In this space last week, Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek (CSZ) in Michigan contended that “the Conservative movement is presented with an opportunity: if it shares the same goals as the URJ, should the two movements’ synagogue umbrellas merge?”
His premise is a false one. The goals of Reform and Conservative Judaism goals are not the same.
Rabbi Starr apparently believes both the Reform and Conservative traditions of Judaism are progressive by their nature. However, according to Wikipedia:
“Reform Judaism (also known as Liberal Judaism or Progressive Judaism) is a major Jewish denomination that emphasizes the evolving nature of the faith, the superiority of its ethical aspects to the ceremonial ones, and a belief in a continuous revelation not centered on the theophany at Mount Sinai. A liberal strand of Judaism, it is characterized by a lesser stress on ritual and personal observance, regarding Jewish Law as non-binding and the individual Jew as autonomous, and openness to external influences and progressive values.”
CSZ members never signed on to a “lesser stress on ritual and personal observance.” In fact, a lessened stress on ritual and personal observance is exactly what its founders were rejecting.
“Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism, which views Religious Law (Halakha) as binding, yet also regards it as subject to historical development,” according to Wikipedia.
This is what the founders signed on for in 1861, and why we remain congregants in 2018.
Rabbi Starr is a 1999 graduate of the University of Michigan, and received a 2004 ordination from Hebrew Union College, which describes itself as “North America’s premier institution of Jewish higher education and the center for professional leadership development of Reform Judaism.”
From 2004 to 2008, he served as rabbi and director of lifelong learning at Shir Tikvah, whose website reports, “After developing and understanding our own identify as a congregation, we joined the Reform movement and have continued to value that relationship.” https://www.linkedin.com/in/rabbi-aaron-starr-087b056
In 2008, Rabbi Starr joined the staff of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, becoming its senior rabbi with the departure of his predecessor. Readers of this space will remember his December 2014 blog post, “Why I became a Conservative Jew.” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/why-i-became-a-conservative-jew/
Shaarey Zedek is a storied Congregation. It was here that Hank Greenberg came to observe Yom Kippur despite his Detroit Tigers being in a tight pennant race. http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/13257/81_years_ago_tigers_slugger_hank_greenberg_skipped_the_game_for_yom_kippur#.WuaGpBYpCaM Many of the area’s most politically and financially successful residents have been members. http://www.shaareyzedek.org/congregation-shaarey-zedeks-history/
We are happy to welcome Rabbi Starr to Conservative Judaism. Where we differ is on the constant intrusion of Progressive politics into sermons and synagogue policies. Many of us are not in favor of open borders, of Sanctuary Cities which allow convicted criminals to walk free from deportation,, of burdensome government regulation, and more.
Some of us are disappointed to see his social media pages filled with links from Haaretz, The Forward, the New York Times, and Reform Judaism. (If he had left Reform Judaism behind, we can’t understand the constant references to its web page.)
A piece in The Forward last year frames this question. Written by opinion editor Batya Ungar Sargon, it suggests “How the obsession with Jewish continuity perverts our liberal values.” https://forward.com/ opinion/382679/how-the- obsession-with-jewish- continuity-perverts-our- liberal-values/?attribution= author-article-listing-20- headline
It was not something he had linked to but adequately describes the conflict between Progressive (Reform) and more traditional forms of Judaism. Many of us believe The Forward has it backwards. We are obsessed with Jewish continuity and think that all American Jews should feel the same.
We agree with author and radio host Dennis Prager (who spoke at CSZ last year) and think he got it right in a recent piece on The Daily Signal. https://www. dailysignal.com/2018/04/10/ whatever-the-left-touches-it- ruins/ He says:
“The left has poisoned mainstream religion. Mainstream Protestantism, non-Orthodox Judaism, and much of the Catholic Church—including and especially Pope Francis—are essentially left-wing advocacy groups with religious symbols.”
We don’t want our shul becoming a left wing advocacy group with religious symbols