control does this issue take on any meaning or pathos. Otherwise it is just shtuyot.

  • Muffti, this is a serious question:

    If the Muffti, he doesn’t believe in the Hashem and if the Muffti he thinks the jokes about the Hashem they are so funny, why is the Muffti a Jew?

    Couldn’t the Muffti think of better ways to spend his time? I know that the Ephraim, he could think of many things that would be very goy-licious. Much, much better than the Jewlicious.

  • If Ben-David managed to show anything with the series of posts on homosexuality, it’s that the preference/nativist distinction is rather hard to make out. From something being a preference, it doesn’t follow that its within someone’s control to change it (i.e. to move down the list of preferences and forgo their first preference.) Muffti’s heterosexuality may be a preference, but he doesn’t feel that it’s within his control to forgoe it and start preferring men over women.

    In any case, the point has been made before that the torah seems to censure homosexual activity rather than homosexual preference, so Muffti isn’t sure why the preference/stuck with it distinction is relevant at all. And Muffti agrees with Ephraim (*groan*): the cons really are hypocrits if they get all picky without principle. And this should really be no surprise: the Torah provides a single source of justification for both wonderful (even in the Muff’s opinion) things but also some horrible things. Since the source of justification is univocal, its really a simple all or nothing affair when it comes to these matters. You either deny the source of justification and Muffti welcomes you but Ephraim yells at you. Or you accept the source and Muffti yells at your while Ephraim and co. welcome you. Anything else seems to leave you making choices without principled lines.

  • I think we should be welcoming to all Jews. In this case, they
    are no different than other people who sin in a particular area.
    The only difference is that they are open about it.
    How is it in Reform synagouges, do you see many gay couples holding hands, wearing identifying items and such or is it more low key. Perhaps someone can enlighten us.
    Hey Streimel, Vancouver is an awesome place, I have been there, you are seriously lucky. I stayed off of Oak Str.

  • Muffti has a cultural heritage just like you, Ephraim. Muffti has close friends like CK and enjoys helping out (hopefully) his blog. Muffti spends most of his time doing enough goy-licious stuff so finds some solace and comfort hanging with the people he was born into. Muffti just doesn’t see the hand of God doing very much in all this. Luckily for Muffti, atheism allows him to participate in Judaism to any degree he likes without hypocrisy.

  • Conservative Judaism has a tougher time accepting homosexuality among its rabbinate (and among its adherents) than discussion so-called violations of the Sabbath. The prohibition against male homosexuality is written very clearly in there, whereas the prohibitions regarding the Sabbath relate to now doing work but do not go as far as mentioning driving cars or flicking on a light or a tv set on the sabbath – those are understood to be interpretations, by men, of biblical laws. No such luxury with homosexuality, it’s spelled out clearly.

  • T_M, you need to learn how the halacha works.

    One of the things that is expressly prohibited on the Shabbat is starting a fire.

    Ever heard of sparkplugs?

  • In case anyone cares, my understanding is that the Conservative Movement originally approved starting your car for the sole purpose of transporting you to and from shul, if you were outside feasible walking distance. Of course, once the act was allowed (for whatever purpose), people (understandably) failed to see any distinction in the intention, and ended up running errands at the mall.

  • Tha’s the whole problem with the non-Orthodox approach. Going to shul on Shabbat is not as important as observing Shabbat.

    Let me ask Jewlicious a question: what is more important, keeping Shabbat or observing Yom Kippur?

  • Ephraim, at what point do you get that I know these things? And as far as I understand, the prohibition on starting a fire is a prohibition on starting a fire. When I turn the ignition in a car, I am starting a car. I realize we disagree on the meaning of this prohibition but so do Conservative and Orthodox Judaism.

  • aish freak: no one, gay or straight, makes out in the reform synagogue i go to. just that gay couples can be open about the fact that they are in a committed relationship w/ someone of the same sex. e.g. “oh yeah, my partner makes good charoset.” sort of like what a straight couple might say.

  • A person doesnt have to believe in God to be a Jew.In fact there’s nothing a Jew can do to stop being a Jew. And this is according to Orthodox Judaism.

  • BTW…

    When I was a regional USY guy, I spent muchos time with Cons Rabbis. When I asked ’em about the whole driving shtick, THEY ALL (at least the one’s in Montreal) lamented the decision by their own movement. Not only that, they also agreed that it doesn’t work, and caused the movement much harm (think: slippery slope).

  • No Ephraim, you are all mixed up, observing Shabbat is precisely what the Conservatives do. When I drive my car to a park and sit with my family to have a picnic, and then pull out a soccer ball and play around with my kid, I am taking a day of rest that is very different from the days of the remainder of the week. I spend the time with family, we will probably briefly review something about the parsha or an upcoming holiday, we will have a special Friday night meal with blessings and songs. But the food will be heated, and the car will be driven, and musical instruments or CD players will be played. My sense is that this is what god was thinking when he created the Shabbat.

  • Shtreimel, I don’t know about your town, but in my town it would be impossible for most congregations to survive if people could not drive to synagogue.

  • T_M, it is clearer and clearer with each post that you do not understand how halacha works. The prohibition against starting a fire is just that, a prohibition against starting a fire. When you start your engine, the spark plugs ignite the gasoline. That is a fire. End of story.

    In addition to that, there is a Torah prohibition against leaving your place/city of residence on Shabbat. How this is interpreted is pretty involved, but it is a pretty safe bet that some people who drive on Shabbat probably violate that prohibition as well, depending on how far they drive. To repeat, staying home with one’s family and observing Shabbat properly is more important than going to shul if going to shul requires that you violate Shabbat prohibitions.

    You say you think you know what Hashem had in mind when he wrote the Torah, and that you understand better than all of the sages what it really means. Good, I’m glad you’re so chutzpahdich….I mean, confident.

  • “observing Shabbat is precisely what the Conservatives do.”

    Now where I worked they didn’t. Actually, the reason I found Orthodoxy was that I couldn’t find one…ONE, Conservative Jew under the age of 65 to study with on a Sat afternoon.

    “My sense is that this is what god was thinking when he created the Shabbat.”

    I admire you for taking time out with your family, creating your own space for Shabbat. But “my sense” of what God may or may not want for me is informed by the rabbis. As soon as I divorce my ideas of Judaism from Torah, I take the responsibility to state that these are MY ideas and have very little to do with God.

    “it would be impossible for most congregations to survive if people could not drive to synagogue”

    Don’t know where you live, but the Cons shuls in Montreal, even with the Driving, were empty…empty…empty. Not always on a Sat AM, but on Friday nights and Sat. Mincha…wow, Ghost Town baby.

  • “You say you think you know what Hashem had in mind when he wrote the Torah”

    In a nutshell, Ephraim explains the lack of humility – and the reason for their current problems – in the liberal movements. Ask yourself this question…why is it that whenever a liberal Jew becomes more observant (within their own movements) they drift to Orthodoxy? Could it have anything to do with:

    1) They find Orthodoxy to be more honest, consistent
    2) They find Orthodoxy to be more serious about concepts like God, Halacha, etc.
    3) They’re looking for something counter to their day to day secular lives

  • This really says everything (from the article):

    “I think the general thrust in American society has been toward recognizing not only the right of gays and lesbians to form committed relationships but almost their duty to do so, in the same way that heterosexuals are both medically and morally better off if they form monogamous relationships,” Dorff said.

    Since when are we supposed to determine the halacha for Jews because of what the surrounding gentile culture thinks?

    Once we accept the culture of MacDonalds and Hollywood as the arbiter for Jewish morality we are totally screwed.

  • I do agree with TM. I do not agree with Shtreimel or with Ephraim. I try to say my prayers every morning, and often I say my afternoon and evening prayers, and birchat hamazon at all meals. I very much believe in and try to practice what are called “family values”.
    However, that is not good enough for the Orthodox.
    Why? Because I do not and will never believe that G-d literally dictated the written and oral Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

    I do believe that all the laws applying to ethics and morality, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, are indeed commanded by Hashem.
    I believe this is because Hashem is just and would never expressly command obligatory laws which cannot be observed by all humanity.

    Mitzvot which do not relate specifically to ethics and morality are useful and are very valid because they help us observe the laws of ethics and morality and these mitzvot help one live a disciplined life, but no one can persuade me that they are divinely commanded. These mitzvot are divinely inspired, in the sense that people thought and prayed for centuries as to how to create a structure for a moral life, and that is how the mitzvot related to ritual evolved.

    Therefore I will not judge someone on how they observe the ritual mitzvot, but I will absolutely certainly judge them on their fulfillment of every one of the mitzvot relating to ethics and morality, and I happily expect them to judge me on that basis.

    I believe a day will come when all humanity will acknowledge
    G-d’s Unity and Mercy and Ineffableness, and act toward each other with kindness and keep G-d’s laws of morality and ethics, and my heart soars when I think of this wonderful age to come.

  • Enough with the ‘Gay’ issues already. Everywhere you look – gay, gay, gay!

    Where is all the sheep-lover support I am pleading for over here???

    Why can’t the conservatives hire a sheep-loving rabbi? We don’t even have to start there. We can start small, with the Reformies.

  • All of the non-observant here seem to think that I am judging them and condemning them to Hell or something because they don’t observe the way I think they should.

    Well, I am not doing that. “There is no man who is so righteous that he never sins”. I have made, and will continue to make, my share of goofs. There are plenty of people at our shul who use baby carriages on Shabbat even though we don’t have an eruv. Some even drive. I do not say anything to them, and a lot of them are my friends. As far as that goes, I am sure there are plenty of people who consider me a complete apikores. There’s always someone to the right just as there is someone to the left.

    I am talking about basic philosophy here, not whispering about the fact that that guy over there doesn’t tovel his pots before he uses them, and man, what a goy he is, isn’t he?

    When I don’t measure up to what I think I ought to be doing, I try to resolve to do better next time.

    What I don’t go is and create a movement that will tell me whatever I decide to do is OK because I know better than the rabbis about what Hashem meant.

  • “What I don’t go is and create a movement that will tell me whatever I decide to do is OK because I know better than the rabbis about what Hashem meant.”

    Bingo.

  • Ephraim, I have this conversation with ck almost every time he and I speak. There is a significant divide between us because of the issue of faith and how one should observe as a result. The Orthodox have successfully created a self-perpetuating system: respect the rabbis because they are learned; respect the Torah because it is god-given; respect any halachic laws because they are directly descended from the…well, the same source as the Torah…even if they are not in the Torah. So not only do I have to go by the written word, but the interpretation is holy as well.

    This is where I differ from the Orthodox significantly. I believe that even if you could convince me that there is a god, like the Israelite god, and he gave the Israelites Torah at Sinai, I still would think that any interpretations and rules that extend beyond are created by men. Are these men more learned than I? Sure. Are they fallible men like me? Yup. Can they err and have their minds changed? Yes sir!

    A conversation I had very recently revolved around the question of what could have happened had the gemara and mishnah not been written, essentially locking in laws and the discussions that surround them. I think we would live in a different Jewish world if that were the case. If you believe what you do, you reject my assessment. But consider for a moment the possibility that I am right (and please understand that I am not trying to convince you or anybody to question or doubt your faith, merely to understand my perspective), would you still base your entire life and worship around the decisions of men who lived in a world very different from today’s world? Think about the fact that if I’m right, all of these laws and interpretations were written long before we knew the world was not flat, or that the world is made up of atoms and molecules, or that one can impregnate a woman artificially.

    And I understand the car example perfectly, I just disagree. Call it chutzpah, if you like, but I would say that the 5 Orthodox Jews I met recently would tell you that I am very respectful of their lives, lifestyles and choices.

  • TM,

    I share your doubt. Where we disagree is what we do with doubt. I’m skeptical of how divine (of what cosmic significance) an eruv may or may not have. But I’m not so confident to pass this off as an error arising from the times when we believed the earth was flat. And my experiences (observing halacha traditionally and liberally) validate my choices. There’s no question in my mind that a traditional halachick shabbos is more meaningful i.e. rested, connected, removed, thankful, than my liberal Conservative one. Hands down.

    Was it easier to observe Shabbos as a Cons Jew? Yes. More meaningful? Not even close.

  • I also agree with TM. However, I still believe in G-d, and it seems to me that TM hasn’t made up his mind whether or not he believes in G-d, correct me if I am wrong, TM.

    If you want to know what would have happened if didn’t have the Mishnah and the Gemara, just google “Karaites”. They don’t believe that the Oral Torah, but they do believe the every word of the Tanach is divine, on which I disagree.

    Why is that nowadays Judaism has become polarized?- so that it either becomes- question G-d and believe any lifestyle is o.k.
    or believe in G-d and one must also believe literally in the entire written and oral Torah. Isn’t there a middle ground.
    Quite frankly I am fed up of being too religious for Reform or Conservative and not religious enough for Orthodox.
    So, I no longer participate in the community- I just say my prayers and study Torah at home.

  • I’m glad that the 5 Orthodox Jews you met know that you are respectful of their lifestyle, TM. Is this some sort of “Some of my best friends are….” schtick? Anyway, I’m sure it means a lot to them (if they ever bother to think about it all, I mean).

    Since you seem to be deliberately trying to miss the point, I guess I’ll just let it go. You seem to think that the halacha hasn’t changed in 2000 years. It just proves that you really don’t understand the process.

    Halacha evolves. But it evolves through the constant work of men who have devoted their lives to its study and understand it on its own terms. Thus, when something changes, it is a natural evolution from within the tradition, not something imposed by goyish fashion or adopted helter-skelter and willy-nilly by ignoramuses like you and I just because we think we know better. And it certainly doesn’t eveolve under the pressure of Jewish groups who basically tell the Orthodox: “We jettisoned all of that anceient crap long ago. Why don’t you guys get with the program so we can all be friends?”

    ck holds a very traditional Sephardic view. In many ways, it is much more sane and natural (no, let me rephrase that: it is in all ways much more sane and natural) than the desperate self-justification of the post-Haskalah European non-Orthodox movements, especially as they have evolved here in the US (or Canada). The Sephardim know exactly what is expected of them. They make a decision about what level of observance they will hold to in their own lives and deal with it like adults. At the same time, they expect their institutions to be proper. You can say that this is hypocritical, but I don’t see it that way. One thing that comes through in ck’s posts is his realization that he thinks he should do more to measure up and that he hopes to be more observant one day. This is a proper attitude. I don’t observe as well as I would like, but I try to do better. I get the impression that you are fat and happy with where you are and this strikes me as well, chutzpahdich.

  • No Ephraim, you are all mixed up, observing Shabbat is precisely what the Conservatives do. When I drive my car to a park and sit with my family to have a picnic, and then pull out a soccer ball and play around with my kid, I am taking a day of rest that is very different from the days of the remainder of the week.”

    Perhaps your shul changed affiliation to the Reform movement at one of those long boring board meetings you missed? In no way is that now, nor has it ever been the position of the Conservative movement that driving to the park for a picnic is allowable on Shabbat. For a good summary of the Conservative movement’s history on this question, see:

    http://groups.msn.com/judaismfaqs/shabbatdriving.msnw

    Enjoy that family picnic on Shabbat with your shul – help sponsor a nice kiddish. You can schmooz with your friends over a l’chaim, sing some zimmrot and then bentch together. If the weather’s nice, have it outside!

    The Conservative movement has problems, without a doubt, but to their credit they seem to be trying quite hard to undo the damage caused by the original limited permission to drive to shul (only) on Shabbat (only) when unable to walk due to the distance.

  • Ephraim, in this discussion, while I have been respectful of you (again), you have called me a whole bunch of things (again), not the least of which is ignorant.

    It’s tiresome and has the additional effect of diminishing the value I place upon your posts by a significant measure. Do try to get over your disrespect of me soon and maybe our conversations can be more fruitful.

  • If you notice, TM, I said “ignoramuses like you and I“.

    The difference between us is that I know that I am ignorant.

    I respect your lifestyle too. I am certainly not going to throw rocks at you and scream “Shabbes! Shabbes!” I just do not agree that it is halachic, that’s all, or that the personal decisions each individual Jew makes should be used as justifications for changng the tradition wholesale.

  • Ephraim wrote: In many ways, it is much more sane and natural (no, let me rephrase that: it is in all ways much more sane and natural) than the desperate self-justification of the post-Haskalah European non-Orthodox movements, especially as they have evolved here in the US (or Canada).

    Now I know I am just a simple, unidimensional Sephardic Jew. But ya know, if I recall correctly, the non-Orthodox Europeans did not have a monopoly on divisive reforms and/or modifications to halachah. Let’s not forget the serious rift between the Hassidic movements and the Mitnagdim, the Litvaks and the Galicianers etc. etc.

    And it’s not as if Sephardic Jews are a unitary whole either. We are not innately better. Our attitude is merely a function of the fact that we never had to deal with emancipation in the same way that Europeans did. We never had to deal with existential crises related to our being accepted by our surrounding society because we never wanted to be Arabs and they never really wanted us to be equals either. They didn’t like us because we were Jews and we didn’t like them because they were perceived as being mostly savage and illiterate.

    That being the case, our only identity was Judaism. But if you look at Moroccan Jews who have moved to France or Canada, you’ll find the same development towards intermarriage, less religion etc. etc. – So we’re not any better than ashkenazic Jews, we’re just a generation or two behind them. As long as we remain in the diaspora and do not live lives firmly committed to Judaism etc. we will be just as assimilated as our ashkenazic co-religionists.

    The only real difference is that we will always eat better and be cuter looking.

  • Neo-Conservative guy, as I told Shtreimel, the Conservative synagogue in my town would not survive a prohibition on driving and it is clear that almost everybody uses the car for other purposes on shabbat.

    The reason is simple, if you turn on a car, you are turning on a car and the purpose of turning on a car may be specified but you’ve crossed a line at which it makes no sense to deny that you’ve turned on a car.

    In reality, most Conservative Jews I know drive around on Shabbat. By the way, although I pay dues to a particular synagogue right now and they might consider me affiliated, I do not consider myself affiliated with any movement.

  • TM — you know the saying about people in glass houses?

    In regards to sensitivty and respect, may I remind you of your comment:

    “Ezra, you buffoon; you prince of buffoons; you deserving winner of the prized Jewlicious “Buffoons of the Year” award that I grant only after great deliberation.”

  • ck said:

    The only real difference is that we will always eat better and be cuter looking.

    Ephraim heartily agrees. Sephardic women are generally better looking (I don’t pay too much attenton to the guys) and while gehakte leber and brisket etc., are exceptionally Jewlicious, Sephardic food is better overall, certainly on a daily basis.

    However, I don’t think I could really deal with an entire month of Selichot. I can barely make it through a week as it is.

    To correct ck, however, while the problems between the Chssidim and the Mitnagdim were definitely quite serious and of a religious nature, the tiff between tjhe Litvaks and Galitzianers was just a matter of simple regional snobbery AFAIK.

    Otherwise, I agree with his analysis. Assimilation inevitably brings with it self-doubt and a loss of tradition as we unconsciously adopt the POV of the dominat culture. It is just something that we have to deal with.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Sephardim I have met, if they are not particularly religious, at least have the self-awareness and the respect for tradition to realize that what they are doing is not quite kosher rather than basically bragging about it.

  • Ephraim,

    I agree with TM regarding the tone of your posts. And while I agree with your ideas about Orthodoxy and criticisms of Ref/Cons, it could be done without this:
    “I get the impression that you are fat and happy with where you are”

  • “Sephardic women are generally better looking ”

    Forget about it. Ashkenaz women might have a bit of a nose…a bit of a bum…and I like that. Seriously. Sephardic women are too….too…too much. Too much of everything. Makes me a little neurotic even thinking about it.

    Me…I like a pale skinned, hook nose, tad of a bum Ashkenaz Jewess. Yum.

  • Sephardic women are too….too…too much. Too much of everything. Makes me a little neurotic even thinking about it.

    Yikes. Calling Dr. Freud.

  • Geez everyone. Chill. Please! I would like to think that we’re all more or less adult and can have good discussions without resorting to name calling. If however you feel like you’ve been slighted I would like to think that we can be relaxed enough to just let it slide and not be all finger pointing and indignant and stuff.

    I mean seriously you friggin idiots! Follow the g*d damned script. My role is that of the hot headed easy to anger Sephardic Jew – I am definitely NOT meant to be the voice of restraint and tolerance. OK????

  • Laya, hiya!!

    I remember it well when I called Jews, who wear orange stars to suggest their government resembles a Nazi government, buffoons. I stand by the comment.

    And it does not reflect this conversation at all.

  • Shtreimel, I have put on a few pounds in the last couple of years, but that doesn’t make me fat or happy. 😉

  • One of the things I should point out, as you know, is that most Sephardic Jews never had to worry about questioning deeply held theological beliefs, such as the Unity of G-d, whereas our Ashkenazi brethren had a lot of problems with that, since they lived in the non-tolerant Christian pre-Enlightenment societies. I am not saying the Arab countries were so tolerant, but at least we didn’t have that problem.

  • Give me a break, Dave. So now “we” Sephardics didn’t have the problem of intolerance in ancient times? Is your bloodline so pure all of the sudden? Maybe your ancestors were actually closer in origin to the Pharisees? Maybe you’re really a Christian, hmmm?

  • but Mr. Middle, if one is to request civility, which i am in favor of, it is my own belief that the things like out and out name calling should be boo-ed across the board. No matter how much we may disagree or how confused the other party is.

  • “In reality, most Conservative Jews I know drive around on Shabbat. By the way, although I pay dues to a particular synagogue right now and they might consider me affiliated, I do not consider myself affiliated with any movement.”

    Oh, I agree that at most Conservative shuls that is the reality. Not mine, but it’s located in an area with sidewalks and plenty of housing, so sometimes we might hit close to half the folks walking to shul on Shabbos. That’s why over the next 20 years, I believe we’re going to see the Conservative movement get a lot smaller; it’s going to cut bait and either let go or drive out those shuls that are effectively Reform shuls and end up with a leaner, meaner movement.

    And that’s just fine with me. That way, those that wish to enjoy the grilled shrimp at the country club that the guests were bussed to for a bar mitzva party on Shabbos afternoon from my shul can do so without nearly causing a rabbinic heart attack. It was a “surprise”, and boy, were many of us indeed surprised- mouths hanging open as the proud mother of the bar mitzva boy ran around yelling for all the guests to come to the bus which had just pulled up right in front of the shul.

    Just to balance things out, I’ll note that there are people that always drive for services at a local large orthodox shul and park around the corner – a common occurrence at many such shuls. And then there was the bat mitzva party at my kid’s Orthodox Day School which included a sleep-over at a hotel (after Shabbos because they had “frum” kids from class as guests – talk about spoiling the fun) – imagine the look on those frum kids’ faces at breakfast (who were already pushing the limits by agreeing to eat dairy at a non-kosher place) as the bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast specials were placed on the tables. It must have been a Kodak Moment. But hey, the family is wealthy, and the school needs students that pay the full freight, so no big deal was made…

  • what can I say, Laya, suggesting that the Israeli government is treating one like Nazis when one is a settler is, well, buffoonery. 😉

  • Whoa, bacon and cheese on an Orthodox school trip is a good reason for you to spend your $10,000 a year at another school.

  • I’d like to echo Laya’s request for respectful dialogue. I’m pretty sure that if we exacerbate disrespectful dialogue among fellow Jews of differing perspectives, then the terrorists win.

  • TM, You may indeed think that it is absurd. I happen to agree. However, it is clear that you are sensitive to personal attacks/name calling/generally disrespectful dialouge (who isn’t?) but i guess I’m saying if you’re gonna dish it out (no matter how wrong you think they are), you gotta be prepared to take it.

  • TM
    Shtreimel, I don’t know about your town…

    Simple, Jews are recommended to live near each other and to develop insitutions in that vicinity in order to bond and stay ‘strong’. If you’re living far from a synagogue, then I’m afraid that your kids will be playing with other kids ‘far from Jewish’.

    TM
    what could have happened had the gemara and mishnah not been written, essentially locking in laws and the discussions that surround them

    Maybe on your jewlicious/birthright trip you could take the folks on the standard Har Grizim/Bracha tour overlooking Shechem. There you’ll meet the Shomronim who:
    -only believe in the written torah,
    -think they are the real ‘Jews’
    -think that the Temple was built on that hilltop, and
    -are barely hanging on with a few hundred followers.

    I think National Geographic has an article about them a few years ago.

    Dave
    Why is that nowadays Judaism has become polarized?

    Simple,
    Because man (like in the time of Noah), has become arrogant and thinks that he makes his own rules and controls his own destiny. Why only now? Well, until the industrial revolution, man was virtually localized and dependant on his own brute strength and persuasion of others to extend that power. Now though, with machines and computers, this power can be extended throughout the whole world. True Judaism always knows the Nation of Israel’s purpose on earth, but ‘new’ Jews think they know better that that historical mumbo-jumbo.

    TM
    what can I say, Laya, suggesting that the Israeli government is treating one like Nazis when one is a settler is, well, buffoonery.

    Wake up TM. Don’t claim later that you ‘didn’t know’:

    Police Forbid Free Protest: Turn Back Bus, Detain Another One

    Police hold minor and don’t bother informing parents by law in hebrew

    Judge relates personal political court on the record, keeps kids locked up in hebrew

    sorry I can’t find the article earlier this week about the continuing construction of concentration, er, refugee, er, holding camps for the thousands of settlers to be expelled in a few months.

    and last but not least, in German google, could someone pleae find out how many others have said, All my life I was defending life of Jews. Now for the first time, steps I’m taking to protect me from Jews.”

    please god, help us.

  • Yeah Josh, real simple. Let’s see, do we tear up the multi-million dollar synagogue that also houses a preschool, a kindergarten and a community hall, or do we just find housing for 750 or 1000 families in the very expensive residential area nearby (assuming there is one). Lots of people don’t live near their synagogue and are very good Jews and don’t intermarry or marry a convert if they do.

    I know, why don’t you tell them all to move to Israel?

    I seem to have touched a sore spot with the Mishnah and Gemara locking in things. Sorry, but they did. I’m not saying there haven’t been centuries of discussion and attempts at evolving the understanding of the rules and how they play out in a modern world, but these written references are immutable. I mean, why else are severe problems like the issue of the agunot finding extreme resistance from change?

    But I think the Shomronim and Karaites are a good example for us to discuss. They believe in the written torah exclusively and reject the notion of a torah she-be-al peh. Right? They read things literally and attempt to live as in the days of the bible, right?

    On the other hand, you don’t want me to drive on shabbat because it violates a halachic prohibition on driving a car an all encompassing halachic rule on lighting a fire.

    Your answer to Dave is interesting but I would posit that in many ways since the advent of modern scientific advances/discoveries and their influence upon our societies, it has become much more difficult to keep the faith in god that used to come naturally until the enlightenment.

    As for the buffoonish comments continuing with the labeling as Nazis of the democratic Israeli government that has pushed through the disengagement desired by 67% of the Israeli population and the major Right wing party, please note that the settlers opposed to the disengagement have been using teens to block major roads. So I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s easier to turn back a bus so that Israelis can get to work and to their families. The other stories about the “minors” being held by police als receive no sympathy from me. Don’t use kids to block roads and kids won’t be the ones arrested and charged. It’s amazing that the very people sending these kids to wreak havoc are then calling them victims.

    Abuse the system and expect that your ability to complain will be curtailed.

    Your final comment about the “holding” camp is curious at a time when there is a battle brewing in the government about whether to give the Gazan settlers the previously untouchable Nitzanim.

  • Ummmn, Josh, you think that those stories, even if 100% accurate and indicative of general trends makes the IDF look like Nazis? If Muffti brought you hundreds of similar stories of IDF treatment of Palestineans, somehow Muffti is pretty sure you’d be slow to use the ‘N’ word.

  • I’m going to be in San Francisco for lunch today. Anyone have any good kosher eating suggestions? You know… that don’t involve Nazis or Buffoons?

    *sigh*

  • Googling brought up:

    Israel Kosher Meat
    5621 Geary Blvd.
    (415) 752-3064

    Sabra Grill
    419 Grant Ave.
    (415) 982-3656
    (apparently mashgiach on premises)

    Tella’s Pastry Cafe
    446 Columbus
    (415) 986-2914

    Tel Aviv Meat Market
    1301 Noriega St.
    (415) 661-7588

    Jerusalem, Restaurant (Meat)
    420 Geary St.
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 776-2683

    Shangrila Chinese Vegetarian
    2026 Irving St.
    San Francisco, CA
    (415) 731-2548

    This Is It Restaurant & Grill
    430 Geary St.
    San Francisco, CA 94102
    (415) 749-0201
    (Vaad HaKashrus of No. Cal.)

    (you should probably call first to make sure they’re still in existence).

  • Josh is just a troll, he is probably copying stuff off of some lefty web site. Or what some of them do, they copy paste your posts there and copy paste back the responses. Just ignore the flaming troll.

  • “This Is It” is no longer Kosher (and they renamed themselves “La Pita Loca”).

    Sabra Grill and Shangri-La are the only two Kosher restaurants in SF. I haven’t eaten at Shangri-La since I can’t eat vegetarian. The Kosher markets have takeout food also, I prefer Tel Aviv Kosher Market at 2495 Irving St (at 26th).

    But, yeah, it’s pretty slim pickings here for Kosher food. A couple families I’ve talked to just have their groceries shipped up from Los Angeles.

  • I’m actually thinking of renaming myself La Pita Loca.

    But seriously, Josh’s idea of meeting the shomronim would make a really interesting mifgash for the Jewlicious birthright trip.

    Another good idea would be to have a staff member whose great-great-grandfather founded a small moshav in then-Palestine…maybe Petach Tikva, or somewhere historic like that…

  • TM, thanks for your support.

    The problem is that the Orthodox insist that their way is the only way, and the Reform and others want to modify the Torah’s moral and ethical commandments to an extent (eg. almost any lifestyles are o.k.), and everyone insists that they are right. And most Jews have stopped believing in G-d.

    Basically the Orthodox insist that if one doesn’t believe in both the Oral and Written Torah as divine, one is not really Jewish. Their attitude is “my way or the highway”. However, when they need financial support suddenly the rest of us, whom they normally regard as “fel el ardh” (Arabic, very loosely translated as “scum of the earth”), suddenly we’re o.k.

    The problem with the attitude of “my way or the highway” is that many people reply, “I’ll take the highway, thanks”.

    The sad thing about all this is what I feel are the essentials of Judaism: gratefulness to the Eternal (expressed in formal and informal prayer); absolute belief in G-d’s sovereignty; absolute belief in G-d’s Oneness and Ineffableness; absolute validity
    of G-d’s ethical and moral commandments; our Jewish mission of preaching ethical monotheism to all humanity-
    all these have been sidelined in favour of political arguments over Israel, one-upmanship about ritual mitzvot, Jewish separatism and tribalism; and assimilation.

    My dream would be if Judaism would become reunited and re-absorb the Shomronim and the Karaites and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, and become one loose coalition, with everyone being lenient and tolerant in terms of ritual and very rigorous in terms of ethics and morality (ie. “family values” are essential).
    So we would worship in each other’s synagogues, because we would all be in basic agreement about ethics and morality.

  • Dave-

    Kum-bai-Kaaa, Hashem, Kum-bai-Kaa….

    Seriously, nice thought. But then who would we have to pick on? And, more importantly, what would we wear???

  • Helpful friend, thanks for your comment. It was hilarious, but you’ve basically explained why the problem continues.

    Some people love power and they don’t care if they behave in a divisive way or judge others on non-essential grounds. As long as they reinforce their power. Tribalism is wonderful like that- it helps some people keep power and control.

    What do you think is going to happen in the new Palestinian state?- they’ll have fights between more observant and less observant Muslims. It looks like it’s already starting.

  • Dave, you see the Orthodox are not open minded enough. They have a fear of anything new for the most part, unless something gets an impramatur. There was of course the great Reb Shomo Carlebach, A”H he was someone you could have talked to. There is no one quite like Reb Shlomo anymore.
    Although I am Orthodox, I do not scorn any of your ideas. They are as decent as any of the Orthodox.

  • CK, Berkeley is right across the bay from SF, about a 30 minute drive, and it has a very good Italian dairy restaurant, Ristorante Raphael:

    http://www.ristoranteraphael.com/

    Shangrila is only so-so, but quite cheap.The Sabra Grill, located right inside the Lion’s Gate entrance to SF Chinatown on the corner of Grant and Bush, is a typical Israeli mixed grill type place. It is nothing to write home about, but it’s the only place in the area where you can get a sit-down hot meat meal that you know is kosher.

    If you don’t absolutely need meat, and if you have the time, I strongly recommend Rapahel. The food is quite good, (I recommend the wild mushroom risotto, and their pizzas are good if you like the thin-crust variety), they have a full bar and a decent wine selection, and their dolci, especially the ricotta cheesecake, are excellent. Nice atmosphere too, and al fresco tables are available.

    If you have the time and the inclination to dine, as opposed to just eat something, it is the only kosher place in the entire Bay Area that offers the proper ambience.

    Will you be in the area on Shabbat? If so, and you want to visit the Palo Alto/Sunnyvale area, let me know. There is an Ashkenazi shul in Palo Alto and a Sephardi one in Sunnyvale. I’m sure hospitality can be arranged.

  • TM,
    Josh is for real and sincere

    I’ll take your word for that. My name could really be Boaz :-/

    tear up the multi-million dollar synagogue

    Yeah, it’s a big problem in my old neighbourhood. It seems to be a pattern: congregation grows, congregation becomes wealthier, enlarges/renovates synagogue, property values rise, kids move away (can’t afford housing), new couples can’t afford homes in the area, congregation shrinks, goyim move into the quiet upscale neighbourhood as empty-nesters sell homes, congregation holds on for dear life…

    Yes, the answer is to move to Israel. And aish freak, I’m totally serious on that. Make aliyah or at least plan for it before it’s too late.

    About driving a car on shabbos, I once heard a story about a ‘Rabbi’ in the ‘Jewish province’ Biribijzan in Russia who used the halacha that you can travel over water on shabbat and placed a container of water under the driver’s seat. TM, I respect your rationale. If your shabbat routine is really unique (as opposed to doing it also on Sunday and civic holidays for christ’s sake) then you are already a step ahead of yidden who think that Saturday is only the first day of the weekend.

    battle brewing in the government over Nitzanim

    Read everything about this issue from any source and you will find that the government is arguing with themselves about it. The settlers never requested this (and please don’t hold against me some Chaim Yankel acting on his own if you find him).

    muffti,
    the IDF has only been given orders and still in the planning stage right now, please leave them out of it. But current players are the government, the unprofessional police who is above the law, and the twisted court system that makes the law. Please grow up and don’t whine about comparing anything to Nazis because I didn’t. I was implying that Sharon is blaming the Jews for plotting against him. The weird thing is that Aish Freak thinks I’m leftist, and he thinks that my ‘material’ is copy&paste quality. Hello?

    My only wish is that real leftists would care about the current state of, or lack of democracy and free speech in Israel right now. The Russians are really saying that Bolsheviks are running the country.

    TM,
    the buses were being held in the evening after most people were already home from work and with no roads left to block to make an impact. Did you read Mobius’ story about being arrested? That this is state of our police force. Don’t get me wrong, some very good people, many uncontrolable bad eggs.

    The mishnah/talmud attitude was coming from others, not me.

    BTW, the Shomronim don’t use any ‘shabbos timers’ or hot plates, exempt from putting on tefillin since the Temple is not built, and the women have seperate housing units in the yard since during menstration and the ‘clean’ days afterwards they are not allowed to sleep in the house.

  • As far as the Shomrim/Karaites/Mishna/Gemara thing is concerned, if you think about it for a moment, no text (except for maybe something like “Dick and Jane”) can be taken “literally”. Understanding anything is an act of interpretation.

    For example, the Torah text simply says “You shall not preform any melakha on Shabbat”.

    Obviously, the first question is: “what is melakha? To observe the Shabbat properly you have to define it. Mainstream rabbinic Judaism and Shomrim/Kara-ism simply came up with different definitions. The Shomrim and the Karaties may not have written anything down, and they may insist that they are interpreting the Torah “literally” (a complete impossibility), but they are interpreting it just the same.

    Anyway, we should all be thankful that we are not Shomrim or Karaites. If we were, we would all be preserved in formadehyde in a bell jar in Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not Odditorium or be fodder for some stupid National Geographic “Primitive Tribes” article.

  • I would very much like to move to Israel. I have several
    reasons why I cannot at this time, but progress is being made and it is a distinct possibility. I do at least visit once a year.

    I entered a small investment opportunity recently that if
    it goes well, it would allow one to live in Israel and
    only need to be in the US one week per month. So if
    that would occur, if this works, then that will be a great
    step forward for the move.

  • The simplist understanding of how the Karaites view the Torah is: whatever position is most opposite held by those scumy rabbis that highjacked Judaism with their “Oral Torah” routine 😉

    http://www.karaite-korner.org

    Hey, at least they can wear a cool looking thread of blue on their tsitsith without paying through the nose for the “real thing”:

    http://www.tekhelet.com

  • The Kairites are a very small minority today. They are not a significant group at this point.
    It shows that we must follow the Torah and our traditions. But first, we must learn them.

  • I thought you all might be interested in the the meeting of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards meeting on the gay issue.

    Excerpt: “It went well, quite well, and we finished the meeting without anybody yelling at anybody else,” Rabbi Kassel Abelson, chairman of the law committee, said in an interview. The nine opinions were presented in teshuvot, or position papers, with each author given 10 minutes to present a synopsis. Each view now goes back to a subcommittee for analysis. The law committee will visit the matter at its next three meetings, with the first in June. The committee expects to finalize a new position following a two-day retreat in March, Rabbi Abelson said.

    For anyone keeping track, that’s nine opinions, with each going back to a subcommittee in preparation for three meetings beginning in June and culminating in March 2006. Who says Jews can’t make decisions???

  • I’ve gotten a lot out of looking over this 85-entry dialogue on hallacha, but have come away feeling disturbed by the sarcasm and vindictiveness of many of the entries. Too bad. We all lose.

  • […] He recently wrote an insightful op-ed, letting the public into his thoughts regarding the recent Conservative movement’s handling of their Big Gay Issue. His overview, which he handles surprisingly succinctly for a Rabbi, mentions no personal feelings about homosexuality but rather looks at the halachic logic (or, in his view, lack their of) with an almost clinical sense of dispassion from the actual subject. […]

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