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Saturday, January 13, 2007

More on The Conservative Gay Survey From The Jewish Week

There are days when I sit at my computer and wonder if its just family and friends reading this blog (and logging in 300x a day) Then there are days like today, where you see the actual proof of our words getting out.

Last week, I wrote a piece about the survey I received from the Jewish Theological Seminary about many issues facing Conservative Jewry today. To my surprise when I read the online version of The Jewish Week this morning, I found an article by Stewart Ain talking about the Survey and the Blog world's reaction. Much of the blog world part came from Yid With Lid and the comments of our readers.

The full article is below.

Bloggers are having a field day with a survey e-mailed last week to rabbis, cantors, educators and lay leaders of the Conservative movement to learn their views on same-sex marriage and whether active gays should be ordained as clergy.

The eight-part confidential survey, compiled and distributed by the movement's Jewish Theological Seminary asked whether the respondents felt proud to be a Conservative Jew when they learned that the movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards had adopted two conflicting opinions on those issues, one in favor and one opposed. The same question asked also if they felt confused or even somewhat embarrassed.

The survey also asked broader questions, including whether it was a mistake for the Law Committee years ago to have sanctioned riding to shul on Shabbat; whether Conservative Judaism is a halachic (Jewish law) movement; whether the Torah was written by people and not by Divine inspiration; whether Conservative rabbis should be permitted to perform interfaith marriages; and whether those who walk to synagogue on Shabbat are really Orthodox.

It also sought to learn how the respondents believed the decisions would influence the movement, and also about their personal observance and beliefs. Among the questions asked was whether they eat in non-kosher restaurants, eat warmed fish or meat in such restaurants, keep a kosher home, fast at least part of the day on Tisha b'Av, attend Sabbath services at least three times a month, refrain from shopping and turning on and off lights on Shabbat.

The survey is expected to guide the incoming JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen in deciding the seminary's gay ordination policy.

One blogger known as Yid with Lid wrote that he completed the survey and then wrote a response in which he said the Conservative movement tries to be all things to all people, and there is no consistency between shuls. When you try to please everyone, you please no one. ... The leaders of the Conservative movement need to sit down and define itself. Is it going to continue to be a hodgepodge, a little of this, a little of that with no clear halacha or Jewish law he asked.

Another blogger called Frum with Questions, said he too completed the survey and found the questions straightforward but he said he did not understand what they are trying to accomplish.

Another blogger named Jill [Writes Like She Talks] who said she is a board member of a Conservative synagogue in Cleveland said she questions the movement all the time and is encouraged to do that, and for me that's exactly what I love about it.


Jill said...

That is wild! Wow. I emailed my rabbi, exec director and board president. Hopefully I won't be kicked out (THAT'S A JOKE!) Gee, Blog Author, maybe we need to team up more often in our writing!

FrumWithQuestions said...

Good thing that I am anonymous otherwise I would be getting a lot of phone calls. I guess I have to but the Jewish Week this week and might have to reveal to relatives that its me since they all read the paper.

Jill said...

Frumw/Q: I have never, ever left an anonymous comment even though I know there are reasons why people do so - legitimate ones. However, after this incident, I'm thinking that depending on what I have to say, I may either need to not comment as much or do it with an anonymous tag. Not sure. It's not fair to my shul and yet I think sharing experiences like mine are really important.

Yid With Lid said...

I have to tell you..neither one of you said anything that you should be anonymous for. Recently I did tons of posts regarding a Kasrut issue up in NY. Most of the people that commented didnt even put their blog or screen name. Usually those were the posts that were nasty or spreading Loshen hora about the situation. On my blog I tend not to post anonymous comments.
This is a community. Comments are supposed to elicit "conversation"
And if the press covers our conversation thats great, it means that our opinions have more of a chance to be heard. Please keep commenting, pro and con and lets have more discussions.

FrumWithQuestions said...

I am going to add to what I said on your blog with the survey and link it to my previous articles which I wrote on the topic. I am not so anonymous to the real professional bloggers who figured out who I was. By professional bloggers I am talking about the ones that live in my neighborhood who would be able to figure it out based on my posts.

Yid With Lid said...

Well since I do not live near you, I have no Idea, but if you would like exchange notes, feel free to email me at

Jill said...

I ditto Yw/L's comment - I am sure that at least right now, I don't know who you are. But that is okay - that is your choice - no matter how curious I might get! :)

FrumWithQuestions said...

One reason why I continue to be anonymous is because my wife says she gets embarrassed by some of the stuff I post and I guess people woould bug her about some of the stuff I say. Even though I don't say anything offensive some people do get angry with some of the things I say. YWL judging by your age and where I assume you live and the shul you might go to, you might know my family.

fiercely unaffiliated said...

I recall 13 years ago when the Toronto Conservative congregation I grew up in decided to go egalitarian (somewhat). While I would classify myself as "traditional", for lack of a better term, I had a somewhat open mind to this, probably because I have been blessed with four daughters. What disturbed me most about the move was that its main proponents were among least observant people I knew in that shul. It's not as if they were proposing more attention to mitzvot. It's not as if they were proposing more effort directed to learning. It was not for the promotion of tikkun olam. It just had to do with how the Shul service appealed to them. Had these people been promoting the above before they latched on to egalitarianism their position might have had more merit.

The board did encourage some (not a lot of) discussion but in trying to sell the idea they brought in the Chancellor of JTS, Dr. Ithamar Schorsh. In his comments Dr. Schorsh posited that egalitarianism was important because the synagogue had to be relevant to its members as it was the centre of Jewish life.
This, more or less, laid bare the movement's position. The synagogue is the only institution that matters in Jewish life. What we do outside of shul is , at best, of secondary importance, or, at worst, of little relevance.

What about the home? What about how we carry on in the world at large? The vast majority of the mitzvot are not observed in a shul at all. This did not appear to matter.

While I had been considering my exit from the movement for some time this gave me the final impetus and I have been fiercely unaffiliated since. (Don't worry. I go to lots of shuls now, regularly participating at four different places each week.)

This recent decision is completely consistent with the position Dr. Schorsh laid down. It's OK to be gay, just not in shul. We are not concerned with your life outside of this institution.

In Shemot 25:8 Hashem commands "V'asu li mikdash, v'shachanti b'tochum". This is quite often translated as "and they will build me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them". This would be an asmachta for Dr. Schorsh. Hashem hangs out with us when we build one central institution.

However the grammar can also allow for it to mean that when each of us builds a "holy place" Hashem hangs out in all of them. This would refer to the home. Jewish life is maintained through the home. Jews have maintained traditions in places devoid of synagogues (my grandparents, being a case in point) because of their home life. What we do outside of shul actually matters considerably more than what we do within its confines.

As long the Conservative movement remains centred on synagogue affairs it is doomed.