Thursday, June 16, 2011

Re: [Shefa] Re: A LinkedIn Conversation Sparked by Chancellor Eisen's CJ Blog


I don't know where to start.
I certainly can't answer about the Air Conditioner. That is the decision of the Rabbi of the Congregation. That is why he was chosen to be their Rabbi, so he could make decisions for situations like that. I can only decide Halacha for my own community.

I think Dan is correct, at least from my point of view, about the Baal Teshuva mentality. I am unhappy, however, with how he categorizes Conservative halacha. I understand why people spin off so many ideas about how Conservative halacha works, it is because we are so open and pluralistic. But being open does not mean we don't have standards. Or, as Rabbi Joel Roth would say, "Just because we permit swordfish does not mean we have abrogated all of the rules of Kashrut".

We do tell people to live lives according to Halacha. We try and get people to think about their observance and how they can make their lives more halachic. Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not. Sometimes it take a long time before our congregants take up our call to do more and live more observant lives. We do feel that halacha is not an "all or nothing" affair. We give credit to those who try. I don't judge a family because they don't have a four course Chicken dinner for Friday night. I am happy if they light candles, say kiddush and put a white tablecloth on the table before they serve Pizza (I do prefer they buy it before candle lighting time). I don't get upset if someone who is on the Atkins diet never says Hamotzi. But then again, I can't speak for any other Rabbi in any other community.

As for community standards verses personal ones, that just is not true. You have to live in public how you live in private or you end up like some of the politicians who have gotten caught with their pants down. That is not to say that some things you say in private should never be repeated in public. Things you do with your spouse are private matters and don't belong on Jerry Springer. I don't go looking into the windows of my members on Shabbat. They use our public areas to try out living a more Halachic lifestyle. That does not mean our members can do whatever they like. They do what they do. I try to get them to do more. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes not. I don't give up on anyone. I chastise people who say mean things about other people in public. I remind my congregation not to gossip. I try to teach my congregation to speak civilly with each other (that is a work in progress). I count my blessings. I count my successes and try to learn from my failures. I don't write anyone out of my congregation because they showed up in shorts or sleeveless. I try to make sure nobody gets embarrassed in shul. I encourage people to tell the truth unless it will hurt someone else. I try to live the life I teach others. I obey Jewish and secular law. I get mad when I encounter something unjust. I work for causes I would like my congregation to work on and make room for their personal causes as well. I don't tell people to do what "feels right" I tell them to try and if they fall short, I tell them to keep trying, that being a good Jew means you don't give up on teshuva until you die.

Why is it easier to ask the questions than to answer them?

Let me sum it all up with this example;  I believe that there should be a way for homosexual couples to sanctify their marriages. That does not mean I believe that anyone, gay or straight has permission to be sexually promiscuous.It does not mean I don't hold by the rest of the prohibitions of Leviticus 19. It does not mean that one can do whatever they want in the privacy of their own home. It only means that I think Jewish Law needs to be more accepting of gay relationships in our modern era. Just because I speak up for gay couples does not mean I will speak up for those who practice incest. I don't want anyone in my congregation thinking that Incest is OK by their standards and Conservative Judaism does not speak to what we do in our homes. I am not there and I don't think our movement is there either.

It is not a matter of degree or permissiveness. of being more or less liberal. Halacha is all about doing what is right. The Torah defines for us what is right, but sometimes, Conservative Jews think the Torah got it wrong and we want to make it better. That is a REALLY messy process but Hey, life is messy. It is better to grapple with the issues than to settle for what is wrong only because it is written in a really important book.  God gave us Torah and God gave us minds. God expects us to use both. Even if it means his children will disagree from time to time.

I am going to quit here. I have probably given plenty of people enough stuff to flame me for the rest of the month.
But it is still my opinion.

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Emeth

5780 W. Atlantic Ave.
Delray Beach, FL  33484

On Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 8:59 PM, Dan Ring <> wrote:

Hi all,

I've recently joined this Shefa group, and I've found the conversation fascinating, and I've finally decided to post on this question of conservative halacha.

As I've gotten more involved in my Judaism in college, and rebelled against the haredi halacha and Judaism put forth by the campus kiruv rabbis, I've been slowly attempting to gain an exact understanding of what Conservative Judaism is and what it really stands for.  As I've explored, I've slowly learned that the beauty of Conservative Judaism really presents itself in that there is no set way to be a Conservative Jew.  I've seen so many fellow students be kiruv-ed, proudly proclaiming their status as a "ba'al teshuva" and immediately begin to judge and criticize their fellow Jews for not following the halacha "correctly."  From what I've begun to understand about Conservative Judaism though, there are community standards that people follow because they're established by the community, but within their own lives and their own homes they do what feels right.  From what I've seen, for Conservative Judaism, if you're informed, knowledgeable, and cognizant of what you are doing, then that is the correct halachic path for you, even if it does go against the community standards.  Sure it poses a problem at points, but it's also beautiful in many more respects.

For example, recently, one Saturday morning my shul in suburban Maryland needed a minyan.  So, two of the congregants walked outside, rather far away from the shul, to call a fellow congregant to come and make the minyan.  Would they have normally cared about making a phone call on Shabbat, or for that matter, using a computer, turning on lights, shopping?  Not at all.  But from what it seems in the Conservative movement, community standards reign supreme while in the community setting, while you are free to follow your own personal standards outside of that setting.

And here's a somewhat unrelated halachic question, especially in regards to Conservative halacha.  I'd be interested to see some different responses.  On Shabbat morning, the synagogue main sanctuary has a broken air conditioner and it's hot as anything.  Probably around 85 or 90 degrees inside.  The service could easily be moved to the hebrew school wing, where the air conditioner is working, but it's not yet turned on.   It would be way more comfortable, with much more kevanah, and an entirely better service overall in the air conditioned Hebrew School. None of the participants in the service are at all shomer shabbat, yet in the shul itself, it's encouraged for everyone to be shomer shabbat, with no lights turned on or off and no microphones adjusted. The question:  Turn on the air conditioner or not?

Recent Activity:
Visit our home page at


"Shefa: The Conservative Movement Dreaming from Within" is a forum for
passionate Conservative Jews to reflect together as they increase creative
energy within within the culture and environment of the Conservative
Movement in an effort to bring a renewed and revitalized perspective to
Conservative Jews.

We belong to the Conservative Movement and commit ourselves to working
towards its revitalization. Be a part of this community of visionary
thinkers and builders. To join the conversation, email

Visit our home page at