How Conservative Judaism Got Everything Right but Religion

Reflecting on his intensely Jewish upbringing, with parents who were active members of a Conservative synagogue and who sent him to Conservative day schools, Gil Troy wonders why neither he nor his brothers remained loyal to what was once American Jewry’s largest denomination. Rather than move to Reform or lose their synagogue affiliation altogether, Troy’s brothers both became Orthodox, while he himself observes Shabbat and kashrut, even if he prefers the term “traditional.” Troy tries to explain why the once-vibrant movement “flopped.”

Conservative Judaism neutered the most powerful forces that historically kept Jews Jewish. Worshipping their new promised land, lay Conservative Jews turned binding Jewish law into pick-and-choose Jewish folk-law. Judaism’s systematic way of life suddenly offered a smorgasbord, not a predetermined menu. God became a pen pal at best, never a police officer nor a higher authority.

Conservative Judaism schooled us in basic Americanism, treating religion as voluntary, pragmatic, almost transactional. These elective traditions were nice, fun, lovely, meaningful; consecrated by history, but obviously not sanctified by God. Words like holiness, sanctity, spirit, soul, even belief, were exotic strangers in our homes, schools, and synagogues.

When it came to prayer, we learned communal singing, not what it means to commune with God. As for God, He—or She—was MIA. One rabbi told me that his bar- and bat-mitzvah kids usually believed in God, but their parents didn’t; so by sixteen, the kids caught up.

In biblical terms, it was Conservative Judaism’s godlessness that failed; our God was never jealous but flexible, eminently adaptable.

Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: American Judaism, Conservative Judaism


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus