What Conservative Judaism Can Learn from Chabad

Nov. 20 2019

On Yom Kippur this year, Elliot Cosgrove—rabbi of one of the world’s largest Conservative congregations—began his sermon by speaking of the final two rebbes of the Lubavitcher Ḥasidim, and their unlikely decision to encourage their followers to find secular and unaffiliated Jews and encourage them to do just one mitzvah: putting on t’filin, lighting Shabbat candles, or placing a mezuzah on their doorways. Praising this approach, Cosgrove recalls that in his youth, American Jewry assumed that the Holocaust, Israel, and anti-Semitism could serve as “the threefold mystic cord that we could always count on” to keep Jews bound to their tradition and heritage. Yet this triad has manifestly lost its power. Only doing mitzvot, Jewish deeds, can be counted on to maintain Judaism. (Audio and video are available at the link below.)

Mitzvot are the chords—the commitments and commandments—the sparks that can inspire individual and collective Jewish identity. The proud performance of Jewish deeds that are not contingent on the Shoah, that have nothing to do with how we feel about Israel, and that exist independently of anti-Semitism. Let me be clear: I am not talking about being kind, about a nebulous plea to live according to some inchoate set of Jewish values. I am talking about kashrut, about prayer, about Torah study, about coming to shul, about ts’dakah and yes—t’filin and Shabbat candles, too. I am talking about the Jewish obligation and opportunity to perform distinctly Jewish acts on your own and in the company of other Jews. I am talking about mitzvot.

There, I finally said it. It’s been more than a decade, and I am saying the very thing a rabbi is supposed to say: I am asking you to do mitzvot. . . .

[M]itzvot are the gestures that we make, the rituals we do to express our vertical relationship to the divine. . . . It was Louis Finkelstein, the late chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who reflected: “When I pray, I speak to God; when I study Torah, God speaks to me.” When I light Shabbat candles, when I put on t’filin every day, when I refrain from eating from one side of the menu in favor of the other, I am—to use Abraham Joshua Heschel’s language—taking a leap of action. I am giving expression to a vertical relationship to a God in heaven who exists well beyond the limitations of speech. Mitzvot are the sacred vocabulary that a Jew draws upon to express his or her relationship with the divine. . . .

Our lives are filled with rituals: timebound, dietary, and seasonal. We go to Soul Cycle; we go to yoga. . . . We carve out time for marathons, we shlep to the new workout in SoHo, and we freeze on the sidelines of our children’s club sports in God knows where. We can prioritize just fine—when we deem something to be a priority! American Jews are full of mitzvot, just not the Jewish ones. I want you to take on the Jewish ones!

Read more at Park Avenue Synagogue

More about: Chabad, Conservative Judaism, Judaism, Mitzvot

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy