EMET VE EMUNAH אמת ואמונה STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM - PDF

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EMET VE EMUNAH אמת ואמונה STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM The Jewish Theological Seminary of America The Rabbinical Assembly United Synagogue of America Women's League for Conservative

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EMET VE EMUNAH אמת ואמונה STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES OF CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM The Jewish Theological Seminary of America The Rabbinical Assembly United Synagogue of America Women's League for Conservative Judaism Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs Text Scanned from the Second Printing, 1990 Copyright 1988 by The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, by The Rabbinical Assembly, and by The United Synagogue of America. International Standard Book Number: Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: Original Cover Design: Nina Gaelen Original Calligraphy: Phyllis Nevins Printed in the United States of America 1 P age CONTENTS Foreword Dr. Ismar Schorsch Chancellor, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America Foreword A Personal View Rabbi Kassel Abelson President, The Rabbinical Assembly Foreword The Layperson's View Franklin D. Kreutzer International President, United Synagogue of America Introduction The Commission, The Statement, The Movement Dr. Robert Gordis Chairman, Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism GOD IN THE WORLD God Revelation Halakhah (Jewish Law) The Problem of Evil Eschatology: Our Vision of the Future THE JEWISH PEOPLE God's Covenant - The Election of Israel The State of Israel and the Role of Religion Israel and the Diaspora Between Jew and Fellow Jew Relations with Other Faiths Social Justice: Building a Better World LIVING A LIFE OF TORAH On Women The Jewish Home TefIllah (Prayer) Talmud Torah (Jewish Study) The Ideal Conservative Jew 2 P age FOREWORD Picasso once remarked about the still lifes of Cezanne: If there were not anxiety behind those apples, Cezanne would not interest me any more than Bouguereau. What makes this first collective statement of principles ever issued by the Conservative Movement so admirable and intriguing is the tension that lies beneath the surface. Its sparse, dispassionate, and unequivocal prose gives only the faintest inkling of the wide-ranging differences in which the idea for a balanced commission on the philosophy of Conservative Judaism was born some three years ago. The final product reaffirms not only the will to preserve the unity of the movement but also the genuine consensus which prevails in its ranks. Yet, for all the harmony achieved, this document deserves to be treated as a point of departure and not a definitive resolution. Judaism is quintessentially an exegetical tradition. The ultimate measure of a Jewish text is the quality of commentary it evokes. The deepest intent of the commission's labor was to unite Conservative Jews in reflection and debate, to offer a set of fundamental principles for public discourse throughout the movement Nothing would contribute more effectively to cultivating a sense of movement consciousness even while addressing our individual perplexities than coordinated study of this noble and fertile text. As a movement, we owe a collective debt of gratitude to the men and women the rabbis, laypeople, and academics who exerted themselves unsparingly to bring this effort to fruition. Their conviction in that which they believed was matched by their courage to accommodate. Above all, I wish to salute the inspired leadership of Professor Robert Gordis, whose long and distinguished public career has consistently personified the very best of Conservative Judaism. Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor The Jewish Theological Seminary of America 3 P age FOREWORD: A PERSONAL VIEW Shortly after Rabbi Alexander Shapiro became President of the Rabbinical Assembly, he broached the idea to me of establishing a Joint Commission, together with the Jewish Theological Seminary, which would formulate a Statement on Conservative Ideology. The time was propitious: the Conservative movement was preparing to celebrate the Centennial of the founding of the Jewish Theological Seminary, an event which symbolizes the formal beginning of Conservative Judaism in America. We approached Chancellor Gerson D. Cohen with the proposal that he appoint representatives of the Seminary faculty and of the Rabbinical Assembly to sit together and to prepare an official statement of the philosophy of Conservative Judaism. The word official must be emphasized; many scholars, and rabbis in the field, had formulated their views on the philosophy of the movement. But these were individual statements. Rabbis, in particular, were confronted frequently with the question What does Conservative Judaism stand for? Implied in the question was a suspicion that Conservative Judaism is simply a vague, indefinite middle ground between Orthodoxy and Reform. For almost a century, it could be argued, this lack of definition was useful since the majority of American Jews wished to be neither Orthodox nor Reform, and therefore joined Conservative organizations. But the situation has radically changed. Orthodoxy, which has been widely considered moribund a few generations ago, has assertively come back to life, and is generally characterized by an aggressive ideology which denies the legitimacy of non-orthodox approaches to Judaism. On the other hand, the Reform movement is also growing in size, and has been seeking to spell out its philosophy. In our day, it is no longer sufficient to define Conservative Judaism by what it is not. It is now clear that our avoidance of self-definition has resulted in a lack of self-confidence on the part of Conservative Jews, who are unable to tell others, let alone themselves, what Conservative Judaism stands for. Our goal, then, was to teach members of Conservative congregations to become Conservative Jews. At the meeting held by Chancellor Cohen with his cabinet, members of the Rabbinical Assembly's Executive Council, Alexander Shapiro and me, it was agreed to establish a Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism. We decided that both the Rabbinical Assembly and the Seminary would appoint members who would represent the entire ideological spectrum. For the project to succeed, we needed an outstanding chairman who could command the respect of all participants. One rabbi who stood head and shoulders above others was Rabbi Robert Gordis. A distinguished academician, Dr. Gordis is a scholar and thinker, who in addition to his technical scholarly works, has written extensively about Conservative Judaism and the role of religion in the contemporary world. His many services to the movement through the years have earned the respect of those on the right, the left, and in the center. Dr. Gordis was approached, and after some initial hesitation, accepted. At first, the Commission was seen as a forum for academicians and for rabbis with scholarly 4 P age credentials. But soon after we began, we recognized that a philosophy of Conservative Judaism was not meant for rabbis and academicians alone but for all Jews, and that the input of laypeople would be essential for our statement. Representatives of the United Synagogue of America, the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs as well as the Cantors' Assembly and the Jewish Educators' Assembly were invited to join the Commission. They made many significant contributions to the work of the Commission. For a hundred years, no such task had ever been undertaken. How do you get started? Dr. Gordis suggested that we each write brief papers outlining our own beliefs (the Ani Ma'amin I believe papers) setting forth our own conception of the basic elements of Judaism in general and Conservative Judaism in particular. These individual papers are being collected, and are being published in a separate volume, together with the collective Statement of Principles which appears in this pamphlet. We all took the assignment seriously and wrote our papers. Each one of us had to summarize our papers for the Commission, answer questions and defend our positions. Buteven as we discussed each individual statement, we began planning the next step, the formulation of the collective Statement of Principles. A list of topics was drawn up, and Dr. Gordis and I met to discuss the order in which we would consider them. I proposed that we begin with the less controversial subjects, so that we would gain confidence from our initial success. Dr. Gordis had the opposite view: he urged that we tackle the most difficult topics first. If we failed with those questions, there would be little point in discussing the rest. However, if we could successfully resolve the more difficult issues, the others would follow easily. In accordance with Dr. Gordis' plan, we plunged in immediately, and began with Revelation, Halakhah, and the basis of religious authority. To better understand our situation in 1985, it should be remembered that the right-wing Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism had recently come into existence. At that time, the Seminary was grappling with the question of admitting women to its Rabbinical School and ordaining them as rabbis. Bitter debates had taken place at Rabbinical Assembly conventions, and we appeared to be a movement in danger of division. Seated on the Commission were intellectual advocates of the most extreme positions, while in between were the rest of us, reflecting the broad spectrum of opinion within the Conservative movement. Could agreement be reached between people with such different points of view? The beginning was not auspicious. The discussions were intense and seemed to express a sense of mutual distrust. Fortunately, this meeting took place in a retreat setting, at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. It was not easy to walk out and leave. Moreover, since we were a small group, we spent our free time together. As we began to talk to each other informally, we found that the other side was neither as wrong nor as extreme as it may have appeared at Rabbinical 5 P age Assembly debates. We soon discovered that not only were we all sincerely interested in producing a Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism, but that we had much more in common than we had realized. All of us, whether on the right or on the left, were Conservative Jews. We all accepted the results of modern scholarship. We agreed that historical development of the tradition had taken place, and that the tradition continues to develop. We all agreed on the indispensability of halakhah for Conservative Jews, but a Halakhah which responds to changing times and changing needs. However, there were real differences between us and the question arose as to how to express them. We could have used the method of majority and minority reports. But we succeeded in setting forth various viewpoints in the same document without papering over our differences. One by one, initial drafts of each section were prepared and submitted to the Commission for discussion. And there was plenty of discussion! Where there was no consensus, we found ways to include multiple opinions without indicating a preference for one view over the other, since they were all legitimate points of view in Conservative Judaism. When all of the statements had been revised and approved by the Commission, they were turned over to the Editorial Committee which met repeatedly to incorporate the individual sections into one smooth and readable document. You have the results before you in this pamphlet. The real task begins now. Having formulated the Principles of Conservative Judaism, we must now study them and integrate them into our thinking, so that Conservative congregations will be blessed with growing numbers of ideal Conservative Jews, whose lives will exemplify the objectives and aspirations set forth in this Statement of Principles. Kassel Abelson President The Rabbinical Assembly 6 P age FOREWORD: THE LAYPERSON'S VIEW The laity of our Conservative movement has historically supported our rabbis in fostering the growth and acceptance of the principles of Conservative Judaism. However, in the past generation, substantial areas of lay responsibility were abdicated to the rabbinate due to the competing cares and concerns for example Israel and community Federations on our Jewish agenda. For the last few years, the laity of our movement has been reasserting its claim to various areas of responsibility and its equal partnership in all appropriate areas with our rabbis, scholars and teachers. Our fear is that without a committed, learned laity, Conservative Judaism will become a rabbi religion rather than a people religion. The United Synagogue of America represents the total lay/synagogue/congregational structure. Ms. Evelyn Auerbach, President of the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, and Dr. Jerome Agrest, President of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, have also indicated their commitment to a clear and relevant philosophy for our two million Conservative Jews. They, too, join in this Foreword. Their dedication to the movement, and that of their constituencies, adds to the strength and dignity of this Statement. In May 1985, the Commission on the Philosophy of Conservative Judaism was formed to delineate the principles that guide and inspire all who affiliate with our movement. However, the Commission's original seventeen members were all rabbis or members of the faculty of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Shortly after my assumption of the presidency of the United Synagogue on November 20, 1985, it came to my attention that The Jewish Theological Seminary and the Rabbinical Assembly had established this Commission. In the light of our strong commitment to the active role of the laity within the spectrum of our movement, the United Synagogue leadership felt an urgent need for lay involvement. Therefore, we formally requested to be a part of this process; to help develop an ideological statement that would be held and lived by rabbi and congregant alike. After a period of negotiation, it was agreed that there would be six lay members on the Commission: four from the United Synagogue of America, and one each from the Women's League for Conservative Judaism and the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. The presidents of these three organizations would be ex-officio members of the Commission. For years, the laity has had questions and concerns regarding life and death, family and ethics, God and Judaism. But these concepts were largely locked in books or in the minds of rabbis and scholars. Today's educated Conservative laity is demanding answers to the questions that will confront all twenty-first century human beings. 7 P age The time has come for us as Conservative Jews to stand secure and strong. As the work of the Commission has made eminently clear, we have a direction. We have a point of view. We have an approach to life that can make us better human beings. We have an approach to God that can make us better servants of the King of Kings. We have an approach to Judaism that speaks to the concerns that are on our minds and in our hearts. We are indebted to the men and women who developed the Statement of Principles that appears in this publication. Yet at the present time, the potential embodied in this philosophy is still unrealized. Whether the potential becomes a reality depends on what we, the Conservative laity, do in partnership with our rabbis and scholars to determine our movement's destiny. A philosophy or an ideology is only a blueprint for action. We may conceive of ourselves as if we are standing on a ladder. This image is meaningful only if each one of us on the ladder is going up in terms of observance and commitment, rather than standing still or worse, descending. Our task as laypeople to conserve Judaism is a significant one, but the treasure which we have been given the legacy to conserve is also a great one. May this volume serve as the stimulus for the rabbinic, academic and lay arms of the Conservative movement to work hand in hand to translate this Statement of Principles into action. Let us join together so that this philosophy may help us develop and expand a Conservative Jewish lifestyle for twenty-first century Conservative Jews. Franklin D. Kreutzer International President United Synagogue of America 8 P age INTRODUCTION: THE COMMISSION, THE STATEMENT, THE MOVEMENT The centennial of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America celebrated in has focused attention on the first hundred years of the history of Conservative Judaism on this continent. Actually the movement had its inception in Germany a half century earlier. In 1845 a meeting of modern rabbis convened in Frankfurt. On the third day Rabbi Zechariah Frankel left the meeting in protest against a proposed resolution that declared that the Hebrew language was not objectively necessary for Jewish worship, but should be retained in deference to the older generation . When in 1857 the Jewish Theological Seminary, the first modern institution for the training of rabbis, was founded in Breslau, Frankel was appointed its Rector. Within a few years the institution became the dominant intellectual force in the religious life of central and western European Jewry and beyond. Basically, the movement which Frankel founded was a reaction against Reform on the one hand, and Orthodoxy on the other. The Breslau Seminary was the inspiration and model for similar institutions founded in Vienna, Budapest, London and Berlin, as well as overseas on the American continent. The Breslau Seminary became the center of the most distinguished modern research scholarship in the fields of Jewish literature, history and institutions, in a word, the meticulous study of the past. But there was little concern for Jewish theology, law and the philosophy of Judaism in the present. Frankel himself called his outlook positive-historical Judaism . By this term he meant that Judaism is the result of a historical process and that its adherents are called upon to take a positive attitude toward the product of this development as we encounter it today. While his opponents, both to the left and the right, challenged him to explicate his philosophy of Judaism more concretely, Frankel was rarely drawn into polemics. Having evidently little taste for theology, he concentrated upon building up Jewish learning through the medium of his own research and that of his colleagues on the Breslau faculty and by training rabbis to serve Jewish communities in central Europe and beyond. In the congregations served by these rabbis, minor innovations were introduced in the ritual. They were designed to accommodate Jewish tradition to the new conditions and insights of the modern age, while preserving intact the structure and content of traditional Jewish observance. This pattern was largely repeated on American soil. The Jewish Theological Seminary, founded in 1886, had a difficult existence for a decade and a half. In 1902, Solomon Schechter was invited to these shores to serve as its president. lie assembled a constellation of scholars of the greatest eminence. In addition to himself, it included Louis Ginzberg, Alexander Marx, Israel Friedlander, Israel Davidson and Mordecai Kaplan, as well as a galaxy of other scholars, perhaps less well 9 P age known, but highly gifted and creative. The Seminary faculty and many of its early alumni produced valuable works in the field of historical and literary scholarship. A growing number of American Jews joined the ranks of Conservative Judaism, demonstrating that the movement met a felt need in the burgeoning American Jewish community. This numerical success strengthened the conviction among many leaders of the movement that there was little need for spelling out in detail the guiding principles and subtler nuances of the movement on such fundamentals as God and man, Israel and the world, ethics and ritual. The practical considerations that seemed to support the wisdom of avoiding, or at least minimizing, the discussion of theological, philosophical and legal issues were reinforced by significant inner factors. The first lay in the character of
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