Friday, August 31, 2007

Whereto for the Conservative Jew

I wish I could write more on this, but the thought spigot is blocked up. So I'll just point out this excellent mini-symposium on the future of the Conservative Jewish movement. Oddly enough, my favorite piece is the first one, by Rabbi David Wolpe:
Covenantal Judaism. That is our philosophy and should be our name. Renaming heralds our rejuvenation. We believe in an ongoing dialogue with God. Not everything significant has already been said, nor is the modern world uniquely wise. Our task goes beyond mere clarification of the old or reflexive reverence for the new. As with a friendship, we cherish the past but are not limited to its formulations or assumptions. Venerating the teachings of Maimonides does not negate that tomorrow, with the tools of modern study, a new Rambam may arise. The Judaism of relationship. Covenantal Judaism. Such is our creed, our dogma, our gift.

Covenantal Judaism holds aloft the ideal of dialogue with God, with other Jews of all movements, and with the non-Jewish world. In holding each of these as sacred we stand in a unique position in Jewish life. Ritual is language, part of the way we speak to other Jews and to God. Learning, ancient and modern, is essential to sustain the eternal dialogue. “I have been given the power,” said the Kotzker Rebbe, “to resurrect the dead. But I choose a harder task — to resurrect the living!” Resurrection of passion, of faith, of community requires not the touch of the Divine, but the touch of another human being.

Together we stand at the mountain and receive the Torah. We dare not permit it to turn into a fossilized faith or a sacrifice to the seductions of modernity. The Zohar teaches that we are children from the chamber of yearnings. All of Judaism is part of our conversation. Brit, covenant, holds together our history and our destiny.

The language is far too flowery for my taste, but the ideas are good. "Covenantal Judaism", in addition to redressing the annoying ambiguity wherein I have to explain that, no, I'm politically liberal, "Conservative" is just a denominational reference, seems to cohere rather well to what I imagine Conservative Judaism to mean. I'm not Orthodox because, as Wolpe says, I feel that it has "fossilized faith", but I'm not Reform because I feel many Reform Jews don't see the religion as having anything guidance over how they conduct their affairs or their overall moral perspective. The voice of the tradition does matter to me, although it is not overriding, and the idea of me being in dialogue with the divine, the Jewish community, and the world appeals to me and seems to account for my desire to stay immersed in Judaism even as I continually refine and redefine it.

No comments: