Gershon Hepner

Halakha and the Conservative Tortoise 

Halakhah, to his grandson Daniel, explained Rabbi Robert Gordis, is the minhag of all Israel, meaning it’s the shell upon this tortoise, part of the Jewish people’s body that’s impossible to spare. Though it slows it down, its destiny is not be a hare, but to pace with God beneath its carapace, not fast but slowly, lowly always, reminded by the mighty shell that it is holy.

Small c conservative is this approach. Effectively it locks those adopting it into a box that’s known as Orthodox.

Daniel Gordis, recalling a discussion that he had  with his distinguished grandfather, Robert Gordis, wrote in the  Jewish Review of Books,  January 6 2014: 

In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was young and searching for a theological justification for the halakha to which I was committed in the face of the biblical criticism I was studying, I talked to my grandfather. A leading intellectual light of the Conservative movement, he had to have something to say, didn’t he? But no matter how hard I pushed, we always ended up in the same place. Why did halakha matter? It was, he told me, minhag k’lal yisrael. “This is simply what Jews do.” This is how we Jews live; it’s the ticket to belonging. “Stop all your theologizing,” he basically said to me. “Life’s real decisions are about belonging and sustaining, not about theology.” Not his words, but his point. And he was largely right.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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