I was not aware that I belonged to a Conservative congregation which believes that God has broken his covenant with modern Jewry. But that is what Rabbi Aaron Starr told us at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Southfield, Michigan on the first day of Shavuot.
He began by recounting the story of a broken marriage, then concluding that such is the relationship between the Lord of Hosts and present day Judaism. Don’t believe it? A YouTube video of his sermon is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-iRIA_oLVc
Rabbi Starr’s position is that by allowing Hitler and his Nazis to kill and maim millions of our co-religionists, the Lord of Hosts broke that covenant.
Among the authorities from whose works the good rabbi quoted were Richard Rubenstein, author of After Auschwitz:
I believe the greatest single challenge to modern Judaism arises out of the question of God and the death camps. I believe that our problem is how to speak of religion in an age of no God.
Also, Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg:
What then happened to the covenant? I submit that its authority was broken but the Jewish people, rleased from its obligations, chose voluntarily to take it on again… The Jewish people was so in love with the dream of redemption that it volunteered to carry on its mission.
Shavuot, as anyone reading these words will know, is the holiday celebrating God’s gift of His Torah and the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Children of Israel at Sinai.
As he asks on the video, So there are 613 rules. We’re supposed to follow 307 of them and we’re good?
I believe that Aaron Starr and modern rabbis who share similar views have misdefined the Covenant. Who ever opined that our covenant with The Holy One can be summed up as, “He keeps us from being killed by Hitler and, and in return, we follow His rules?”
A far better definition of the Covenant is embedded in non-Reform versions of Judaism’s most consequential prayer, the Sh’ma.
“Hear, Oh Israel,” it begins. “The Lord is God, the Lord is One.” Two paragraphs later, it quotes from The Torah, to state:
“If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the LORD your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil— I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.
Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the LORD’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the LORD is assigning to you.
These verses are not included in some Reform sidurim.
The events at Sinai which we celebrated this week happened about 3,250 years, or about 130 generations ago. Over that time span, our ancestors’ commitments to follow those commandments (to greater and and lesser degrees) kept us as a nation apart, in the hills of Judah and the lands of Europe, North Africa and beyond.
Following God’s rules meant that basically smart people were marrying and having children with other basically smart people. The genetic gifts which followed made our forbearers particularly skilled at conducting trade, composing symphonies, making scientific discoveries and (in the current age) writing software code and engaging in private equity. It may not be grass for our cattle, but the parallels are there.
Rabbi Starr’s maternal grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, who married another survivor and had three children and four Millenial grandchildren (one of whom is Aaron Starr). But these seven adult offspring of two survivors, between them, have had only eight children. The generation approaching bar mitzvah age totals four.
That’s a fertility rate of 1.14, and equivalent to a neighborhood of almost all only-child families. It’s a prescription for demographic demise. Put another way, there are now something over 5 million Jews in America, about 10% of them Orthodox. With present rates of fertility and intermarriage, all but the Orthodox are on path to disappear in two to four generations. This is as much a genocide as the Holocaust How is this God’s fault?
Are we really raising the younger generation to think there is no Covenant? Or, if there is one, that it’s broken? And if that’s what we are doing, is it still Judaism? Is this what we fought Hitler’s Nazis to preserve?
Aaron Starr has written of being raised in a Reformed family, and trained in a Reform seminary, but converting several years ago to become a Conservative rabbi. I was raised and bar mitzvahed in the Conservative tradition. I have never viewed the Covenant as broken.
If our Covenant is broken, and an apology is called for, I believe it should originate from such places as Southfield, Michigan, not the Heavens on High.