Conservative Judaism Jewish Judaism and Technology Rabbi

Connected Community of Wired Jews

Yesterday, Israel celebrated its 61st year of independence. When detailing all that this little nation has to be proud of, modern technology always ranks at the top of the list. After all, this is the country responsible for the popularity of instant messaging on the Internet (ICQ was first developed by the Israeli company Mirabilis).

I think that modern technology and the new forms of digital communication are wonderful advances that improve our world in general, and the global Jewish community in particular. They have caused borders to virtually fade into nonexistence. In my college senior thesis (The Globalization of Judaism), I argued that the Internet has (and will continue to) change the global Jewish community religiously, culturally, and educationally. As the online virtual community has grown, the actual Jewish community seems smaller and the proverbial borders have disappeared.

There are many who argue that the new communication tools are a hindrance to our community. They complain that our ability to always be connected is an intrusiveness in modern life. I propose that our embrace of social networking changes our cultural community in wonderful ways. To be interconnected within our global community can lead to positive advances in all realms.

Rabbi Aaron BergmanMy colleague, Rabbi Aaron Bergman (right) of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, wrote a very nice article in this month’s congregational bulletin on the subject of always being “in touch” through modern communication technology. Rather than complaining about the intrusiveness of modern life, Rabbi Bergman writes that he embraces it. He acknowledges that through his Blackberry, Facebook page, and Twitter account, he is “able to communicate with people with common interests from around the world”. He appreciates being able to reconnect with old friends and stay in regular communication with people (his congregants) when he’s not sitting at his office desk.

While some complain that the new technologies alienate people from each other, Rabbi Bergman theorizes that our embrace of social networking is actually a reaction to feeling alienated, not the cause of it. I agree.

There are enough individuals who are negative about our society’s connected lifestyle in the 21st century. Many of the same people who once railed against cellphones, now use them incessantly. Those who couldn’t understand the necessity of PDAs, Blackberrys, and iPhones now can’t live without them. And those who scoffed at social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter as a silly waste of time have set up their own accounts.

The future is here and we are still figuring out how to best utilize the new technology. I’m glad to see rabbis like Aaron Bergman embrace these new communication tools. Many rabbis are resistant because they have yet to discover how to best capitlize on them.

Together with a couple other rabbis, I’ve been asked by Rabbi Julie Schoenfeld, the new Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, to consult the RA on technology issues. Together, we are trying to figure out how rabbis can best make use of these advances in modern communications. Every rabbi now uses e-mail daily, participates in e-mail listservs, and posts sermons to the synagogue website. Now, the time has come to help rabbis take the next step: using a blog to communicate with their congregants, setting up a Facebook page, teaching bits of Torah through a Twitter account, posting their sermons and lectures on YouTube, and teaching through Podcasts.

Rabbi Hayim HerringMy teacher, Rabbi Hayim Herring (for whom I’m honored to be mistaken – see here), is writing a book to be published by The Alban Institute entitled Tools for Shuls: A Guide to Make Over Your Synagogue. On his blog, which functions as a virtual labratory for his book, he has a section called “Digital Dreaming: Using Technology Wisely”. In it, he writes that the new communication tools and the environment are ripe for experimentations in creating new virtual Jewish communities. In fact, they are already happening. We’ve come a long way since my first Talmud teacher at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Avi Reisner, raised the question of whether a virutal minyan (prayer quorum of ten) would be “kosher” if it were assembled through the virtual realm of the Internet. His teshuvah (Jewish legal responsum), “Wired to the Kadosh Barukh Hu: Minyan via Internet”, is available here.

There are pros and cons to our new modes of communication. But we must try to discover how to best utilize them for success. We should also get to know them well enough that we will determine their negative effects and navigate our way around those. One example of this is Liel Leibowitz’s analysis of Twitter, the microblogging networking site. In his article in the Forward, “Communication Breakdown: Dispatches from the Virtual World”, Leibowitz argues that the condensing of our communication to 140-character messages is not a very Jewish concept. After all, we are the People of the Book! He imagines the scene from Mount Sinai in which a modern-day Moses reaches the apex of the mountain, pulls out his iPhone and communicates to the Israelite nation via Twitter. “The people, he knows, will be blogging about this moment for ages to come”. Leibowitz opines:

Examining this thinning of language — these starved forms of communications that favor the quick and the inconsequential while remaining unsuited for thoughts that may take space to unfold and time to read — it is easy to succumb to a technologically deterministic depression and declare the end of intelligent civilization near. But since Jews have been forever defined — even constituted — by our relationship with the book and, as a result, with the written word at large, we must pay special attention to these winds of change. Without being unduly alarmist, one can say that the Internet may be killing off the Jewish mind.

Whether or not, this form of communication bodes well for the Jewish people, Leibowitz is correct to assess it. We must all do this. Instead of avoiding the new technology available to us, let us find the applications that will work to our advantage and then improve our communities (synagogues, schools, organizations, etc.) for the future. There are ways to exploit new communication technology and new networking applications that will greatly enhance our global Jewish community.

What are some ways in which you’re doing it?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Christianity Conservative Judaism Interfaith Jewish Rabbi Reconstructionist Judaism Reform Judaism

Intermarried Rabbinical Students

The student-run journal New Voices has published some thought-provoking and quite provocative articles in recent issues. Their current issue takes on a theme I don’t think has been discussed much. Is it acceptable for rabbinical students to intermarry? This is certainly not an issue in the Orthodox world and I don’t remember it ever really being discussed at JTS (Conservative). However, in the more liberal rabbinical schools (namely the Reform’s Hebrew Union College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and the new non-denominational Hebrew College), I guess this has been an issue.

One of my classmates at JTS was dating a non-Jewish woman, but she converted to Judaism early on in our six-year course of study and it was a non-issue.

The New Voices article, “The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi”, by Jeremy Gillick opens with the story of David Curiel (right), who decided to become a rabbi in the summer of 2008. Curiel was shocked when Hebrew College told him he would not be welcome at its seminary because his wife was not Jewish. In the “it’s a small world” category, Curiel is from Metro Detroit and is the brother of a Hebrew High School classmate of mine from Adat Shalom Synagogue.

The author explains that the “Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) all refuse to admit or ordain students in relationships with non-Jews”.

The policy at the Reform Movement’s seminaries reads: “Because we believe in the importance of Jewish family modeling, applicants who are married to or in committed relationships with non-Jews will not be considered for acceptance to this program”.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, dean of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philly said “The bedrock of what it means to be Jewish is to belong to the Jewish people. Leaders of the Jewish community, who model to others what Jewish life can be, should themselves be in homes that are fully Jewish”.

There are some intermarried rabbis out there. “In 1992, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a founder of the neo-Kabbalistic Jewish Renewal movement, ordained Tirzah Firestone, making her the first intermarried rabbi on record. In her memoir With Roots in Heaven: One Woman’s Passionate Journey into the Heart of Her Faith, Firestone recounts how her husband inspired her return to Judaism, but that their marriage ultimately fell apart because of his faith.”

According to Rabbi Marcia Prager, the dean of ordination programs at ALEPH (Renewal), Firestone’s experience informed the school’s approximately 10-year-old policy to evaluate students with non-Jewish partners on a case-by-case basis. When ALEPH does admit such students, it does so with the hope that the non-Jewish partner will one day “join the tribe”.

What do you think? Leave your comment about whether it is appropriate for rabbinical schools to refuse to admit intermarried candidates into their ordination program.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Baseball Holidays Jewish Passover

Baseball and Holiday Conflicts

The Detroit Tigers’ 2009 home opener is this Friday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. I would get tickets and attend if it weren’t the second day of Passover. According to T.S. O’Connell, sports historian and the editor of the Sports Collectors Digest, Jews shouldn’t be the only religious group upset with the date of the Tigers’ home opener this year. On his blog, The Infield Dirt, O’Connell writes:

I saw a news item recently that said the Detroit Tigers were taking a bit of heat because of the scheduling of their home opener on April 10, more precisely noting that some Catholics were upset that the 1:05 p.m. start time came during the noon to 3 p.m. period when traditional Christian belief holds that Jesus was hung on the cross.

O’Connell then writes how this news item caused him to wonder how this particular conflict (opening day an Good Friday) hadn’t come up before. He waxes nostalgic about the 1965 decision by Sandy Koufax to forgo pitching in the World Series opener against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur. He writes:

I was just a 15-year-old kid, frantically following the approaching World Series in the New York Daily News, and I was just awestruck that somebody (actually my favorite pitcher) could take a pass on what I regarded as a secular assignment with near-religious overtones. Mostly it just impressed me with the seriousness of the Jewish faith; the decision only enhanced my view of Koufax, aided neatly by the later developments that saw the Dodgers win in seven games. By my way of thinking, it was no harm, no foul. I also found it fascinating to learn years later as I became something of an amateur baseball historian that there was never really any major decision involved for Sandy. He had long since made it clear to the Dodgers’ brass that he would not play on Yom Kippur, so when the prohibition coincided with one of the holiest days in the baseball world, it was what we would later call a “no brainer.” That same thirst for reading about baseball history would lead me to Hank Greenberg’s decision to skip a game during the 1934 pennant race for the same reason.

What a statement it would make if Mike Ilitch, owner of the Detroit Tigers, told the commissioner of baseball that the Tigers would have to reschedule their opening day game at Comerica Park because of Good Friday and Passover. Of course, with my luck, they’d reschedule the game to Shabbat and I still wouldn’t be able to go!

On the same subject, I laughed when I read an email circulating about the Boston Red Sox home opener this year. Here it is:

The Red Sox home opener this year will be postponed for Passover.

Red Sox general manager, Theo Epstein announced that the Boston Red Sox home opener will be postponed to April 14 to avoid the eight days of the Passover holiday. He noted, because three of his starters (Kevin Youkilis, Gabe Kapler and Adam Stern) are Jewish as are his box seat holders, he was forced to make this change in scheduling. There have been several complaints from fans, who are enraged at Epstein’s decision. In fact, protests are being tendered to the commissioner of baseball’s office. However, Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball, will not be able to address these protests; mainly due to a scheduling problem. This has been caused by the family seders he and Mrs. Selig will be attending.

Also, unable to attend the opener: Al Gore and Tipper will be unavailable as they will attend a seder at their son in law’s home. Bill and Hilary Clinton will be attending the seder at the home of their daughter Chelsea’s boyfriend. In addition, former mayor of NYC, Rudy Guiliani, whose wife will be busy preparing their seder. And finally the Obamas will be out of town enjoying a seder at Michele’s cousin’s house, Rabbi Capers Funnye.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Politics Rabbi

Capers Funnye and America’s Next Top Rabbi

I had already heard about Rabbi Capers Funnye when I looked at Congregation Ahavas Israel‘s monthly newsletter a few months ago. The only Conservative synagogue in Grand Rapids, Michigan advertised their upcoming scholar-in-residence weekend on the front page of their congregation’s bulletin.

This past November, they invited Rabbi Capers Funnye, the head rabbi of the mostly African-American 200 member Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in Chicago (He also serves as a senior research associate for the Institute of Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco). The Black rabbi spoke at the Grand Rapids shul on Shabbat and then at a local church on Sunday. The only thing that surprised me about seeing this upcoming program was: Why hadn’t other synagogues thought of this? After all, this is First Lady Michelle Obama’s cousin!

Well, this certainly wasn’t to be Rabbi Funnye’s last time speaking in a white suburban congregation. As my friend Zev Chafets reports in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine (“Barack Obama’s Rabbi”), Rabbi Funnye and his wife chose to celebrate Martin Luther King Day at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, a mainstream NYC Reform congregation, rather than attend pre-inauguration festivities in D.C. for Funnye’s relative Barack Obama.

Chafets writes an enlightening article about Rabbi Funnye and the Black Judaism that he embraces. Just how close are the Funnye’s and Obama’s? Well, as Chafets writes, they seem to have reunited at Barack and Michelle’s wedding. And due to their “common interest in community organizing in Chicago, they saw each other often, socially and professionally”. Capers and Mary Funnye also had VIP reserved seats during President Obama’s inaugural speech when they sat among Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, and close family members.

When the news of Michelle Obama’s black rabbi cousin broke, there were many in the Jewish community who weren’t sure what to think about this revelation. Was it a secret? Is he close with Barack? Is he really a rabbi? Is he really Jewish? I think the NYT Magazine article by Chafets will clear that up once and for all, especially considering the title of the piece: “Obama’s Rabbi”.

And there are a couple other rabbis who may lay claim to being the rabbinic advisor to the Commander in Chief. Rabbi Jack Moline, a Conservative rabbi in Alexandria, Virginia is probably the most well-connected rabbi in the Beltway with the exception of Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform Movement’s RAC (Religious Action Committee). Moline’s close ties to Rahm Emanuel could certainly put him in the running to be Obama’s rabbi in D.C. And Rabbi Asher Lopatin (left), Rahm Emanuel’s rabbi in Chicago, could also get President Obama’s ear when he wants it (at least indirectly through the Chief of Staff).

So, with three rabbis with close connections to the president, it is surprising that none of these rabbis (Funnye, Moline, or Lopatin) made Newsweek’s list of the most influential rabbis for 2009. The recently released list is made up of most of the usual suspects who have graced the list since its inception in 2007, as well as some newbies.

Maybe Rabbi Capers Funnye is too “outside the mainstream” to be included in the list one might say. Well, to that I offer Yehuda Berg (#13), the head of the “cultish” Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles, who includes non-Jews Madonna, Lindsey Lohan, and Ashton Kutcher among his balabatim and offers a free lucky red-string to visitors of his website.

While Rabbis Moline and Lopatin didn’t make the list either (probably because they are not based in LA or NY), there are a few influential rabbis on the list for the first time who are quite deserving. It was nice to see Rabbi Jill Jacobs (right) of Jewish Funds for Justice and Rabbi Elie Kaunfer (founder of Mechon Hadar and Kehillat Hadar) on the list for the first time. It was not surprising to see that Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division, made the list this year. However, Rabbi Morris Allen (Hekhsher Tzedek) was notably absent. I was also happy, but not surprised, to see that Rabbi Steve Gutow (Jewish Council for Public Affairs) made the list at #20 this year.

I was thrilled to see Rabbi Daniel Brenner on the list for the first time. I worked with Daniel at CLAL, when I served an internship there in 2001. He is now the director of Birthright Next, a program that keeps tabs on alumni of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program and helps these young people get more involved in the Jewish community. Daniel is a very talented guy and very deserving of this honor. Other CLAL figureheads on the list this year include Rabbi Irwin Kula (#7 in 2008; #12 in 2009) and Rabbi Brad Hirschfield (moving from #39 to #42).

Each year this list comes with the usual kvetches from the Jewish community. It’s a silly list everyone argues. And it probably is a bit silly since there are no statistics one can use to measure the influence of rabbis in our country. It’s also difficult to compare all these rabbis who have such different functions within the community (academics, fundraising, community organizing, kashrut policing, book publishing, etc.) But, as always, it makes for interesting conversation and debate.

Blog post on the 2008 Newsweek list of America’s Most Influential Rabbis

Blog post on the 2007 Newsweek list of America’s Most Influential Rabbis

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Jewish Jewish Law

Madoff and Pilot Sully

Rabbi Avi Shafran (right) never ceases to amaze me. He is the director of public affairs of Agudath Israel of America and the unofficial spokesman for Orthodox Judaism. Shafran is skilled, yet dangerous, with the pen. He has made a career out of writing op-ed pieces that defend Orthodoxy and delegitimize the non-Orthodox.

His latest op-ed piece is sure to shock. It is shocking in the way that the self-proclaimed “King of All Media”, Howard Stern, says outrageous and sensational things. People will do a double-take at the first sentence alone.

In his editorial for the JTA, “Bernie, Sully and Me”, Shafran writes:

Something tells me I won’t make any new friends (and might even lose some old ones) if I confess to harboring some admiration for Bernard Madoff.

And to make things worse, I can’t muster much for Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed a full commercial airliner in the Hudson River back in January.

Let me try to explain. Please.

Mr. Madoff committed a serious economic crime on an unprecedented scale for such wrongdoing, and in the process ruined the financial futures of numerous people and institutions, including charitable ones, worldwide. There can be no denying that.

Rabbi Shafran makes the point that at least Bernie Madoff did teshuvah. He ceased his Ponzi scheme (after decades), confessed his sins, apologized, and will now serve prison time. Shafran finds Madoff’s contrition to be admirable and can’t understand how folks who were bilked by the Ponzi schemer, like Elie Wiesel, get off calling for horrific punishment for his sins. Shafran cites Jewish law which does not differentiate between one who steals a small amount of money (“pilfering a dime”) and a thief like Madoff who scammed people out of billions of dollars. Shafran seems to say that halakhically (according to Jewish law), Madoff is no worse than one who cheats on his taxes thereby “defrauding 300 million of his fellow citizens”.

Shafran then takes up the issue of whether Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger, the U.S. Airlines pilot who miraculously landed his doomed plane in the Hudson River, is a hero. He writes:

No such sublimity of spirit, though, was in evidence in any of the public acts or words of Mr. Sullenberger. He saved 155 lives, no doubt about it, and is certainly owed the gratitude of those he saved, and of their families and friends. And he executed tremendous skill.

But no moral choice was involved in his act. He was on the plane too, after all; his own life depended on undertaking his feat no less than the lives of others. He did what anyone in terrible circumstances would do: try to stay alive.

Shafran even goes so far as to criticize Pilot Sullenberger for not acknowledging God (“the One Who instilled such astounding abilities in His creations”) for the miracle or for granting him his piloting skills. That’s a harsh critique right there, but Shafran continues. He chastises Sullenberger for signing a $3 million book deal with HarperCollins and agreeing to a second book of inspirational poems, while Bernard Madoff will languish in jail for the rest of his life.

Shafran poetically concludes his essay declaring that he is “unmoved by the pilot, and, at least somewhat, inspired by the penitent”.

Okay, because he is a fine writer, Shafran is able to explain why he draws inspiration from Madoff and why the hero pilot doesn’t do anything for him. But, we should take this editorial for what it is: sensational journalism.

According to Maimonides, Madoff hasn’t even done teshuvah yet. Has he been in a position to commit the same crime again and chose not to? I don’t think we know the answer to that. With regard to Sullenberger, I suppose it’s true that he was on the plane too and his own life depended on undertaking his feat. But it was both his skill as a pilot, and his ability to perform under such pressure, that make him a hero. No one should try and take that away from him. And if he chooses not to publicly acknowledge his Creator, well, that’s his prerogative. And only someone like Rabbi Shafran would go the extreme of publicly admonishing him for this omission.

My conclusions: 1) Avi Shafran is a good writer; 2) Avi Shafran likes to make sensational statements that attract attention; 3) Bernie Madoff is still evil; 4) Pilot Sully is still a hero.

Update: On April 6, Avi Shafran issued an apology for his essay. Shafran wrote:

My recent Am Echad Resources essay “Bernie, Sully and Me” has generated substantial criticism from many readers, including people whose opinions I deeply respect. I have come to the conclusion that that there were errors in both the content and tone of the essay, for which I apologize. My main goal in publishing these essays is to help people understand eternal Jewish truths. Unfortunately, here I chose unsuitable examples for the concepts I sought to impart, failing to accomplish that goal and offending many people in the process. I am grateful, as always, for the constructive comments and feedback I received from my readership, whose confidence I hope to retain going forward.

JTA reported that both Rabbi Eric Yoffie (president of the Union for Reform Judaism) and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb (head of the Orthodox Union) wrote blistering op-eds in response to Shafran’s views. Yoffie wrote that “Shafran completely misinterprets Jewish teachings on repentance” and his views demonstrate “ignorance of Jewish tradition”.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Jewish Reconstructionist Judaism Reform Judaism

Indie Minyans Revisited

I last took up the subject of independent minyanim (or “Indie Minyans”) on this blog in January 2008. What prompted me to blog about these minyanim (prayer services) for the 20- and 30-something crowd was the coverage in the mainstream press. The New York Times article (November 28, 2007) opened with the following line: “There are no pews at Tikkun Leil Shabbat, no rabbis, no one with children or gray hair.”

At the 2004 UJC General Assembly in Cleveland, I attended a session in which my colleague Elie Kaunfer (founder of Kehilat Hadar) was one of the panelists. He was challenged about what happens in the future when these young, progressive members of the indie minyans need a nursery school for their toddler or a rabbi for their son’s bar mitzvah. He theorized that many of these young adults would move out to the suburbs and join established synagogues as they got married and had children. His caveat was that they would shake up the establishment at these congregations. Time would tell.

Well, it’s now been about a decade since the founding of indie minyans like Hadar and those original members are now in their mid-thirties with spouses and children not too far off from the bar and bat mitzvah track. But many of them are doing what they did ten years ago. They’re founding new minyans and recognizing that DIYJ (do it yourself Judaism) can extend to their families too (Who says you need a rabbi to officiate at a bat mitzvah?).

This doesn’t bode well for the Conservative Movement where most of the indie minyan adherents were brought up and educated. Rabbi Jerry Epstein (right), the outgoing head of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, was banking on the idea that these “best and brightest” young people could be lured back to Conservative synagogues. As any study of the American Jewish population will tell you there are far fewer Conservative synagogues than there were when these indie minyan alumni were teenagers in USY and their synagogues are much thinner now membership-wise (at least the ones that haven’t merged with other synagogues).

Rabbi Epstein writes that these young Conservative Jews “live precisely as we told them to [at Camp Ramah and in USY], but paradoxically they practice their Judaism outside our movement. They perceive that there is no place for them and their Judaism in the Conservative synagogue. If we want to grow in numbers and strength, if we want to inspire passion and commitment, we have to welcome those Jews who live our values and ideology outside of our synagogues to do it inside our synagogues instead.”

This is no surprise to me. The Conservative Movement in general, and its affiliated synagogues in particular, got fat and lazy during the movement’s heyday (1950-1990). They took their market share for granted and didn’t progress or modernize. They also neglected to look behind them as the Reform, Modern Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and Chabad movements were gaining ground. Many of my contemporaries who were active in the movement’s youth program (USY) and at the movement’s various Ramah camps had a choice to make: become a Conservative rabbi or affiliate with Modern Orthodoxy. The Jewish Theological Seminary, the theory went, was the only place in the Conservative Movement where one could actually live out the ideals of Conservative Judaism. The young person who became more observant within the framework of the Conservative Jewish ideal was made to feel unwelcome in the Conservative synagogue. Is there any doubt why they packed up and moved to Orthodoxy or helped create a new non-denominational minyan community?

So what is the Conservative Movement’s strategy for drawing in former members who have left for the indie minyan movement? Bribery!

Rabbi Epstein has some $2,500 checks to give out to entice some of these minyans to forge relationships with the Conservative Movement. The amount is relatively insignificant when you consider that Kehilat Hadar’s annual operating budget is $160,000 and they have received six-figure grants recently from the Covenant Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (where selling out isn’t a prerequisite to getting the funding). I can’t imagine a couple thousand dollars forcing any indie minyan to lose its independence and hook up with the establishment that was the impetus for its initial creation.

Ben Harris, in a JTA article (Figuring out why promising Conservative alumni set up ‘indy minyans’), explains what has happened in the aftermath of these grants from USCJ: “More than six months later, the organization has handed out six grants. At least two went to minyanim that already had relationships with a local Conservative synagogue. One minyan founder in New York said his group’s connection to the movement had changed little since it received the grant. “

The discussion about indie minyans and the Conservative Movement’s desire to reconnect its best and brightest young people to the established Conservative synagogues they fled has been taken up at the Jewschool blog under the title “Same story in two movements”. Several young Reform Jews have remarked that the pattern is similar in the Reform Movement as well.

David Wilensky writes on his Reform Shuckle blog that this is “the same challenge that I and many of my friends face with our own Reform movement. The Reform world has educated some of us so well and so effectively taught us how to be engaged in some sort of active personal reformation and now we’re so into it that all the ‘normal’ Reform Jews think we’re nuts.”

Justin, a commentor on the Jewschool site, wrote “I also think that what Epstein et al fail to understand, coming from a future Conservative ordained rabbi who was the gabbai of an indy minyan, is that it is PRECISELY being engaged with the movement that is the problem. If we can pursue egalitarian, halakhically inspired and influenced communities without paying dues, and manage to have successful prayer communities, why do we need the movement at all? In my opinion, and this is overtly crass, movement folk want to keep their movement jobs and they view us as a threat. Hence the USCJ donating grants to indy minyanim willing to have relations with Conservative shuls. I think they believe that when people need religious school and day-care they will join a shul. For now this may be true, but I am sure eventually indy minyanim will be able to figure out how to provide that for their own communities similar to what the havura movement was able to do in some instances in the 70s.”

I agree with Justin. I think that as these emerging communities and indie minyanim came on the scene, the thinking from the establishment was that these were transient communities for Jewish young people in the post-college (Hillel) and pre-family (religious school and bar mitzvah) part of life. Well, that does not appear to be the case.

It looks like the indie minyan that starts with a dozen grad students turns into a havurah and and then eventually the type of ideal synagogue community these “best and brightest” Conservative Movement dropouts have been dreaming about but the established Conservative Movement, with its status quo thinking, cannot provide for them.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |