May 17, 2009

JPost: "'Kaddish comment presents opportunity for inter-Jewish dialogue'"

The Jerusalem Post Internet Edition

'Kaddish comment presents opportunity for inter-Jewish dialogue'

Controversy aroused by an interview in The Jerusalem Post that pitted Orthodoxy against Conservative and Reform Judaism could be used as a springboard for cross-denominational dialogue, according to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, incoming executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly.

Schonfeld was reacting to an interview with Chancellor of Yeshiva University Rabbi Norman Lamm in which he predicted the imminent demise of the Conservative and Reform movements.

"With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative movements," said Lamm in an interview that appeared in the Post last Monday.

"Rabbi Lamm's interview and the controversy it has sparked should be a reminder that the future of the Jewish people lies, above all else, in maintaining constructive dialogue among all streams of Judaism," Schonfeld said in a telephone interview from Chicago on Thursday night.

"We and our esteemed Orthodox brothers and sisters share a common commitment to practice and mitzvot. And I believe that both sides can learn - they from us and us from them."

Schonfeld called to take advantage of the flurry of reactions Lamm's remarks sparked in the blog world and in the Jewish media to foster more cooperation among Orthodox, Conservative and Reform streams of Judaism.

"The assembly and the movement are always interested in cooperation with Orthodox Jews, whether it be support of Israel, efforts to build world Jewish communities, or on the local level - learning and celebrating our Judaism together," said Schonfeld.

The incoming executive vice president of the worldwide association of Conservative rabbis, who will take office this summer, also pointed out that Lamm's forecast was wrong.

"He is simply incorrect, not only about Conservative Judaism, but also regarding the Reform Movement. Both are full of vitality and full of interest in every aspect of Jewish life and continue to celebrate their growth."

As an example of the Conservative Movement's vitality Schonfeld pointed to the establishment of Hekhsher Tzedek, which sets ethical criteria for kosher supervision, such as fair pay and moral treatment of workers, as well as strictly ritual criteria.

"The enormous popularity and success of Hekhsher Tzedek has captured the interest of the Jewish community at large, including many of Rabbi Lamm's Orthodox constituents who are in agreement with my colleague, Rabbi Morris Allen's call that we take ethical mitzvot as seriously as ritual ones in the preparation of kosher food."

Hekhsher Tzedek was established after suspicions were raised of serious violations of workers' rights at Agriprocessors, a slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa under Orthodox kashrut supervision.

"The most inspiring moral voice heard when the Agriprocessors story broke was [Conservative] Rabbi Morris Allen's. It is regrettable that others did not make their voice heard as well," Schonfeld said.

"But this is proof that the Conservative Movement has a role in emphasizing the ethical as well as the ritual aspects of Jewish observance."

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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