In the Absence of Standards – Shame on the Conservative Youth Movement

You remember when you were a kid and came home with a grade less than what you knew your parents expected?  What did you say?  You probably said “all the kids did poorly” or “the teacher is a hard grader” or some other flimsy excuse that your parents didn’t buy.  And what did you parents respond?  Usually with that tried and true phrase:  “I don’t care what the other kids did.  You are my child and this is what I expect from you!”  And, of course, they were right.

So now along comes the United Synagogue Youth convention in Atlanta earlier this week and decides to eliminate the rule that says teenage board members are prohibited from dating non-Jews.  And the logic?  Well, since the recent Pew study shows that 40% of Conservative Jews married since 2000 have married non-Jewish partners, there is no point in maintaining the standard because “the dating policy should reflect where most young Conservative Jews are when it comes to dating outside the faith.”

Really?  Is that the best that a religious movement can come up with.  Effectively saying, well, everybody is doing it so why prohibit it?  Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism which oversees the work of USY, said the policy does not reflect a change in USY’s values. That, in itself, is a sad commentary on the movement.

Well if my mother were asked what she thought about this she would simply say, I don’t care what the other kids are doing only what you are doing and we don’t believe dating non-Jews is in the best long-term interests of American Jewry.

From where this writer sits there is a world of difference between recognizing what is true vs. providing an imprimatur that what is true is OK.  In this case what is true (i.e. the high rate of dating and intermarriage) is not OK and relaxing associated restrictions does not address the problem, it simply condones the behavior.

The fact that the rabbinic and lay leadership of the movement is prepared to give a stamp of approval to such a move on the part of the youth movement, rather than come out with a strong statement that relaxing one standard after another simply adds nails to the coffin of American Jewry, is a serious indictment of the non-Orthodox American Jewish scene.

But the writing was on the wall years ago.  When in the 1970s the Jewish Theological Seminary of America elected former FCC Commissioner Newton Minow to the post of Chair of its Board of Overseers even though his wife was not Jewish, the die was cast and the message was delivered loud and clear.  What is happening today in the US non-Orthodox world was entirely predictable five decades ago when, slowly but surely, the leadership caved on one principle after another.   And now, the horses are out of the barn and running loose with no one able to reverse the trend.  Instead the leadership throws up its arms and doesn’t even cry Gevalt……they just say it’s just the way it is and we have to approve it.

O tempora, O mores……shame on the times and their values.  And shame on the leadership for abdicating their responsibilities.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.