I must be skipping something in the essay, but I can't find the quotes to which you are referring in Eisen's blog posting/essay.
Perhaps you could copy and paste the entire relevant paragraph.
Although I agree that the leadership consciously avoided the articulation of a CJ platform, it's clear that from the days before Solomon Schechter assumed the helm, CJ has identified itself as the movement that has had the continuation of the rabbinic tradition – interpreting Halaḥah in context of contemporary life & knowledge – as its central normative principle (in theory, if not in actual practice).
I think that the problem is not in the lack of a guiding principle that has always defined our movement, but the 70+ years that passed before our leaders agreed that it was important to articulate the guiding principles of CJ. We all know how well Emet Ve Emunah (EVE) was received when it was published, and how integral its message has become among both the clergy and laity of our movement.
I don't think that we can have it both ways. By promoting and exemplifying a set of precepts – even across the broad ranges offered in EVE (I'm sure that at least a few other Shefanicks have a copy) – we will lose people to the left. But unless we are willing to take that risk, we will become increasingly irrelevant to those who would otherwise constitute our dynamic core. The key challenges at the moment are real estate (too many of our communities have burdensome mortgages on buildings that don't really meet the needs of their communities) and a buyer's market for rabbis (rabbis – many of whom are paying off substantial student loans - who ask too much of their congregants don't get their contracts renewed). Consequently, we have communities that focus on maximizing membership numbers – sometimes at the expense of membership engagement – and rabbis who tread very lightly when it comes to observance. Our most dynamic communities are grappling with the "Why Torah" question (per my post to the 19 May Covenant blob). After enjoying a Shabbat Kiddush conversation with a NJ rabbi, it struck me that the central question that is too rarely asked by our congregational leadership teams (profession & lay together) is "why Torah?". Put another way: "to what purpose does our Kehilla exist?"
It has been well documented that until well into the 1960's our movements leadership focused on building numbers. To do that, they consciously underplayed the communication of CJ community norms. The unintended consequence was that that today, in too many communities the professional clergy are among a tiny minority who observe Kashrut or who are Shomer Shabbat/Shomer Ḥag. That said, there are a number of communities in which the members are moving towards increased observance and lifelong learning. Our approach has much in common with the approaches followed by other movements, but CJ also has a number of unique attributes that distinguish our movement from the others. This doesn't make our movement better or worse than any other movement. It simply defines how we ask and answer the "Why Torah?" and "How Torah" questions.
Recently I've been giving considerable thought to the concept of post denominationalism. It strikes me that to be self-identified as a post-denominational Jew is akin to being self-identified as a totally independent teenager, while still living at home and being supported by ones parents or guardians. Who trains post-denominational scholars, teachers and community leaders? Who defines Halaḥah for a post-denominational Jew; keeping in mind that a person who chooses to be observant, but on their own terms falls fully into the Reform Movement's articulated normative behavior. By definition, anyone who accepts the authority of an institution like the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards is de factor a member of the movement. Anyone whose default arbitrator of Halaḥah is themselves is a de facto member of a Jewish community that is more liberal than Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox Judaism.
The elephant in our CJ room was identified most publically by Neil Gillman at the 2005 USCJ Biennial Convention in Boston. He asked: Is our normative behavior Halachic, or are we just pretending that it is. What percentage of our rabbi's live within the boundaries defined by Halaḥah? What percentage of our dues paying members do? What is our envisioned demographic apropos of Halaḥah defining normative behavior within our Kehillot? How do we get there from here? Is it even possible after so many years of expectation-free congregational life? Or as another blogger commented, have we upheld the status quo for so long that there's no hope of revitalizing CJ?
I believe that we can recover what we've lost. It won't be easy, nor will it happen in the span of 2 or 3 years. There won't be one single change process that will resonate with every Kehila, but there is a tremendous amount to be learned from our thriving Kehillot. We just need to improve our ability to share success stories.
I am curious as to what others think about this part:
"Unlike other modern Jewish streams, Conservative Judaism for much of its history did not regard itself as a "movement" in the normal sense of the word. It has not aimed to distinguish its adherents from other Jews on the basis of religious practice or belief so much as to safeguard—and creatively carry forward—the life of the Jewish people as a religious civilization."
It resonates with me.
However, it seems to me that some people sincerely believe that "not distinguishing ourselves from other Jews on the basis of religious practice" is the problem with present-day CJ; that we need to more specifically articulate what we stand for and practice what we preach.
Can we have it both ways?
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