Sally J. Priesand is retiring after 34 years since receiving her ordination as a rabbi. She has led the congregation at Tinton Falls, New Jersey, since 1981 – she received her ordination from Hebrew Union College in 1972. Rabbi Priesand has never married because of her dedication to her duties (or at least that’s what the AP tells us). Since her ordination, over 1000 women have been ordained as rabbis in Jewish religious streams that include Reconstructionist, Reform and (since 1985), Conservative.

“I was from an Orthodox background so it was very unusual to see a woman performing as a rabbi,” said Karen Karl, a temple member for 15 years. “It was the first time I ever held a Torah and said the blessing. This was where I truly connected as a Jew, with [Rabbi Priesand]. She’s a unique individual.”

Best wishes to the Rabbi, and refuah shlema since she is retiring because of health problems.

About the author



  • TM wrote: “Rabbi Priesand has never married because of her dedication to her duties (or at least that’s what the AP tells us).”

    Uh… there’s another great article about Rabbi Priesand in the >Asbury Park Press. Titled “First female rabbi in U.S. prepares for retirement,” the subtitle reads “FAITH, RAINBOWS GUIDED HER CHOICES” and the story begins as such: “Sally J. Priesand has a thing for rainbows… They show up in her office, her home, her artwork, her outfits and in the extraordinary story of her life.”

    Upon announcing her retirement from the pulpit, Priesand wrote a song as a parting gift to her congregants. Sung in Hebrew and English, it includes the following verse:

    “Look to the rainbow and see My face
    A beacon to you, a promise to you, wherever you are
    Look in the mirror and see your life and know your life
    And see My face wherever you go …”

    Ok, I’m just as irreverent about the Reform rabbinate as the next guy, but what the hell is with that article? Is the writer Shannon Mullen trying to say something to her readers about this unmarrried female Rabbi? Or rather is the good Rabbi Priesand trying to say something to her congregants? What’s with all the pussyfooting??

    I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    The article also states that her health problems are behind her now, B”H, and that that wasn’t what spurred her decision to retire.

  • What an inspiring story. Of course, the liberal branches of Judaism and their consituents are obviously in a much stronger place because of heroines like Rabbi Priesand and…oh, wait a minute. Liberla Judaism is fucked. But…I thought all those steps to reconcile Judaism with our larger, dominant secular culture would make it more appealing!!! You mean the opposite happened? No way!

  • ck, that was one corny article. Yes, I also suspect the rainbow theme has another meaning.

    Kelsey, it’s all well and good to blame the religious leadership of other streams for the high percentage of assimilation and the drop in observance, but I think they can’t do much more than they are doing or have been doing. The problems are not related so much to “liberal Judaism” (whatever that is), but rather to their constituents’ loss of faith in the supernatural, in God as depicted in the Hebrew bible, and in the Torah as a God-authored document. I also have to think that certain anachronisms which exist in observant practice of Judaism conflict directly with our egalitarian world view today and probably contribute to speeding up assimilation rates. If anything, the rabbinate of non-Orthodox streams is probably responsible for stemming the tide to a large degree and for keeping many families in the fold.

  • Shy Guy, your stats are interesting, but at least in my part of the world every single Jew I know who identifies as a Conservative has married a Jewish spouse, save for one (and his wife converted to Judaism).

  • They’re not “my” statistics.

    Sadly, they’re ours. Learn to face up to the facts.

  • I don’t think it is like that. She just likes colors. We could have had two or three kids from this one but who’s counting. There are so many nice men who can rabbi, but not one of them can make a kid, but as we have such an overpopulation who cares, right?

    And those two or three might have produced one or two of their own. Possibly.

    Atheism may be itchy, but extinction is painless.

  • “Don’t just do what you can do. Do what ONLY YOU can do”.

    Who said life was perfect? We are not in the Garden of Eden and life is not a bowl of cherries.

    She didn’t marry because it would indeed have cut into her duties. In spite of the “have it all” concept which does not really, really work, as everybody knows, which is why nobody gets their heads into the noose.

  • Definitely a ridiculous excuse not to get married. The Jewish version of ‘priest figure’ virtually obligates the rabbi to be married in order to be able to relate to his congregants among other reasons. But she wasn’t a rabbi, and if anything at all, merely a Jewish-style priest, sort of like those dill pickles you can buy in the supermarket.

  • Agree with Josh, Their are certain duties that only a married individual with kids can carry out, or be able to comprehend. A rabbi should be married and even preferably have kids, how else will they be able to fully comprehend and/or grapple with congregants issues.

  • Anybody here have something positive to say about a pioneering Jewish woman who was ordained as a rabbi in the largest Jewish movement in North America and who has led a 350 family congregation for 25 years?

  • It does not sound as if zillions of women have followed in her footsteps, just a few hundred; she did not exactly open floodgates, and the repressed masses poured into the Bastille. TM, maybe it just does not work terribly well, in general? People vote with their feet.

  • JM, honestly, your bias is coming through a little too overtly. One thousand rabbis as a follow-up doesn’t impress you? How many male religious leaders can claim to be pioneers in something as important as this or to have had so many follow in their footsteps?

    Anyway, there are more than 900 Reform congregations in the US and they are apparently the fastest growing movement in Judaism. As such, saying that people vote with their feet would be a strong vote of confidence, no?

  • Fastest growing movement in Judaism? In terms of what? Raw numbers? Percentage of affiliation?

    Here are some facts…
    “Fewer than one-fifth of non-Jews who marry Jews convert to Judaism, according to a new study distributed by the American Jewish Committee… Fewer than one-fifth of non-Jews who marry Jews convert to Judaism, according to a new study distributed by the American Jewish Committee… The report qualified only 30 percent of converted spouses as “activist Jews,” or those who identify deeply with the Jewish people and Israel. These Jews often are more committed to Jewish practice than are born Jews, and their children are virtually indistinguishable from children whose parents were born Jewish.”
    Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles

    The rate of intermarriage amongst those affiliated with Reform Judaism is 53% – 38% amongst Conservative Jews.

    Orthodox Jews comprise some 11% of all US Jews between the ages of 18-39 and 16% of 18-29 year-olds. Among even younger Jews, the percentage of Orthodox is even higher. Also More than half of all American Jews under the age of 40 are not married, the study found. That figure goes up if Orthodox Jews, who are more likely to be married by age 30, are excluded.
    Source Study by the American Jewish Comittee cited in an article by the Cleveland Jewish News

    All the figures I could find cite a totally different story. The Orrthodox movement grows in raw numbers and percentages while all other denominations shrink. So how do you figure Reform Judaism is the fastest growing movement? Is it because people are leaving Conservative Judaism in droves?

  • No, it’s because they are willing to take on interfaith couples. And homosexual Jews.

    It’s also because in growing US markets, the first synagogue to go up is typically Reform, not Orthodox or Conservative.

    Can you provide stats to back up your claim that Conservative Jews are leaving in droves? My personal experience belies that, although it is true they are not as active within the community as were their parents.

    Based on your stats, the demographic problems and your comparisons between movements showing growth for the Orthodox derive from the fertility rate of the Orthodox and the greater likelihood of their being married. That isn’t people “voting with their feet” but rather with their, um, reproductive equipment.

    The real tragedy here is that so many in the community remain unmarried and childless.

  • We all know that G-d gave men a penis and a brain but not enough blood to operate both, so here’s to Rabbi Priesand and the women that will follow in her footsteps, may they do a better job than their male counterparts in leading the Jewish people through these troubled times.

  • TM,

    Why should anyone outside of the large and diverse sector of Orthodox (normative) Judaism do anything when the Reform will come running after us anyway no matter how we live our lives and declare our lifestyle kosher? We don’t need to actively do a damn thing. So why do Jewish continuity according to the Reform either, who you so respect? If I want, I can marry a gentile woman literally out of a catalog, and as long as I pay my Reform dues, my children will be considered Jewish as long as I claim they are, and as long as they say they are. Hell, why have my own? I can adopt a non-Jewish kid with a same sex gentile partner, and declare that kid Jewish. Your Jewish continuity is no different than any other (Chok) mitzvah I blow off within the Reform platform and is declared null and void or updated. And anyone who says differently is “intolerant” and living in “the middle ages.”

    Stop kidding yourself. There are few rules when you venture out of Normative Judaism. It doesn’t stop with your egalitarian issue when you leave Normative Judaism as a guide.

    So stop all this nonsense that Jewish continuity is somehow different. It ends up the same place it all does — buried under the weight of the Chanukah bush.

  • Whether one woman or a thousand have followed in her footsteps into the rabbinate, being the first is a milestone. Still, my mother always said that being a rabbi is no job for a nice Jewish boy. (She was the daughter of a rabbi.) I have known many rabbis, men and women, who have had difficulty finding mates. To be married to a rabbi is to have your life (as well as the lives of your eventual children) under a microscope. It’s like being Brangelina, but with spirituality. The tabloids are looking at you from every direction, judging you. That’s what couples in the rabbinate face. So if we single non-rabbis thought we had it bad…

    But seriously, I’ve known rabbis who were inspiring and those who were less-than. And some of them were men, some of them were women. It doesn’t really matter–the job’s a hard one to do well, so whoever really wants it, and who wants to commit their lives to it, harei zeh meshubakh. Because it ain’t gonna be me. Probably.

  • A significant part of the Reform growth is because there are actually a lot of non-Jews affiliated. Intermarried spouses (who can be members in Reform congregations unlike C or O) and non-Jews who are the children of a Jewish male (and non-Jewish female) but didn’t receive any sort of conversion. And, yes, people are leaving the Conservative movement in droves as it stiltifies and molds.

  • Link to Conservative movement losing people in droves? I’m not doubting this, I would just like to see some evidence.

    Kelsey, no matter how many times you use “normative” or “alien,” it won’t make the movements either “normative” or “alien.” I am about as normative as they come. I can trace my family back a number of generations on both sides. While one side was Sephardic observant, the other was Ashkenazy non-observant. For generations. And yet, they all married Jewish spouses, raised their children as proud and self-identified Jews and were marched into the ovens without anybody asking them about their practices.

    With all due respect, I am normative and I am not Orthodox.

    Oh, and it just so happens that in a local Reform congregation, a family tried to do exactly what you’re suggesting: have an adopted child from non-Jewish parents be treated as a Jew because the parents were Jewish. The Reform rabbi demanded a conversion. They refused and he didn’t budge even though he lost a family from his congregation.

    As for the hubris you’d like to represent as an Orthodox Jew who can dismiss others, remember that the day people become upset enough about this issue is the day people will lobby the vast majority of those like them to stop supporting any institution that rejects them. Imagine the UJA or UJF refusing funds to all of the Orthodox institutions out there.

    Esther, spoken like a true heretic. 😉

  • At the time of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, Conservative Judaism remained the largest denomination in America, with 43 percent of Jewish households affiliated with a synagogue belonging to Conservative synagogues (compared to 35 percent for Reform and 16 percent for Orthodox). 10 years later, the NJPS showed that the Conservative movement had suffered serious attrition, with only 33 percent of synagogue-affiliated American Jews belonging to Conservative synagogue.

    For decades, more American Jews affiliated with the Conservative movement than any other denomination. This is no longer the case. The Reform movement is now the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, and the number of Conservative Jews dropped from 38 percent in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey to 33 percent 10 years later. Jack Wertheimer, the Provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) — the Conservative movement’s flagship educational institution — who directed a study of Conservative congregations in the mid-1990s, found that the movement has been in demographic decline for two generations.
    Jewish Virtual Library

    Conservative Judaism is in a tizzy. The demographers have just now determined the movement’s radical decline. It used to form 50 percent of American and Canadian Jews. Now it adds up to only 30 percent. At their recent meeting in Boston, Conservative Jewish leaders could talk of little else than halting the decline in their relative position within American Jewry, which some equated with the coming demise of Conservative Judaism.
    Jerusalem Post

    OK TM? Is all that acceptable?

  • If there is anybody who thoroughly understands and could wonderfully well face down and deal with the tasks and challenges and glories and usefulness of being the wife of a tough-minded but very cool rabbi, that person is Esther.

    So go, girl. Do the job. Somebody has to.

    (If the congregants kvetched, Esther would say, You want kvetch? Have you read my blog? Quit while you’re ahead, toots! Hee hee! Have some shakshuka. And shut up.)

  • Grace– Rabbi Priesand is not wearing Catholic vestments. The latter come only in the following colors:

    Green – worn during “Ordinary Time”, e.g. last Sunday;
    Red – worn on Passion (Palm) Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and on the Feast Days of Martyrs, including the Apostles and Evangelists;
    White – worn during the Christmas and Easter seasons and celebration of Mary, the Angels, the Saints who were not martyrs, All Saints Day, Birth of John the Baptist, Chair of Peter, Conversion of Paul, and St. John the Evangelist;
    Violet – worn during Advent and Lent;
    Rose – worn on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).

    No black, blue or purple.

  • That is an academic robe, or gown, like those worn by senior university people at solemn occasions in academia. They date from the Middle Ages of Christian Europe, when the universities became independent power centers. The neck scarf echoes the Roman stola, or stole, a badge of rank in Rome. This particular one has a few thin stripes. That is a reference to the Jewish prayer shawl or talit, which however is a large shawl and much longer and wider than this scarf or stola. It typically has several stripes at each end, as well as the biblically commanded tassels at the corners, and edges, etc etc. The number of knots in the tasses has significance etc etc. It is used in daily time-fixed prayer by traditional Jews, etc etc.

    I hope I got all that right.

  • I think there are at present about 800 women rabbis in the Reform and Conservative movements together in the US. That is not a thousand, TM, but it is more than ‘ a few hundred’ as I said. I am not shy about my views which are Orthodox, (BT). That’s not a bias, it is my opinion. Everybody’s got one. I understand your desire to have a modernized Judaism but … it does not seem to play long term in Peoria. Maybe it does not ask enough of people, or is not hard enough or challenging enough or serious enough. No, there is no frummie heaven and you still have to sweat and groan.

  • TM, you wrote,

    “they all married Jewish spouses, raised their children as proud and self-identified Jews and were marched into the ovens without anybody asking them about their practices.”

    Asbolutely reprehensible. Holocaust references have nothing to do with what we were talking about. Dispicable and cheap on your part. You are clearly incapable of a serious discussion about movements outside of the very large tent of Orthodox Judaism which includes many secular Jews as well.

    Don’t mind me or Normative Judaism. Stick with a Nuremberg definition. You like that one; you pasken by that one.

  • Oh Kelsey, spare me the drama and spare me the BS about my ability to discuss things seriously. As if.

    This isn’t about Nuremberg, or did you miss that point in your haste? There were no converts among them. There were no half or quarter or eighth Jews among them. They lived as Jews, raised their children as Jews, died as Jews and at one point in history were killed, en masse, as Jews. Around the same time they were murdered for being Jews, so were many ultra-Orthodox Jews around them who also lived as Jews, raised their children as Jews and died as Jews . I guess some people don’t see the difference between normative and alien Jews the way you so clearly do. You know why? Cuz my ancestors, and I, traditional yet not fully observant, are…normative Jews. How despicable.

  • Judaism, TM. We are talking about normative and deviant Judaism. Not Jews. Say it. Say it again. Get it into your head. Judaism. Jews. Two different things. Not same. Different. Hard for TM… must…reach…for…inappropirate….Holocaust card…There!! Ahhhhhhhh….B.S. vindication!

  • Kelsey, once again, what my ancestors were practicing was Judaism. Not deviant in any way, but Judaism. In fact, as the Conservative movement CORRECTLY states, their form of Judaism is the normative one since it has been an evolving religion throughout its history. I guess I therefore have to conclude that you, as an Orthodox Jew for whom Halacha stops somewhere in the 4th Century (I know, I know, it didn’t exactly stop – I’ve had this debate with Laya – but it represents itself as having locked in that Oral Torah around then) are the deviant Jew, while my ancestors, as traditionally observant yet not fully observant Jews, represented normative. I feel much better now, how about you?

    Oh wait, I forgot! You were trying to say something about Judaism without Jews?

  • Yes. It’s true — decisions are to be made by students in non-Orthodox seminaries like the HUC and the JTS. Not at all by elders generally suspicious of change. No– normative Judaism traditionally loves change. Fast and furious, please. What would you kids like to change today so we can be more like the dominant gentile secular culture? Oh, gay marriage? No problem there!

    If 4th century Rabbis would have only lived in the 70’s, of course they would have said that there is no problem driving them on Shabbos. That’s not starting a fire at all!!

    But just to shul! Just to shul, okay?

  • Normative Judaism did love change…until they wrote all those changes down. Driving on the shabbat? Possibly. Gay marriage? Probably not. Dominant secular culture? Didn’t exist at the time. In fact, they thought – for sure, as surely as God exists – that he created a flat world and that everybody believed in the supernatural. It’s just that some people believed in idols and others believed in a form of messianic rejectionist Judaism. They had no clue about dinosaurs or carbon dating. They knew not how far the moon was or the material of which it was made. They came from a patriarchal culture where women were like chattel. How could they envision a birth control pill? How could they envision a state of Israel? How could they envision a world full of nations? TV? Nope. Elevators? Nope. Internet? Nope. Suburbs? Nope.

    Drive to shul to be part of a community and to pray and to keep your family Jewish? Sure! Otherwise, why don’t we buy the most expensive houses near the shul so we can walk there? That makes sense.

  • Yes. Big Mitzvah to live in suburbia. Bigger mitzvah than shabbes. For the kids sake of course — not for the materialistic spouse — it is always for the sake of the kids.

    There is always a dominant culture in exile. You are correct it was not secular.

    No way they would have EVER allowed driving on shabbes to get to shul. Have you ever picked up a Talmud? No. So pick up Masechata Shabbat. Learn it up. Come back and try again.

  • Themiddle man,

    You are a good Jewish guy whom I have had some fun chatting here at times.

    I have never heard of Lady “Rabbis” going by the feminine tittle of Rabbineet or Rebbetsen.

    Isn’t Rabbi a masculine term?

    Maybe I should ask this question to a lady “Rabbi” one of these days

  • Kelsey, much brighter minds than yours considered it doable. Or are you now going to tell us that key Conservative leaders aren’t and haven’t been strong torah and halachic scholars? Do let us know.

    Regardless, you evaded the key points of my comment. I’ll repeat since you might have thought that I wasn’t debating, um, seriously: Judaism was a religion where change was normative until much of the Oral Law was written down. The problem is that the people who wrote it down were the products of a society that could not possibly predict the societal, social and technological changes that have come upon the centuries.

    Forget New York for a minute. In most of this country today, people who are middle class or above, which would include a large percentage of Jews, live in suburbs. Most cities’ downtowns are not very livable and if they are, it’s rare that they are ideal for families with children. Also, real estate can be expensive in older and nicer parts of town. I’ve heard of rabbis complaining that they cannot afford to live near the shul they lead.

    People, as a result, move to suburbs where homes and lawns are larger and better for families. Most suburbs are built by non-Jews who really don’t think about distance from synagogue, so getting to synagogue does involve driving.

    Now, in my town, there are two Orthodox synagogues and the congregants have to live nearby. That has driven property values up quite a bit. It also causes people to walk great distances, if they can even do so (people do get old or may be too young). You simply cannot live near a couple of these Orthodox shuls without being affuent or in a part of town that I would consider somewhat undesirable.

    The Conservative synagogues, however, afford people the opportunity to reside in the suburbs, and still maintain an affiliation with their community and synagogue. That seems to make ample sense considering that we can’t all be affuent or walk several miles each way.

    Now, if you ask me whether rabbis in the 4th Century would have considered it greater melacha on a Day of Rest to walk several miles each way to synagogue or to turn an ignition key and put a foot on a pedal and get there along with the little ones in tow in a few minutes of relaxing driving, I’d guess that had they envisioned cars, they would have permitted it in a heartbeat.

    But you disagree. So please, tell me how people should live in North America and maintain contact with their synagogue. Tell me how people should do it today, not is some imaginary fantasy land where you re-create all the rules of living.

  • TM,

    Absolutely an important point. I agree with you that Suburbia seems counter to classic Judaism, and in fact, absolutely contrary to its values and way of life. I agree with you 100%. Indeed, it was a terrible mistake for American Jewry to buy into suburban life, and flee urbanity. Further, I agree with you that it may not be reconcilable on a massive level, but only in select areas, such as in a few neighborhoods where the Orthodox have, in fact, done just that. But you are correct. Such a scenario is not possible on a ubiquitous level. And I certainly accept that.

    Rather, something has to give, and obviously, this should be the culture of the automobile. Not Judaism.

    Yes. We sould fight for our place in an urban environment, and fight to make it liveable. And teach our children that the automobile is not a god, but a means to an ends, and not one for all times and all travel. By no means.

    For we are a pro-cosmopolitan people. Not some neo-Jeffersonians with a narcisstic worship of peasant and property.

    We are the people who declare that the ideal place can be a city. After all, we have a Holy City which we hope will be rebuilt. Even a Diaporist like me has a soft spot for the Holy City. And understands that cities can be good place. Great places. The best places. For life as Jews.

    The suburbs are places of estrangement. From G-d and community. From everything. From life itself.

    The Conservative Movmement surrendered to the Protestant Jeffersonian vision. Much has been lost. I know that all too well from my own family.

    But we can reverse things now. And save what we can. And live the way we should. And not bow down and discard Judaism for the false god of the Neo-Jeffersonian Autmobile Suburban Culture.

  • So you are suggesting we re-create ghettoes and reverse 50 years of social acculturation inside the US?

    Did you happen to read the part of my previous comment where I asked to refrain from fantasy?

  • Middle, You ROCK!!!

    And I’d just like to register a vote in favor of Suburbia, where people don’t have to live on top of each other in apartments that have been illegally converted in violation of fire codes to fit more people.

  • OK… Two things… Well, maybe three…

    First, for a good discussion “On the Grammatical Question of Women Rabbis” as brought up by NSBN in comment 39 check out Drew Kaplan’s Blog at:

    Second, TM, Melacha is not work as you dictate. Shabbat is not about not working. Melacha is creative action. It’s about recognizing that G-d finished creation by abstaining from creating on the 7th day, and therefore we do the same. Creating fire doesn’t take work, but it does make fire where there was non before. Driving your car with a gasoline engine makes lots and lots of little fires and explossions. Is it easier? Yes. Is it restful and relaxing? Sure. But it’s also a creative action and therefore prohibited melacha.

    There are 39 categories of Melacha. 39 categories of creative action. Fire is just one.

    Also. While I agree with you that the synagogue and community life is very important to Jewish expression and continuity today. It is important to remember that it was not always the center of Jewish life as it is today. It didn’t play the same central role, especially at the times of the Talmud.

    Anyway, brief conclusion. The Rabbis wouldn’t have allowed it. Though, they would have sought other solutions within the bounds of halacha and sympathized with the emotions driving the phenomena.

  • Purim Hero, leading Conservative rabbis disagree with you about driving on shabbat. Also, they happen to feel that getting to the synagogue is preferable to not getting there.

    Creating fire in an engine requires absolutely no creative action. It involves putting a key in the ignition and turning it. Pressing the gas pedal also requires no creative action. You can tell me more about defining creative action and maybe I’ll buy your argument, but so far I don’t see the correlation. It’s also not creative action to turn on a light switch. Furthermore, there is no direct correlation between what would have constituted creating fire in the 4th Century (or earlier, or until the 17th Century) and activating electricity or a combustion engine today.

    If you like, you can make the claim that this has become yet another Jewish custom and therefore should be respected. Perhaps I am more likely to agree with that statement.

    As for your next point about the centrality of the synagogue today versus the early history of Rabbinic Judaism, we agree. In fact, you are making my point. They had no clue as to how life for people in general, and for Jews in particular, would be transformed through the course of time. They may have been closer to Sinai than we are, but ultimately, they thought the Earth was flat, had no clue the Americas existed and didn’t know the first thing about minivans.

  • Funny thing about those leading conservative rabbis who disagree with me about driving on Shabbat. Did you know that Rabbinical students at JTS can actually be expelled if found “violating Shabbat laws” by driving on the sabbath? (Or eating non-kosher). It’s ok, apparently, before and after, but not during rabbinic school. Maybe because in reality, the conservative movement and their leading Rabbis know that driving on shabbat does in fact violate halacha. Their justification for congregants doesn’t come from a perception of permissibility, but rather out of a perception of weighed costs and benefits of the community. (It’s not allowed, but better then the alternative – in their minds.)

    That’s just the thing. It’s not disagreement on Halacha, it’s a disagreement about the centrality and value of halacha versus modern society and its realities. One side holds halacha as the ultimate and seeks to justify all actions through the lens of halacha, the other places societal and cultural norms and perceptions of communal survival needs first and then tries to adapt halacha to fit. It’s a whole other world view, of which those of the first perception reject. Of course we could always just forget halacha completely as other movements do and absolve ourselves of the cognitive dissonance. Oh well… at least the hearts in the right place.

    So the real issue, and how we can have so much agreement (like with the centrality vs. non-centrality of synagogue) yet reach such different outcomes is because we (the royal we) process the reality of the world through different lenses. Presented with the same facts, we draw different conclusions. Who’s right? Who knows? Only G-d I guess. But at the end of the day neither side is going to convince the other.

    As a side note, I see the centrality of the synagogue a sign of the fact that Judaism is not operating at its optimum but rather that we’re still in surviver mode. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean we should examine how and why we got here and question what we sacrificed and what we may want to try to recover.

    OH… Putting the key in the engine and turning it causes your spark plugs in the engine to fire (assuming there is charge in your battery) This when mixed with the gas causes an explosion that fires the piston, which turns the crankshaft and powers the engine. Crazy thing is, without turning the key, there is no spark, it didn’t exist, that is until you created it.

  • Also, they happen to feel that getting to the synagogue is preferable to not getting there.

    Which, of course, violates the elementary halachic rule of “mitzvah ha’bah be’Avera eino mitzvah” – a Mitzvah, whose performance comes about through commiting a transgression, is not a Mitzvah.

    But they can toss that out, too! What the heck!

    Suggested reading for an elementary understanding of the concept of Melacha on Shabbat:

    Electricity on Shabbat

    Laws of Shabbat for Beginners

    Suggested book to buy:

    Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances, by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

  • Purim, excellent comment and much appreciated. Dialogue should always be like this.

    I agree that the synagogue is problematic, but it remains the center of the community since JCCs don’t do it and homes are spread out over large distances. I think that in some ways, many Orthodox men have it easiest with the concept of the yeshiva, since it combines both community and learning rather than emphasizing ritual.

    I hear ya about the car on shabbat, but of course you know I disagree.

  • Oh Shy Guy, you have much to learn from our younger friend, Purim Hero.

    Anyway, here are the 39 melachot (main activities) [ed. it’s Torah Tots that defined melachot as “main activities”] prohibited on the Shabbat as listed in the Mishna Shabbat 73a:

    1. Zoreah – Sowing (seeding)

    2. Choresh – Plowing

    3. Kotzair – Reaping (cutting)

    4. M’amair – Gathering (bundling sheaves)

    5. Dush – Threshing

    6. Zoreh – Winnowing

    7. Borer – Sorting (selecting, separating)

    8. Tochain – Grinding

    9. Miraked – Sifting

    10. Lush – Kneading

    11. Ofeh / (Bishul) – Baking/cooking

    12. Gozez – Shearing

    13. Melabain – Whitening (bleaching)

    14. Menafetz – Disentangling, Combing

    15. Tzovayah – Dyeing

    16. Toveh – Spinning

    17. Maisach – Mounting the warp (stretching threads onto loom)

    18. Oseh Beit Batai Neirin – Setting two heddles (preparing to weave)

    19. Oraig – Weaving

    20. Potzai’ah – Separating (removing) threads (Unweaving)

    21. Koshair – Tying a knot

    22. Matir – Untying a knot

    23. Tofair – Sewing

    24. Ko’reah – Tearing (unsewing – ripping)

    25. Tzud – Trapping

    26. Shochet – Slaughtering (Killing)

    27. Mafshit – Skinning

    28. M’abaid – Salting/tanning process [1]

    29. Mesharteit – Tracing (scratching) lines

    30. Memacheik – Smoothing / scraping

    31. Mechateich – Cutting (to shape)

    32. Kotaiv – Writing two or more letters

    33. Mochaik – Erasing two or more letters

    34. Boneh – Building

    35. Soiser – Demolishing

    36. Mechabeh – Extinguishing (putting out a flame)

    37. Ma’avir – Kindling (making a fire)

    38. Makeh B’Patish – Striking the final blow (Finishing an object)

    39. Hotza’ah – Transferring (transporting) from domain to domain (carrying)

    The driving prohibition relates to #36 and #37, as does the electricity prohibition. Now it is true that I could extrapolate from these two that turning an ignition or turning on a light switch are causing fire to be created, but that seems a tad too liberal of a definition to me. They were clearly talking about fire, real fire that you feed with wood, and not a fire inside an engine.

    In fact, as one looks at this list, it is impossible to consider these items on it as prohibitions on creative creation, but rather on work that creates something or causes a physical change in a natural element. Most of the “melacha” I see listed is actual work or involves actual labor. Some elements, such as the writing and erasing may be construed as prohibition on creation of art or writing, but mostly I see actual physical labor being listed.

    By the way, from this list I have to gather that the Talmudic era rabbis were partying on donkeys, horses and carts all shabbat long as they were going from one location to another. As long as they weren’t moving objects from place to place as prohibited by #39, it seems that this form of transportation was kosher. Please correct me if I’m wrong (with evidence, not conjecture).

  • It’s also because in growing US markets, the first synagogue to go up is typically Reform, not Orthodox or Conservative.

    Is likely to be a Chabad Shul today… at least here in SoCal

  • By the way, from this list I have to gather that the Talmudic era rabbis were partying on donkeys, horses and carts all shabbat long as they were going from one location to another. As long as they weren’t moving objects from place to place as prohibited by #39, it seems that this form of transportation was kosher. Please correct me if I’m wrong (with evidence, not conjecture).

    TM, as I’ve said, we’ll both read the facts and reach different interpretations. Though, you did ask that I point out if you’re wrong on fact, and your last conclusion is just that. Why? Because, alas, your animals also must rest on the Sabbath day. They can’t be pulling your cart or carrying your heavy tuchas. (Please note, this is not meant as a fat stab. I’ve never even met you and you could easily be a stick of a man.) Not to mention you could be tempted to break off a stick to whip your mare and that would be a violation of 3, 12, 24, 35, or possibly 39. I know it’s got to be one of those.

    In fact, as one looks at this list, it is impossible to consider these items on it as prohibitions on creative creation, but rather on work that creates something or causes a physical change in a natural element. Most of the “melacha” I see listed is actual work or involves actual labor. Some elements, such as the writing and erasing may be construed as prohibition on creation of art or writing, but mostly I see actual physical labor being listed.

    Just to be fair, that’s what YOU see. I see categories of action that depict creative endeavor. We live in a physical world and when your action causes something to come into physical existence when it wasn’t there before, that’s creation, which is how I define melacha. (Whether or not it requires physical labor of a difficult or easy variety is not the issue in my mind.)

    Of course it does have to be physical creation, otherwise we wouldn’t be aloud to talk or sing, or even think on Shabbat because those sounds and ideas didn’t exist before. But it doesn’t have to require hard labor, thought, or exertion.

    But again, you have your view, and I have mine, and other people, well… they have their own views. Let’s just get the facts strait then let others decide how to weigh them within their own value systems. G-d will sort it all out. It’s only our job to inform, inspire, encourage, and accept (To Love our fellow unconditionally – Loving the person even when you don’t agree), but never to Judge. (Unless of course your a Judge, but then that’s civil and criminal law, not G-d’s law, and we have to remember that.)

    Now, wasn’t this topic about a Rabbati?

    (And if you don’t know what that means then you haven’t looked at this link yet: )

  • Ah Shy Guy, admit it though, you also come here for the learning. We all learn from each other (especially when we’re not beating up on each other), and I’m happy to keep on learning. You weren’t expecting to study talmud here today, and look at you now. 😉

    Just for the record, it’s not as if I don’t realize that we have centuries of people going into a fairly deep analysis of these 39 “melachot.” Nor do I consider myself knowledgeable in this sphere. However, while approaching this information with humility and without seeking to take away anything from those who believe what they read on this list as representing different ideas than those I’ve expressed, my interpretation remains that I’m looking at a list that represents an ancient world well, but not the world in which I live.

    Purim Hero, I have recently read a story to my son about a cow that rests on the Sabbath and by doing so brings good things to its owner who did not keep the sabbath. I’ll share it with ya some time.

  • I’d love to hear it… In the mean time, my insomnia is finally ending and I can still get 3 hours if I go to sleep now. G’night 🙂

  • Of course, we all learn from each other.

    It’s amazing how Shomer Torah Umitvot people, who are doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers and what have you, don’t seem to find any contradiction between the world in which we live in and Hashem’s eternal Torah.

    Maybe they all know something you don’t know and may never find if your delving is limited to cutting and pasting.

    Which was exactly my point: Zil G’mor. 😉

  • Leading Conservative Rabbis allowed driving only as a means to go to synagogue. Which shows they understood how problematic it is, and shows us how bogus their movement is.

    Yes, TM, there were communal pressures that led them to this.

    They always have an excuse.

  • TM, you define yourself as “not fully observant”. Not to beat you, but that is a telling phrase. You have defined another way of life you are not following, and defined yourself as “not fully” doing it; that legitimizes “it”, which is honest and OK with me.

    I do not think one can have an identity, be a “something”, without ghetto-ing. So what, there can be a good ghetto. Our wonderful country, America, exists partly to allow people to have full citizenship and also to have good ghettos. It was founded by groups who wanted to live their own distinctive way and not be picked on.

    The science of the future is not known to today’s Conservative rabbis. Does that injure their authority with you? No. But that is what you are saying about the rabbis of remote past. They didn’t know today’s science, so they were ignorant people and we don’t have to worry about their views.

    The solution to having everybody crowding around one lone synagogue, pushing property values up, and causing congestion, is this: have a lot of little synagogues dotted all over, which the locals can walk to. Why does a synagogue have to be a big, fancy building, visible from afar?

    This is very interesting thread and I thank everybody.

  • Everyone does the pick and choose, even people who profess to be Orthodox. How about this one, you’re not supposed to read any secular books, on Shabbos, this is a halacha in the Gemara. How many people really follow that one.

  • Many people enjoy non-Orthodox branches of Judiasm because they find that in being CREATIVE they are able to feel more spiritual and thereby connect to their Creator more effectively. Ultimately, that is everyone’s goal…to connect to the Divine, not to preserve some romantacized version of life in Eastern Europe during the pogroms. There is nothing “more religious” about a “good ghetto” and there is no such thing as a good one. When the Jews wandered in the desert they had rules about setting up their tents to as to preserve the privacy of each family…the first suburbs! Also, Hashem obviously had a plan in sending the Jews out into the Diaspora, I doubt if building ghettos was the main goal.

  • JM, America was meant to be ONE nation where people had individual freedoms to practice their religion and participate in the democratic process at large. Ghettos create micro-governments in which residents think thay are above the U.S. State and Federal laws, which are meant for the general welfare of all. Speeding limits and parking rules when you are late for minyan? No one in the ‘hood cares….

  • Hey Steves Rick… People don’t follow it because it is not how we decide halacha. The P’sak, legal decision, may stem from arguments in the Gemara, but as a general rule you can’t determine Halacha from the Gemara. There are many who don’t read secular books on shabbos because they choose to observe this chumra, stringency. Some don’t read them at all. But it’s not the halacha. Gemara, by its very nature offers multiple rabbinic opinions on diverse subject matter and then attempts to figure out which is right. You can’t just take a random rabbinic opinion from the Gemara and cite it as halacha. There are rules for how it is determined. (And even those rules were discussed.)

    This is just a clarification though and doesn’t change your point about the fact that large numbers of Jews who affiliate with orthodox congregations do not in fact observe “all the rules”. This isn’t a mark against the orthodox, and can’t even really be used as a mark against the individual because each of our challenges is different and it’s not up to us to judge.

    What it does demonstrate is two things. First, there is always room for growth individually and as a nation. And Second, if anything this goes to show that even people who don’t necessarily “follow all the rules” still, often times, regard orthodoxy as the “authentic” standard to which they poorly live up to. They believe it true, and just think they don’t do a good job at it, often because it seems too hard.

    If they associated with another movement like Reform, they wouldn’t see themselves as “picking and choosing” or “not following all the rules”. Rather, they would see themselves as doing what they are supposed to do, and question only the moral justification not religious implication of their actions.

  • Shy Guy, I’m glad you’re learning a bunch. 😉

    JM, the point Conservatives are making is that up until the 4th Century, Halacha was an evolving body of laws that addressed the Torah as a holy book. When it was “locked in,” it stifled the innovation which had been part of Jewish practice for centuries. Conservatives see themselves as continuing a tradition that represents our religious history. They are not, for example, denying the list of melachot above, but they are saying that if a bunch of rabbis were to sit in a room today and write down what had been an oral list – for the first time in history – which would be appropriate to 2006 instead of 432 C.E., it would look different, very different.

    So what Conservative does – and I am not speaking as an expert here, but this is how I understand it – is use the halacha as the foundation, and indeed they revere and respect it, and from this foundation they attempt to relate to today’s world how one should act and practice as a Jew. I realize this is not what the Orthodox want to hear, but in my personal opinion, it makes a great deal of sense.

    Having said that, I do believe the Conservative movement, which differs considerably from Reform because, in fact, it is a movement born of rejection of Reform, not rejection of Orthodox, finds itself in a difficult position today. While the Orthodox can blithely ignore homosexuality as a sin, the Conservative movement is undeniably influenced by the culture that surrounds it and by the mores of this society. If the JTS were to be based in, say, Saudi Arabia, they wouldn’t be concerned about whether the movement should accept homosexuality at all. In North America, it becomes a significant issue. I think these rabbis would argue that the rabbis of the 4th Century were no less dependent upon their surroundings and dominant cultures in finding ways to navigate proper worship and practice while retaining our Judaism.

    By the way, I am not particularly well versed in the details, but to my knowledge Orthodox also change laws according to societal needs. Can somebody provide some details about land ownership and loans in Eretz Israel. Don’t they expire automatically after a given amount of time, by torah authority, and yet somehow in modern Israel these laws are overlooked?

  • Yes, TM is correct usual. Homosexuality is a new concept, as is sex itself. Something 4th century rabbis were not aware of, just as the Torah itself had no opinion about it either. Surely if Rashi or even Moshe were here now, they would agree with anything and everything the 20-somethings at JTS demanded.

  • Good comeback Shy Guy, but I just googled them and learned that they were given a chance to rectify their error by being reborn as Pinchas (Rav Kook), so what I learn out from that is that G-d is forgiving if you yearn to be close to Him, even if it’s not necessarily in the prescribed manner.

    JM,thanks! Right back at ya!

    Middle, if the cow wears a black hat, does the owner get extra credit? Female cows can get pretty nasty on Shabbat if not milked.

    DK, if Moshe and Rashi were here now, who do you think they’d agree with…I’d say they’d be pretty damn freaked out by what each sub-group of Jews was up to, because if they weren’t then Mashiach would be here now.

  • TM, the laws concerning land ownership and loans all deal with the Jubilee (50th) year, at which point land returns to original owners and loans expire with the slate wiped clean. If I’m not mistaken though, these laws only really apply in Israel, and when the majority of world Jewry live in Israel. Though I think there were still attempts to address these issues. (Rabbi Yona, wanna jump in? I’m doing this off the top of my head from stuff I haven’t learned in years.)

    The thing that really presented a problem for the modern state of Israel was the Shmita (7th) year cycle, during which fields are laid fallow and any produce is hefker (ownerless). This doesn’t really work in todays agricultural economy. To deal with this, the rules where not changed, but rather, legal loopholes are used to deal with the reality. (Field sold to a non-Jew for example.)

    The end reality, however, is that no halachot are broken (even though you can ask the question of whether it is right for us to subvert the intentions, but that’s subjective, not legal). This is different then the automobile issue where the halacha is clearly being ignored (bad word, since I’m sure it was still considered, just not weighted as an absolute) because of social/communal concerns.

    There are two ways to deal with dissonance between halacha and modern society. You can set the Halacha as absolute, and seek legal loop holes and other solutions to adapt to the situation as best as possible. Or, you can set the goal of integration as absolute, and then seek to preserve as much of the halacha as possible, but sacrifice it when you can’t accommodate both.

    The later way scares me as it (IMHO) degrades the centrality of observance within religion and puts the ultimate focus on man not G-d (which is not really different then secular humanism). The former way also scares me, but not because it shifts focus away from G-d, but rather leaves the possibility of mechanizing the process so much so as to remove humanity. However, I believe that if it is done correctly, with constant introspection and self-evaluation, then the mechanization can be avoided.

    I don’t believe the same can be said about removing the centrality of observance. I feel the cognitive dissonance created by believing in a G-d who’s Omnipotent and all powerful, and yet who’s rules you don’t have to follow, is too great to maintain over time, and that the only logical result is to give up the belief in a classically described G-d or start following the rules.

    Halacha is a process, it is a framework. It is something we have to work within. Yet within that space it is also our responsibility to recognize humanity and the dynamic nature of human relationships with G-d and all of his creations. It IS possible to reconcile both. I only wish it were easier.

  • Chutzpah said:

    Good comeback Shy Guy, but I just googled them and learned that they were given a chance to rectify their error by being reborn as Pinchas (Rav Kook), so what I learn out from that is that G-d is forgiving if you yearn to be close to Him, even if it’s not necessarily in the prescribed manner.

    What you obviously didn’t learn is that G-d says what he means and means what he says. While G-d may be compassionate, divine death in such an unusual manner is not exactlty a party event.

    Worse, Gilgul Neshamot, the return of a Neshama back to this world, is for the Neshama one of the worst punishments it can experience.

    Crime does not pay.

  • Yikes! I better start watching out for lighting bolts and the risk spontaneous human combustion. But as Rav Billy Joel said “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints”.

  • I have to disagree w/ Chutspah here. Based on my own experience, for the past many years, I have observed Shabbat, Ki Hilchato. There have been a few exceptions now and again however. WHat I find is I attain a spiritual glow from having kept the day, w/ its stringencies. If I deviate, even if doing something beneign like going to a museum, I mean by travelling and paying, the day does not have the same flavor. It is more like any old day or a Sunday.

    Even if I don’t attend shule at all on Shabbos, I still have this type of glow.

    It is something surreal, supernatural for me.

    But I can understand others not feeling this way about the whole thing. Cuz I find that once I get ‘off’ of going to shule (I find it incredibly boring, and worse very uninspiring and unenjoyable), then after a while I tend to travel a bit, Not work, but again something beneign, like going to the beach (enjoying the day and HaShems’ magnificient natural creations).

    But it;s not Shabbos, I am aware.

    I wonder if others r conflicted in that way.

  • Does anyone else ever wonder why Jobber, every few months, will change his name and pretend to be somebody else on Jewlicious?

  • Ok, Shy Guy, I’m only kidding…I’m not advocating sinning, just advocating taking each day with a laugh, not sweating the small stuff and doing “whatever gets you through the night”.

    P.S. A certain blogger enjoys the porn star type names.

  • Chutzpha, the movie!

    Me, I like to make my own home made movies with my lady friend.

  • TM, strictures support creativity, oddly enough.

    All people have to be creative every minute, and I find that the Orthodox are MORE creative, PRECISELY because they are subject to more strictures.

    I was aware that Conservative Judaism was founded as a reaction to what were perceived as the excesses of Reform. Reform which went very far. Look at the picture above. Is that a talit around her neck? When did our wise ones wear flowing, shiny robes?

    Reality always has the last word and the non-orthodox vs orthodox discussions will be over in the foreseeable future for lack of non-orthodox people in existence to carry them on.

    How many C or R Jews can say, “I am C, or R, and so were my grandparents.” Not many.

    There is no arguing with success even if with tics and some limping, and failure, complete failure, to transmit down the generations in a reliable way. Yes, non-orthodox Judaism has a two- hundred year history. But can’t you see its day in the sun is winding down? Do you think it has a two-hundred year future?

  • I don’t know, JM, I worry about this a great deal. I think it’s going to be difficult for everybody to survive in the long term. The Orthodox support their systems with many subsidies from non-Orthodox. If the non-Orthodox assimilate and disappear, this will become a problem for the Orthodox. I think there are cities where people can go back a number of generations and identify themselves as members of non-Orthodox streams. Anyway, I think the membership is secondary to a sense of belonging to the community and maintaining a presence of the history and culture of our people in people’s families and lives.

    As we’ve discussed, the “success” of the Orthodox is built on the presence of other Jews, both in and outside of Israel. Don’t forget they only represent about 10-15% of the Jewish world. My hope is that all groups survive and interact in better ways than today.

  • The respectful and incisive analysis of this issue by Purim Hero (#71) is especially gratifying, as it’s one of the only discussions I’ve seen here that identifies meaningful common ground on which the branches of Judaism could come together to discuss their doctrinal conflicts. Sadly, that framework enjoys virtually no chance of being widely embraced, precisely because of its sophistication and generosity of spirit. Though PH concludes that Orthodoxy offers the more meaningful and spiritually sound approach, his analysis presumes that the choice is one among other equally valid alternatives. From this perspective, the “morally degenerate heresy” talk is absurd. Alas, for many at Jewlicious, proving that others are wrong is every bit as important as proving that they’re right. For such people, it may be problematic that adopting Purim Hero’s paradigm means the list of Jews in the world from other denominations now consists of people in relation to whom they’re merely different, not superior.

  • Ah, but David, Purim Hero is young and is embarking on a path he hopes will end up with his becoming a rabbi. So consider this a hopeful sign and don’t be discouraged. In the end, after all the anger, this proved to be a worthwhile and engaging discussion.

    May we have many more.

  • I was aware that Conservative Judaism was founded as a reaction to what were perceived as the excesses of Reform. Reform which went very far. Look at the picture above. Is that a talit around her neck? When did our wise ones wear flowing, shiny robes?

    The Conservative movement was formed after they picked their jaws up off the floor when our Reform friends at Hebrew Union College celebrated their first graduation by serving clams on the half-shell as the first course of the infamous “Treifa Banquet”, followed by shrimp, kosher meat, and ice cream for dessert (it must have been a “Kodak moment” for sure). And with all due respect to themiddle, by no means do all members of the Conservative movement drive or condone driving on Shabbat. More than one Conservative rabbi has lamented the decision to give “permission” to drive directly to and from shul on Shabbat; encouraging the membership to disperse is the opposite of what builds true community. Our family started out driving, and Barukh haShem we later moved closer to our shul to permit walking. The glamor of being Shomer Shabbat is less clear to my children when we’re tramping through snow and ice in the winter or being drenched in a downpour (for the sake of the Jewish people, will some rabbi please allow the use of umbrellas on Shabbat – it is NOT erecting a tent, for gosh sakes…)

    Many women wear tallitoth, and there has certainly been healthy debate regarding that issue across the movements. I think it’s great if women want to perform the mitsvoth associated with tallitoth, I just think they should use tallitoth that are clearly designed for women so as to not “borrow” from men’s clothing (and self-perception). My wife and daughters don’t wear them, but the women in my shul that do have lovely ones that they treat with respect.

    As for flowing, shiny robes, Jews have traded back and forth various dressing styles (and music) from our non-Jewish neighbors as long as we can trace back. That chic men-in-black look worn by our chassidic friends is directly borrowed from Polish noble outfits. I recently davened at a Sephardic shul from the Western tradition at which the rabbis put on robes and tall hats rather similar to those I’ve seen on Xtian priests. So what? Those guys were cool enough to pull it off, and they knew it 😉

  • Nathan, thanks for your comment. I did not say nor did I imply that all Conservative Jews agree with driving on shabbat, or that all Conservative rabbis agree with this decision. It is the movement’s position, however.

    I have to agree that one can have a great community by living close to its center, which would presumably be the synagogue. The problem is that it’s often not possible for people to do this. The synagogue I currently attend (Conservative) would die without people being able to drive. That would be a shame because although it is a small congregation, it is a vibrant one. Families are active, children are present in large numbers and the rabbi is well liked. We all come from different neighborhoods so that if you stopped people from driving (on average most of us drive 15-20 minutes each way), you could not re-create this congregation. In fact, the result of such a prohibition would probably lead to a new congregation built close to the home of one or more of the wealthier members of the synagogue because they can afford to support it. Perhaps some families might be able to afford to move to that neighborhood, but the majority won’t or will not want to leave their current homes. I guess one may build another, smaller congregation among less affluent members, but there isn’t a critical mass of Jews in any single neighborhood where we live that would allow for this to happen. Heck, some people have to drive for 5-10 minutes just to get out of their suburb, how would they walk this distance with kids or grandparents? That’s not 5 or 10 minutes to get to shul, that’s just to get out of the suburb to main streets or freeways.

    No, the result of a driving prohibition would lead most of these people to leave Conservative shuls for whatever gives them the option to still practice their Judaism without giving up homes and neighborhoods. It’s a question of practicality.

    Of course, it’s also a question of whether one agrees that driving is what the talmud means with its prohibition on lighting fire. It would be nice if some of the Conservative rabbis out there would stop buying into the pressure coming at them from some Orthodox circles where they are told that their movement is unkosher.

  • Nathan, thanks for your comment. I did not say nor did I imply that all Conservative Jews agree with driving on shabbat, or that all Conservative rabbis agree with this decision. It is the movement’s position, however.

    Like I wrote, we used to drive, so I’m not throwing stones at anyone I see driving on Shabbat these days. I’d rather lead with the carrot than the death penalty on this issue. I believe this link offers a concise summary of the Conservative movement’s stance on this issue, which doesn’t exactly condoning this behavior:



  • Nathan, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You do realize that the informative response to which you linked opposing driving on shabbat is composed by a female rabbi?

  • The Conservative movement still has nida (family purity and ritual immersion) on the books but that doesn’t seem to be an issue and the vast majority of Conservative Jews don’t prctice that aspect of the stream that they affiliate with. In a laity driven practice, the laity simply continue to do what is convenient regardless of what the halachah is.

    Ismar Schorsch, the former Chancellor of the JTS and the ostensible head of the Conservative movement regretted the decision to allow driving to the synagogue on the sabbath. He correctly noted that it eroded the notion of a sabbath community. Once driving was allowed, even if it was just to the synagogue, then the slippery slope took over and Conservative Jews view driving to the park, or to the mall or to a tennis lesson or whatever as acceptable. I don’t really know too many Conservative Jews who spend the sabbath in the company of friends and family with all outside things turned off. It dosn’t really seem like most of them really have a day of rest.

    But I won’t try to impose my orthodox standards on others. It may still be a good idea for the Conservative movement to frown on driving on the sabbath. If they did, I doubt the Conservative movement would die and people would stop going to shul. I know lots of people who drive to Orthodox shuls. Similarly, Conservative Jews who drive to services would continue to do so for the most part – just as most don’t follow nida.

    I just can’t help but feel that a return to sabbath basics, even if it’s only in theory, would be a good thing. So while most Conservative Jews would continue to drive, maybe they’ll limit it to shul. Maybe they’ll be inspired to at least reconsider the notion of the sabbath as a day of rest -one that you cherish and prepare for. Sabbath is actually really cool – sometimes almost zen like in that you discipline yourself to prepare for it and then once it starts, you do not allow anything, save for life and death situations of course, to interferein your celebration of the day of rest.

    I’m not going to get into halachic discussions. I rely on 100s of years of established halachic principles that define internal combustion as involving combustion. You want to believe differently, that’s your right. But I honestly believe that a small little return to the fundamentals of the sabbath would be a good thing for any Jew, regardless of their stream.

    For the record too, Othodox Jews who number less than Conservative Jews and who aren’t on average as wealthy, manage to get by just fine despite the prohibition on driving. Perhaps they find their worship meaningful enough to justify the inconvenience, or perhaps they find the greater sense of community and meaning inherent in their distinct practice valuable enough too. I don’t know. But I’m pretty certain Conservative Judaism would survive and even thrive if they re-emphasized the importance of the sabbath and a sabbath community.

  • ck-for what it’s worth, i think you nailed this issue right on the head with your last post in regards to driving.

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