Neither “Inclusivity” Nor Left-Wing Politics Will Save Non-Orthodox Synagogues

The latest statistics point to a decline in the overall proportion of North American Jews who belong to or attend synagogues—a pattern especially pronounced if one excludes the Orthodox. Moreover, writes Martin Lockshin, the evidence suggests that various efforts to make synagogues more attractive and dynamic are doing little to stem the tide. These efforts include everything from incorporating musical instruments and lively tunes into services, to welcoming homosexuals and performing intermarriages, to allowing non-Jews to join congregations. At the same time, Reform and Conservative rabbis, and some Orthodox ones, have put ever-greater emphasis on progressive politics, under the rubric of tikkun olam. Lockshin argues that not only have such attempts to revitalize Judaism failed, but they may even be counterproductive:

Rabbis often avoid telling their congregants that Judaism demands anything specifically Jewish of them. . . . In many synagogues, one specific political ideology reigns, and a congregant who does not share that ideology feels uncomfortable. When synagogues do mention Jews’ “obligations,” often they are to causes that are not specifically Jewish. . . . Many rabbis report adjusting what they preach about. Some hesitate to talk about God. Twenty percent of rabbis fear “some kind of sanction or retribution from their congregants for voicing their honest opinions about Israel.”

In a culture that values autonomy, synagogues often promote Judaism as a way to reach personal fulfilment and add meaning to life. . . . It’s hard to be optimistic about the current approach of synagogues as a long-term strategy. Jews whose Judaism consists primarily of advocating for gay rights and fighting against gun violence and human trafficking are likely to discover that these causes can be more effectively promoted outside the synagogue. Even Jews who go to a synagogue because they like the music or meditation it offers are likely to discover that moving music, even spiritual music, may be more easily found outside of synagogues.

What synagogues have to offer that cannot be found anywhere else is instruction and exhortation on living a Jewish life. When they emphasize core Jewish values, they create a sense of solidarity, community, and even exclusivity that cannot be rivaled. When they discuss Jewish texts and teachings, they get people to consider their own values and behavior and maybe even try to improve their lives. Some of that still goes on in every synagogue, but perhaps it’s time to make it more front and center.

Read more at Canadian Jewish News

More about: American Judaism, Synagogues, Tikkun Olam


Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security