Wednesday, June 25, 2008

So Close but Yet So Far

There is a fascinating 'symposium' going on at Hirhurim about why non Orthodox Jews become Orthodox. In the second post of a series we again have the perspective of a Conservative rabbi - Rabbi Charles L. Arian. His experiences have led him to spell out why he thinks some Conservative Jews become Orthodox.

This article gives us a glimpse into the minds of what I would term observant or right wing Conservative Jews. This particular article is both encouraging and sad.

As a Jew interested in Achdus, I generally limit my call for that to Orthodox Judaism. I do so because non-Orthodox theologies are either not bound by Halacha which is a definitive of part of Orthodox Judaism. Or as in the case of the Conservative movement they have a theology that accepts - if not fully embraces - heretical concepts. That view unfortunately is evident in the very last sentence of this rabbi’s post, and that makes rejection automatic.

But I do so sadly. Because I think people like this rabbi are truly committed to Halachic observance as they understand it. And so too - are they firm in their belief in a Creator. Their practice of Halacha overlaps with the vast majority of Orthodox Halachic practice. And for the most part they are very concerned with Klal Yisroel.

Rabbi Arian’s views come across as very positive in accepting of Orthodoxy. But the reverse is not true. Orthodoxy cannot accept Conservative theology. Many people in defending their rejection of Centrist Judaism will often challenge my quest for acceptance of it in an Elu V’Elu fashion by pointing to the fact that I - in the same way - do not accept Conservative Judaism.

But I reject that argument because no one in Orthodoxy says that Centrist Judaism is heretical. Not even our worst critics. And yet, as sad as I am by the rejection of my views by the right, I am equally saddened by the fact that I cannot accept an individual who could very easily pass for modern Orthodox in lifestyle and observance.

It is a tribute to this rabbi - and I believe he is not alone - that he is pleased when one of his people become Orthodox. And it is a tribute to his honesty and integrity that he acknowledges his movement’s own failures in creating observant communities. That - he says - is the impetus for many (but not all) observant Conservative Jews in joining Modern Orthodoxy.

Interestingly, he points out that many of these now nominally Orthodox Jews retain their Conservative beliefs. That raises the question about how to deal with these very sincere and observant Jews. They knowingly do not accept a literal interpretation of the events at Sinai. But they do not advertise those facts in their newly adopted Orthodox community.

One may not knowingly call up to the Torah a Mitzvah observing heretic – no matter how sincere and meticulous he may be in observance. Nor may we allow him to be a witness at a marriage. If we know a sincere and observant couple who has come over to us from the Conservative movement - should we ask them about their theological beliefs? I’m not sure how to answer that question.

It is also interesting to note a similar perspective about secular knowledge between this rabbi - who I assume is representative of many others in the Conservative rabbinate - and Modern Orthodox Judaism.

He laments the fact that one of his former constituents who has completely rejected his Conservative past and become Charedi now rejects the writings of a literary giant who he acknowledges helped him on his spiritual journey. He will not allow his own children to read his works.

Right Wing Conservative Judaism. So close, but yet - so far.