Apr 28, 2011

"Jewish Networking: Linking People, Institutions, Community" - a Jewish Leadership Session with Bay Area Masorti, based on the vision of Rabbi Hayim Herring. June 1 at 7:30pm.
Stay Tuned!

Rabbi Reuven Hammer in JPost: "Yom HaShoah: The Saddest Day of All"

The Saddest Day of All

Rabbi Reuven Hammer


When Passover comes, the two newest sacred days of the Jewish calendar are not far behind: Yom HaShoah v'HaG'vurah and Yom HaAtzmaut. Without positing a causal link between them, these two days commemorate the two most significant events in modern Jewish history and the polar opposites that they represent. Yom HaShoah signifies the worst tragedy we have ever experienced, that which brought the Jewish People as close to extinction as we have ever been. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates the great triumph of our return to our national home, the phoenix –like resurrection of the Jewish People from the ashes of near destruction.


To my mind, Yom HaShoah is the saddest and most tragic day of the Jewish year. Nothing even remotely like it ever occurred before. The systematic destruction of six million individuals, one third of our people, the elimination of a great center of Jewish life and learning, it is beyond imagining. Each year I listen to the reading of Megillat HaShoah, a liturgical retelling of the events of the Shoah that was written by Avigdor Shinan under the auspices of a special committee of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Schechter Institute. It is chanted aloud in synagogues throughout the world, and I contemplate an event that I cannot begin to comprehend. I ask myself questions about it and I read many excellent books that describe aspects of it, and I still cannot grasp fully what happened and why. That human beings could do what the Germans and others under their leadership did is almost inconceivable. We know that there is an evil inclination in all of us, but this goes beyond the meaning even of 'evil.' And that it was the work of a nation that was highly cultured and had contributed to humanity some of the greatest works of literature and music and philosophy is beyond understanding. As Abraham Heschel remarked, his problem was not so much where was God, but where was man.


It is clear that many things contributed to the rise of Nazism's plan to rid the world, once and for all,of the Jewish People. Among them was Europe's long history of anti-Semitism, which was at least as strong in France as it was in Germany. Another was the built in anti-Jewish teachings of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant. The accusation of Jews as killers of God taught in every Church and religious school had its effect. But at least the Church had a teaching that Jews should be kept in misery but should be kept alive to show what happens to those who reject the son of God. Nazism taught that they should be denied life. As a matter of fact it taught that Jews were not human, they were a kind of vermin that should be eradicated just as you would kill rats. If there is anything that we can learn from the Shoah it is that is it forbidden to categorize human beings as inferior beings, or that any group is superior to any other.


I am also appalled when I hear people – Jews or non-Jews – using the term Nazi to describe anyone or any actions. To hear Israeli policemen castigated as Nazis, as we do all too often, is beyond the pale. To call anyone a Hitler is to show a lack of sensitivity and a lack of understanding as to what Hitler stood for. The Shoah was no less than the coldly calculated industrial plan of how to use technology to eliminate an entire people, to create death camps, to purposely deprive human beings of the status of being human and reduce them to ashes, one by one, until no Jew would remain alive. It desecrates the memory of the Six Million and denigrates their tragedy for anyone to use the Shoah in any political way or to promote any particular agenda, left or right, religious or secular. Let it be a day of remembrance and mourning, of tribute to those who suffered, those who perished and those who offered help and comfort. Let it be a time when we reaffirm the value of all human life and our right to live proudly as Jews, equal members of the human race.

Apr 27, 2011

Parashat Kedoshim 5771: “Intense and Holy”

Parashat Kedoshim 5771: "Intense and Holy" 
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

It is precisely in the intense moments of disagreement that love is tested.

Parashat Acharei Mot begins amidst the immediate aftermath of the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, who brought uninvited incense-offerings upon the dedication of the Tabernacle and were themselves devoured by a "fire from God" (Lev. 10:2). With barely a blink, Aaron is now commanded to prepare for the Yom Kippur ritual (Lev. 16), including an incense offering, similar to (and in the exact location of) his son's deaths.

If we are brave enough to enter this excruciating moment, not as detached readers, but as living participants in the narrative, what does this sequence of events do to us? What must it have been like for Aaron, who is, during the Yom Kippur ritual (called the Avodah), our emmisary to God. On this holiest of days, and in the holiest of places, Aaron (the holiest person) enters a moment of the deepest vulnerability for the entire People Israel, let alone for a grieving father. What if something went wrong? And how could he be expected to get it right?

The second of the two Torah Portions for this Shabbat might contain a counterpoint to the burden of the first.

The command "Kedoshim Tihiyu, Be Holy (Lev. 19:2)" has been variously translated as "be distinct (Rashi)", or "be intense (Rabbi Yitz Greenberg)," but what is textually true regardless is the end of the verse, "Ki Kadosh Ani/For I [God] am holy."

To be Kadosh is to be like God. What does this mean? It is clearly impossible for a person to be God, and yet the verse seems to make that very demand. Amplify the challenge through the unfathomable emotions within Aaron in this moment and the question becomes exponentially demanding. Is an encounter with God, an intentional act of resemblance, even desirable in this moment, in a moment of serious pain?

Following this most difficult of questions, we encounter the hardest of the laws enumerated as the recipe for being/becoming Kadosh:

"You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Correct your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am Adonai. (Lev. 19:17-18)"

This is one of the rare occaisions when the Torah legislates emotion. It's not only that I may not act hatefully – I am forbidden from even silent hatred. Additionally, the very next pathway to holiness is one wich defies successful execution: correcting someone else. When is the last time you were corrected by someone else? How did it feel? When was the last time you corrected someone else and it was well-received? How many of us choose to avoid the encounter altogether, given the discomfort of confrontation? As the rabbis of the Talmud observed:

Rabbi Tarfon said, "I would be very surprised if there is anyone in this generation that can accept criticism." Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria responded, "I doubt if there is anyone in this generation that knows how to give criticism." (TB Arachin 16b).

Successful criticism is both near-impossible, and also a mitzvah. Avoidance in the face of tension is not a holy choice.

Perhaps there is a connection between the imperatives to correct and to not hate. If you truly love someone, you feel connected to them. If I witness a dear friend making (what I consider to be) a mistake, what does it mean when I remain silent? I would therefore be willing to let the mistake impact his life, the community, the world, while I remain uninvolved because it's easier. Then I might begin to feel anger and resentment towards him in my heart, violating both the beginning and the end of the verse. Consequently, the following verse might begin to become true as well. Festering resentment in my heart might lead me to lash out in (misplaced) retribution – all because I failed, as the verses end, to "love my fellow-person as myself."

Loving someone means being willing to encounter them without controlling them. Being in love opens me, makes me vulnerable, to criticism, to being encountered and responded to.

If my goal is to be alone, I can afford to ignore these instructions. But through the healthy relationships that demand the occasional sharing of loving criticism, relationships are most real. It takes serious strength to be such a community – bound by the commitment to each other, by the shared aspiration of holiness. It is also the best recipe for family – unconditional love despite (and especially during) passionate dispute.

Aaron's experience is simply incomprehensible. How, in a moment of excrutiating vulnerability, did he manage to even show up? How could he stand to encounter God, to hold an incense pan? How could he hold the conflicting emotions of sadness, anger, duty, love and faith in his heart? We will never know the answers to these questions, and may we never experience anything near as traumatic.

In our individual and communal pursuits of holiness, though, let us never imagine that remaining calm and untouched is the goal. It is unnerving to look someone in the eyes, especially during a moment in which there is a weighty disagreement that divides one person from another. But it is also precisely in that most intense of moments, the unbearable and visceral connection one person can share with another, that alone-ness is vanquished, that community is born.

It is, perhaps, precisely in that moment that we encounter God most directly: in the eyes of another, and through loving enough to be powerful parts of each other's lives.

May we be blessed to experience the demanding vitality of such Jewish communities wherever we are. 

May we dedicate ourselves to building communities worth the intense and holy effort.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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tabletmag.com: "Supply & Demands: The major movements of American Judaism require congregations to follow their rules when hiring clergy."

[note: I find this article fascinating, especially because the Placement Process has truly been most championed by the USCJ (this is one of the only reasons for USCJ-synagogue dues), not the Rabbinical Assembly.  An open placement field, unrestricted by synagogue dues, would give RA Rabbis a much-needed expanded job net! - rc]

Supply and Demands

The major movements of American Judaism require congregations to follow their rules when hiring clergy. A Duke law professor, a leader at his synagogue, says the restrictions create an illegal monopoly.


BY ALLISON HOFFMAN | Apr 27, 2011 7:00 AM

CREDIT: David Shankbone/Wikipedia Commons

When Loyola University in Chicago convenes its annual colloquium on antitrust law Friday, the assembled lawyers will review the landmark breakup of theStandard Oil [1] monopoly, a hundred years ago. They will discuss policy on mergers and the state of European intellectual-property law. They will listen to a lunchtime keynote from a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, Edith Ramirez. And, sandwiched in the middle, they will hear a presentation from a Duke University law professor titled "An Antitrust Analysis of the Rabbi Cartel."

The "cartel" in question is the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, which tightly governs the placement of rabbis with member synagogues across the country—a delicate matchmaking process whose result is often a major determinant of whether a congregation will thrive. The professor, Barak Richman, is a lay leader at his synagogue in Durham, N.C., and has spent the last eight months developing his claim that what started as a way to make sure that far-flung synagogues got their fair pick of rabbis graduating from the seminaries—and to prevent internecine poaching of successful clergy between competing synagogues—may today run afoul of the same federal antitrust statutes that brought down Rockefeller's oil empire.

In Richman's view, the Rabbinical Assembly and its analogues in the Reform and Reconstructionist movements use their oversight of the hiring process to threaten the autonomy and, at a fundamental level, the independent spirit of individual synagogues. (Richman excludes the rabbinic association of Modern Orthodoxy, known as the Rabbinical Council of America, from his analysis.) "Each placement system imposes severe restrictions on the labor market for pulpit rabbis without creating any identifiable pro-competitive benefit," Richman wrote in his paper [2]. "These rabbinic organizations are acting to advance their own commercial interests to the detriment of the welfare of consumers, namely the congregations and congregants who hire and ultimately benefit from a rabbi's services."

The argument lays bare a facet of Jewish life that remains obscured to the vast majority of American Jews today, who think of their congregations as independent religious communities and who are far less likely than their grandparents to know—or care—about the umbrella movements. But the rabbis' and cantors' professional associations do what secular professional associations do: maintain standards, facilitate hiring, and organize pensions. Under the current system, rabbis and cantors seeking jobs declare their candidacy through their movements' placement offices, rather than operating as free agents. On the other side of the equation, synagogues agree to accept panels of candidates screened by the central placement authorities, rather than posting their jobs on public job boards or recruiting privately. Rabbis and cantors follow the rules in order to protect their access to future jobs at their movements' synagogues; congregations, most of which go through the hiring process only infrequently, follow the rules because it's easier and to preserve their good standing within their movements. Bucking the system requires an appeals process that can, in some cases, cost congregations, and rabbis, matches that both sides hope to make.

The idea that American synagogues are, at such a fundamental level, subject to a centralized leadership is a foreign one to most of their members—there is, after all, no Chief Rabbi in this country and no sense that a Jew in Pittsburgh is somehow answerable to an authority in New York, let alone in Jerusalem. The question of what the appropriate relationship between synagogue and movement should be is emerging at a moment when the Conservative movement, in particular, is painfully aware of the need to re-engage its constituents; indeed, its annual conference, last month, was devoted to the issue of rebranding [3]. It underscores the degree to which mainstream synagogues feel the movements have hampered their efforts to attract younger Jews at a time when independent minyans and other groups are succeeding with a less institutional approach to Jewish practice. And it dovetails with a general decline in support for unions—which the rabbinic associations, in some sense, are—among a younger generation accustomed to union-busting. But Richman's claim, first set out in a Forward op-ed [4] last September, is that the movements' constraints on rabbinic hiring aren't just run-of-the-mill Jewish parochial concerns—it's that they're actually illegal.


Grumbling over the rules imposed by the rabbis' and cantors' professional associations is, by itself, nothing new. The issue was explored at length a decade ago by the journalist Stephen Fried in his book The New Rabbi [5], in which seniority rules restricting hiring by large synagogues became a major plot point, once the Conservative Philadelphia congregation at the heart of the story decided it wanted to promote its young assistant rabbi rather than hire a more experienced stranger from somewhere else to replace its retiring senior rabbi. (The Rabbinical Assembly eventually bent its rules to accommodate the synagogue, Har Zion, one of the largest and most powerful in the country.) And the idea that the movements might use their control over the hiring process to influence theological decisions by its member rabbis surfaced in 2005, when Ayelet Cohen, a Conservative rabbi, complained to the New York Times that she was being punished [6]by the Rabbinical Assembly placement committee because she had officiated same-sex weddings. (The movement responded [7] that Cohen was only being called out for violating the terms of a waiver allowing her to work at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, a largely gay and lesbian Manhattan synagogue that is unaffiliated with any major movement; the Conservative movement voted the following year to allow its members to marry gay couples.)

The current system emerged in the 1960s to impose order on what was largely an ad hoc process, according to Marc Lee Raphael, professor of Judaic Studies at the College of William and Mary and author of a new history, The Synagogue in America [8]. "In the old days, and this was true at the Orthodox seminary and the Conservative seminary and the Reform seminary, the chancellor of the seminary just told new rabbis what pulpits they were going to," said Raphael, who also serves as rabbi of a Reform pulpit in Maryland. "The next step was the old boys' network, where the president of the synagogue would call a guy and say, 'We're twice as large and pay twice as much and why don't you come over.' So, the placement process replaced two terrible ways of hiring rabbis."

But the core of Richman's argument, which has not been tested in any court, is that the rabbis' professional associations organized their system in a way that violates the terms of the Sherman Act, which was passed in 1890 to combat the power of the railroad and oil monopolies, and later helped break up the Bell System. Rather than operating as a neutral clearinghouse, the hiring process run by the rabbinic associations is structured to limit both member rabbis and affiliated synagogues from using other avenues for making hires. And it turns out there is precedent for using the Sherman Act against secular professional associations for just this kind of behavior: In 1995, the Justice Department successfully sued [9] the American Bar Association, the body governing the legal profession, on the grounds that it was using its cartel power to unfairly manipulate law schools into guaranteeing higher salaries for law faculties.

Richman's crusade against the Rabbinical Assembly emerged from his personal frustration with a system that prevented his Conservative synagogue, Beth El [10], from interviewing Reconstructionist candidates to replace its retiring senior rabbi, who had been ordained in the Reconstructionist movement and obtained a waiver to preside over the congregation when it was still a Jewish backwater, decades before the universities in the area's Research Triangle emerged as a hot destination for young academics, many of them Jewish. His initial salvo in the Forward elicited a statement from the Rabbinical Assembly asserting that its system "encourages talented individuals to enter and remain in the profession" and thereby "benefits not only rabbis and their families, but the Jewish community as a whole." (Representatives of the Rabbinical Assembly did not respond immediately to phone and email messages left seeking comment; Richman declined to speak to Tablet Magazine on the record, citing potential legal action against the Rabbinical Assembly.)

But Richman is far from alone. Congregation Beth Elohim, a popular Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, ran into difficulty earlier this year over its efforts to hire a star cantorial student on the verge of graduation named Joshua Breitzer. Under the ranking system used by the American Conference of Cantors—Reform cantors' equivalent of the Rabbinical Assembly—Beth Elohim was required to hire a cantor with more than three years of experience. In order to hire Breitzer, the synagogue had to appeal for a special waiver, which it eventually won. But the process took so long that they nearly lost their candidate to another congregation that could offer a job without waiting for secondary approvals. "In the end, we got who we wanted," Beth Elohim's rabbi, Andy Bachman, says now, "but it was an unnecessary wringer that we needed to go through."

Part of the problem is that having a national office act in any substantive capacity is antithetical to the idea of local control. "I'm happy with how everything worked out, but down low, on a personal level, nothing was going to stop me from getting the best cantor, or the best rabbi, I could for our congregation, whether it was someone who was Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist," Bachman said. "We don't need the national movement to tell us what Jews in Brooklyn need—we know what Jews in Brooklyn need."

It's an irony Richman notes in his paper: The approach taken by the movement may in fact be strangling the very community it purports to support. "It amounts to an effort to deprive local congregations of the very autonomy and self-determination that has fueled the blossoming of diverse Jewish experiences for two thousand years," Richman writes. "Were the rabbinical organizations to adopt less restrictive rules that were consistent with the Sherman Act—rules that empower individual communities and defer to the preferences of both congregants and rabbis—it would kindle the passions and empower the dynamism that Jewish communities have shown over time."

Article printed from Tablet Magazine: http://www.tabletmag.com

URL to article: http://www.tabletmag.com/life-and-religion/65931/supply-and-demands/

URLs in this post:

[1] Standard Oil: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Oil_Co._of_New_Jersey_v._United_States

[2] paper: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1808005

[3] rebranding: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-conservative-jews-20110412,0,4863581.story?page=1

[4] op-ed: http://www.forward.com/articles/131723/

[5] The New Rabbi: http://www.stephenfried.com/rabbi/rabbibook.html

[6] punished: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/14/nyregion/14rabbi.html?_r=1

[7] responded: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B03E0D6163BF934A15752C0A9639C8B63

[8] The Synagogue in America: http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookId=393

[9] sued: http://www.justice.gov/atr/cases/americ1.htm

[10] Beth El: http://www.betheldurham.org/rabbi/

Copyright © 2011 Tablet Magazine. All rights reserved.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
To join Rabbi Creditor's email list, send a blank email to thetisch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

Apr 24, 2011

Rabbi Ed Feinstein: "This is our Movement. This is our Moment."

This is our Movement. This is our Moment.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein

This past month, I was asked to join a panel on the Future of Conservative Judaism at the Rabbinical Assembly convention in Las Vegas. My remarks were meant for my colleagues in the room. It turns out that what happens in Vegas doesn't actually stay there, and my remarks have found their way to numerous newspapers. What the newspaper quotations failed to report was the sadness that accompanied my remarks. I was raised in a family deeply involved in a Conservative synagogue. I met my wife in USY; I found my identity and calling at Ramah; I learned Torah in the institutions of this Movement. I am alarmed at its condition. I hoped that my remarks might bring some movement toward remedy and repair. I still have that hope. 


We are in big trouble.

There is no demographic that offers optimism for the Conservative Movement's future. Not one. Read Steven Cohen's studies. He gives us seven years to live.


Consider: The United Synagogue has shrunk from a peak of 900 congregations to a current affiliation of 660 congregations. The majority of United Synagogue affiliated congregations have a membership under 200 families, and more than half of them are in serious financial difficulty. USY has shrunk by a third. Look at the RA Placement list:  We are graduating bright, committed rabbis, but we have few jobs to offer them. As a movement, we are older than Reform and Orthodoxy, and growing older still. Yes, we have done a remarkable job educating our children in Solomon Schechter schools and Ramah camps. But we have failed to attract them back to our communities. Instead, they find their spiritual home in Orthodox circles, or they form non-denominational minyanim. They want nothing to do with us.


We are in big trouble.


Perhaps this doesn't matter. Perhaps denominational Judaism is obsolete and we're better off without the institutional baggage of national organizations. When my budget chairman asks me, what do we get for all the money we send to United Synagogue? – I hear this question. I believe that Judaism is an embodied spirituality. It is lived, and practiced, and cultivated, and celebrated in community. And community needs the structure of institutions to thrive. Institutions, no matter how robust they appear, are fragile. Once torn down and destroyed, they are very difficult to replace or rebuild. That's why I volunteered, as part of the Hayom Coalition, to work on a strategic plan for United Synagogue. I have never been a fan of the USCJ.  But to lose our national congregational structure would be a terrible blow to Conservative Judaism in North America.  


Why are we facing this situation? Let's consider three possibilities.


1. Big Ideas. Religious movements fail when their ideas fail. Does Conservative Judaism have big ideas? Yes. In fact, its ideas are so big that everyone else in the Jewish community wants them. The Reform Movement's move toward tradition -- its discovery that spirituality without a language of mitzvah, of normative obligation, leads to narcissism – Reform Judaism is sounding an awful lot like us.  Modern Orthodoxy's move to embrace Bat Mitzvah, to advocate women's Torah study and women's minyanim, and now the introduction of the ordination of women as Orthodox "Rabbah" – Modern Orthodoxy is sounding like us. This is not triumphalism. It is a recognition that the core ideas of Conservative Judaism speaks to the condition of the contemporary Jew.


So why isn't it speaking to our Jews?


Rabbis tend to be philosophical idealists. We believe in ideas.  And so we are tempted to believe that somewhere out there is an idea – or a way of articulating an idea – that will bring Jews home to the synagogue and to Jewish living. Philosophical idealism, these days, comes wrapped in the language of marketing.  There is talk of "messaging" and "branding" or "re-branding" our Movement. My friend, David Wolpe urges us to articulate a message that can fit on a bumper-sticker. Chabad champions "Torah True Judaism." Wolpe offers "The Judaism of Relationship." Others argue that we need to change our name. "Conservative" connotes exactly the opposite of what we'd like to project.


They're all right. But it is not sufficient. No new name or no new slogan is going to revive our Movement. And the danger of worshipping at the altar of marketing is that younger Jews, raised in a media-saturated universe, are wary of anything that seems contrived to sell. They seek authenticity above all else. And authenticity is defined as that which cannot be marketed.


We do need new ideas. We do need a clear message. But we need something more.


2. Big Personalities. Religion is intensely personal. At the heart of great religious movements we find great personalities. This is what astonishes me: How can a movement led by a soul as gifted as Arnie Eisen be failing? How can a movement that produces David Wolpe and Jeremy Kalmonefsky, Brad Artson and Danny Nevins, Elliot Dorff and Neil Gillman, how can we be failing? It's impossible.


Unless we recognize a third possibility.


3. Organization. When I started working on the problem of rebuilding United Synagogue, it struck me that the institutions of the Conservative Movement were incredibly dysfunctional. And then I came to realize something. They're not dysfunctional. They were designed this way.


The architect of the Conservative Movement was Solomon Schechter. Schechter loved American democracy. So he set up the institutions of the Conservative Movement to replicate the checks and balances of American democracy. The Seminary, United Synagogue, the RA were intentionally set at odds with each other so that no one could gain power over the others. Add in Womens League, the Mens Clubs, the other professional associations, altogether about 17 national organizations that represent Conservative Judaism in North America, and what do you get? You get leaders but no leadership.


We have a camping movement and a youth movement….but they don't talk to one another. And neither one talks with the people who run our day schools. Who in turn don't ever talk to the people who consult or lead supplementary religious schools. And no one talks to those who lead synagogues.


Leaders, but no leadership.


Our Seminaries prepare rabbis and cantors to lead congregations. And we have the two most brilliant scholars of congregational life in America – Jack Wertheimer and Ron Wolfson. Both Jack and Ron tried to build institutes devoted to researching synagogues and training a new generation of congregational leadership for our movement. And both failed to find support. So they gave up and took their efforts elsewhere.


Leaders, but no leadership.


We have no one who is responsible to visit Ramah camps each summer and our Solomon Schechter schools to recruit and inspire our best kids to take up leadership in our movement. We have great leaders – Julie Schoenfeld, Steve Wernick, and Arnold Eisen. But the structure of our so-called movement does not allow them to lead.


Even if we embrace David Wolpe's proposal to articulate a clear, concise message, who would be its advocate? Even if we had a message, we have no messenger.


Perhaps Schechter's structure of institutions worked in the early 20th Century. It's killing us now. I submit to you that the organizational chaos of the Conservative Movement threatens our future. And until we fix it, nothing else will save us.


So if Solomon Schechter so loved American democracy, let us do something quintessentially American: Let us call a Constitutional Convention of the Conservative Movement. Bring together the leaders of all the organizations, and rebuild the movement. Bring together our leaders to create the possibility of leadership. We will have a powerful message only when our institutions coordinate and cooperate in delivering that message.


We can continue to worry, or complain, to scorn the people who brought us to this precipice. Or we can kill the messenger and pretend it's not real. Or we can act.


This is our movement. This is our moment. We will either fix it or we will bury it. We will either integrate or disintegrate. 

It's time.  

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Congregation Netivot Shalom  || Bay Area Masorti  ||  ShefaNetwork.org 
Rabbis for Women of the Wall  ||  menachemcreditor.org 
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Apr 22, 2011

Post-Seder Questions

Post-Seder Questions
(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor

Every learning and ritual moment we share evokes something greater than the self, a connection to our own past, the past of our People, the hopes of the world.

The power of ritual to evoke memory, to bring the 'I' into a 'we' sensation, is profoundly cosmic.  One moment I'm running upstairs to put on my kittle and get the Seder started as quickly as possible, the next I'm returning downstairs with a feeling of mystery, of resembling my father at my childhood Seders, of recognizing that one day I'll be buried in this garment.  In one moment I am filled with hope that my child will ask about this garment and dread at the fulfillment of that very hope.

The Seder table is an altar, filled with symbols at once strange and familiar.  Miriam and Elijah suddenly co-exist, a relic of animal sacrifice nudges a very modern orange. Shmura matza, carefully packaged in styrofoam, skirts the orbit of a soy-based baby formula, itself a test of Pesach-kashrut boundaries.  Where are the lines drawn?  Seder is a child-centered moment, and yet we begin when it's already dark.  Adults struggle to evoke questions instead of answering them.  We wonder if we are as wise as our children as we grapple with our own abilities to ask holy questions.

Do we see children as separate from ourselves, granting them the right to stand out or blend in - as they choose?  Can we sing with purity?  With pride?  What is different about this night?  Are we the same when the Seder is complete?  (And is completion a holy goal?)  

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen writes that ritual is 'the means through which the "Jew within" steps outside the self (The Jew Within, p. 9)."  But do we consciously do this?  Are we prepared to be other-than-self for any duration?  Do we knowingly enter new roles that our parents and grandparents once did (or did not)?  Or must it be an unconscious process we only discover in retrospect?  Can the revealed-ness of the Afikomen be enacted through our claiming our places in the stream of Jewish destiny?

Is the Seder a performance, or is it an immersive ritual - or is it both?  "The problem," as Rabbi Daniel Greyber quotes the great Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel z"l as having said, "is whether we obey or whether we merely play with the word of God (Shefa Journal 5766, p. 52)."  Are we empowered to do both?

Can we open our doors to a day when God will be a source of Love and not wrath?  Do we say "Next Year in Jerusalem" with yearning?  Are we willing to see ourselves as both having emerged from and subjected to the constricting pain of Egypt?  Do we permit ourselves discomfort?  Is birth something we're willing to re-experience Are we willing to give of our souls, of our means, to build a sacred home our ancestors never dreamed possible?  Can meaningful renewal occur any other way?

Can we continue asking these questions the day after Seder? 

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