Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

Who Needs Denominations?

Several weeks ago, an American law professor who serves on his synagogue's search committee for a new rabbi put forward the provocative argument that the process was not only stifling but illegal. The culprit, he wrote, was the highly restrictive role played by national rabbinic bodies, especially the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly and the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis. (He reserved judgment on the less elaborate placement procedures of Orthodoxy and Reconstructionism.)

Relevant Links
Modernization and Its Discontents  Louis Jacobs, My Jewish Learning. On the emergence and growth of Reform and Orthodoxy, in that order.
Two Trends in American Jewish Life  Steven M. Cohen, Contact/Berman Jewish Policy Archive. Though often conflated, post-denominationalism and non-denominationalism are distinctive phenomena (PDF).  The entire issue of Contact , devoted to the denominations, is here.

The professor may or may not be right on the law. But his article, taken together with other developments like the emergence of the liberal Orthodox International Rabbinic Fellowship and the non-denominational rabbinical school of Boston's Hebrew College, as well as the rising popularity of pluralist "community schools" and independent prayer groups (minyanim)—and, above all, the fact that membership numbers in Conservative and Reform congregations are static or falling—leads one to ask, not for the first time, what exactly American Jewish religious denominations are for.

Pre-modern Jewry was organized in communal structures (kehillot). The dissolution of those structures, voluntary in some instances and forcible in others, was one of the defining features of Jewish modernization. The denominations we see today represent an effort to reconstitute some sort of collective identity and institutional heft under the changed circumstances of modernity. They also reflect, in both structure and name, a set of ideological struggles dating back 200 years.

In Europe, the modernizing Reform movement conjured itself into being as a self-consciously distinctive group in the early 19th century. In response, Orthodoxy emerged not long after, reaffirming tradition as a self-conscious, and now countercultural, ideology and taking very different forms in Western and Eastern Europe. The Conservative movement as we now know it, proclaiming at once a loyalty to tradition and openness to change, developed over decades and in the U.S. achieved an identity of its own only in the 1920s.

Recognizing the historical contingency and limits of the old denominational labels is the necessary first step toward thinking about them usefully. Today's American Jewish denominations are very much the products of their time and place and of the specific circumstances of American religious life as a whole, heavily shaped as that life has been by essentially Protestant nomenclature and modes of organization. Interestingly, the denominational structure is dramatically different from that prevailing in Israel or other places in the world. No less interestingly, the denomination registering the greatest current growth, or at least the greatest internal retention rate, is the one with the least centralized structure and the most thoroughgoing demands on the faithful—namely, Orthodoxy.  

So is the denominational structure hopelessly obsolete, as the rise of alternative congregations and rabbinical training schools suggests, and should the movements be thinking strenuously of ways to reconfigure themselves?  There is, as it happens, plenty of thinking going on, and plenty of experimentation even within the denominational template. But there may also be sound reasons why no new structure has yet emerged alongside or in place of any of the existing movements, and why no sort of formal merger appears anywhere on the horizon—even though each of them, including Orthodoxy, has been borrowing and incorporating elements from each of the others for decades. It would seem that, quite apart from the inherent difficulties of any institutional change, the movements' enduring and genuine differences—ideological, sociological, and cultural—remain compelling enough to make any large-scale transformation unthinkable: a situation that in turn encourages some to go on exploring the territory beyond or in between the margins.

The crucial distinction may lie between those who explore and those who drift away altogether. The sociologist Steven Cohen has written of a dual process of non- and post-denominationalism. The former term refers to those who maintain only minimal ties to formal Jewish life as a whole and who intermarry in substantial numbers; the latter, those who remain deeply committed and engaged but who express their commitment outside the large formal structures of the denominations. 

"Express" is a key word here. If one feature of modern life is the ascendance of reason and science as sources of knowledge and authority, another is expressiveness, the conviction that the truth is to be found in one's own subjectivity and in the recesses of one's own experience and passions. This impulse, helped along by new technologies and forms of organization that make for more diffuse structures of authority and belief, and by currents like feminism that link the expressive ideal with the demand for equality, has powerfully reworked all of contemporary religion. In Western societies today, even the most stringent form of traditionalism is chosen; if it does not find an echo in the subjective experience of the individual, it will not long endure.

But there is another way of looking at the relation between the impulse to maintain boundaries and the impulse to push beyond them. The late anthropologist Victor Turner observed in The Ritual Process that social and religious life proceeds through a dialectic of structure and anti-structure. Both are essential, the one for continuity, order, and responsibility, the other for meaning, passion, and critique. This systole-and-diastole motion can be seriously destructive if it springs from self-indulgence or slides into mere argumentativeness. When driven by real commitment, it may be one of the healthiest features of Jewish life.

Tags: , , ,


Independent Patriot on October 20, 2010 at 7:55 am (Reply)
It is not the denomination per se but how people view them that causes the problem. When you say I am a Jew, people within the community say which kind? If you give the wrong answer you are either chastised or in one case I was spit at.

For what ever reason the Jewish community has fragmented itself into who are the "true believing real Jews" and those whom others decide are the apostate Jews.This is the doings of the rabbinate and I don't care which denomination you are from. From the Orthodox who turn their noses down at the Reform to the Reform who look upon the Orthodox as an anachronism I find it all repugnant. I have decided and have taught my children to answer the which kind of Jew question with this: I am the kind of Jew that Hitler would have killed and the enemies of the Jewish people want to kill today. I think that says it all.
Henry Jay Karp on October 20, 2010 at 8:52 am (Reply)
As tantalizing as moving beyond "denominations" may appear, it is a formula for disaster. Yes, it would remove from congregations such burdens as paying substantial dues to national/international bodies, and needing to abide by the rules which govern such essential elements of denominational synagogue life as rabbinic searches - the catalyst for the original article written by the attorney mentioned here. But while a lack of a structure may provide a certain amount of freedom, it also makes for both chaos and weakness.

In defense of the denominational system, there is strength in unity. The denominations bring together like-minded Jews. That very coming together enables them to address Jewish issues in a serious fashion from a common ideological baseline. Working from such an ideological baseline, as they grapple with hard questions, their sharing of perspectives feeds their creativity; a creativity which ultimately produces solutions which have the capacity to keep our Judaism vibrant and meaningful, while moving us forward with the times. In the Reform movement, I have witness such a creative process as we struggled with such central issues as intermarriage, Patrilineal Descent, the role of the non-Jew in the synagogue, the admission to our congregations of people with a same sex orientation, along with the formal acknowledgment of their right to serve on the staff of congregations, and shortly following those decisions, their right to be ordained as rabbis and invested as cantors, and then, most recently, the right rabbis who so choose to officiate at same sex wedding ceremonies. These decisions were not blithely arrived at. They were examined, discussed, debated, and only after serious consideration and dialogue, affirmed. This could never have been accomplished if there was no common ideological baseline underlying this process; if it was conducted by Jews of every stripe and orientation coming together. For in such a scenario, in the end, nothing can be agreed upon, for no one would accept any particular standards to hold fast for all Jews, everywhere.

Another aspect of the strength of unity that denominations provide can be found in the additional services which they provide to their member congregations. These services include such things as the support and establishment of seminaries which train rabbis, cantors, educators, and social workers, summer camps which provide immersion Jewish experiences for our children, youth movements for our teenagers, the development of programming and religious school curricula as well as the publication of textbooks and materials, and a network of congregational consultants whose expertise in their particular fields - whether it be in Jewish education, synagogue administration, fund raising, etc - is made available to assist member congregations. All of these services, provided by denominational bodies, strengthen our congregations and empower them to offer a higher quality of Jewish life to their membership.

And yes, there are those restrictive rules. Rules are not only a burden, but also a protection. This is particularly so when it comes to the relationships between congregations and their professionals. There is an enforceable code of conduct imposed upon the professionals which protect the congregations, and there is an enforceable code of conduct imposed upon the congregations which protect the professional. Without such codes, chaos would reign in the arena of professional - congregational relations. There would be only a thin foundation of trust between them and no recourse should either side violate that trust.

And finally, there is the great need that the denominations meet when it comes to being an organized voice in the public forum for their membership. While "every man for himself" may sound like a liberating phenomenon, no single Jew, and no single congregation can provide significant impact when it comes to matters of general public concern. In such an environment, the Jewish voice would be lost.

Contrary to the premise of this article, denominations are the source of our strength, and not our undoing.
Grasmere10 on October 20, 2010 at 9:33 am (Reply)
Well said, though surely it was German not American corporate/civic models of Protestantism which inspired the American Jews who "denominalationized."
Instead of Victor Turner's rather pompous formulation, I would suggest the Wal-Mart model: let us think of ourselves, if we are Reform or unobservant Jews, as good Jews; if we are Conservative Jews,as better Jews, and if we are Orthodox or Torah-true as best Jews.
Rob on October 20, 2010 at 9:46 am (Reply)
There are not different kinds of "Jews" in the sense of denominations. When most "Reform" Jews classify themselves as such, they mean "reformed". And 99% of "Conservative" Jews have "reformed" their practice to be indistinguishable from that of "Reform" Jews.

Shriber on October 20, 2010 at 9:48 am (Reply)
"I have decided and have taught my children to answer the which kind of Jew question with this: I am the kind of Jew that Hitler would have killed and the enemies of the Jewish people want to kill today. I think that says it all."

That's a great answer, Independent Patriot. Me, I usually say I am a generic Jew.
Shirah Hecht on October 20, 2010 at 10:08 am (Reply)
As someone who studies Jewish congregations, I'd say this article's statement is long overdue. The denominational structure overall has probably held us back as much as it has moved us forward. I have long felt that denominational labels were not essentially either Jewish or necessary. At the same time, this article suggests the investments we have in "denominations." In recent years, my compromise solution has been to identify *congregations* by denomination but not to identify individuals as any kind of denominational Jew (including in a survey I completed myself lately). That is, I suggest one may identify a "Conservative congregation" but not a "Conservative Jew." I might be glad for the day when I don't feel compelled to identify a congregation that way either, and I suppose that day is coming, as non-denominational congregations are formed.
Mordechai Y. Scher on October 20, 2010 at 10:20 am (Reply)
Independent Patriot's closing remark is a significant part of Judaism's problem today. He defines himself by a negative, external criterion. 'What someone else thinks about or would do to me." That isn't 'independent'; it is reactionary and dependent. We need to have content and meaning in our lives that allows us to identify as Jews according to what we believe, do, promote. Then again, most American Jews have so little involvement with Judaism (at best it is one of their hobbies) that they really don't have much positive to define them as Jews.
Larry Kaufman on October 20, 2010 at 11:14 am (Reply)
Mr. Mirsky neglects one of the major functions of the organized synagogue movements -- the economies of scale that provide services to synagogues that would be expensive if not impossible for each congregation to provide for itself. Camps, curricula, forums for sharing best practices are just a few. Rabbi Karp has described other things that central bodies can do that individual congregations cannot.

Sooner or later, the ideological and cultural differences which Mr. Mirsky suggests inhibit transformation (oblique synonym for merger?) will give way to economic realities, because no one can afford the duplicative structures that exist today. The sociological differences among the non-Orthodox streams have long been gone.

Trying to turn around the negativism in Independent Patriot's and Shriber's formulation, we can assert that our various approaches to Judaism share enough core affinities that we can overlook our differences. Unfortunately, that view may be pervasive in the non-Orthodox community, but it has no place at all in much of the Orthodox community. And thus it is an insufficient response to Mr. Mirsky's challenges.

This is exemplified by Grasmere10's inane assertion that that how "good a Jew" someone is can be measured by denominational identification or commitment to stringent ritual practice. Rob is correct that lifestyle no longer allows us to differentiate between Reform and Conservative Jews -- which validates Ms. Hecht's suggestion that the label applied to the congregation does not necessarily transfer to its members. (The other part of Rob's comment, trying to distinguish Reform from Reformed, is too ignorant to warrant rebuttal.)
Robert Landbeck on October 20, 2010 at 11:23 am (Reply)
"Who needs denominations" strikes a nerve few would be comfortable to acknowledge. For if one's spiritual identity were complete, religious organization should be a redundant and unnecessary idea, but I would suggest that denominations reflect humanity's 'unfinished' nature and are too often used to compete for the illusion of difference. Whereas the the ideal of what is true should be a unifying force, 'denomination' remains a divisive factor among all monotheisms.
Dovid Eliezrie on October 20, 2010 at 11:57 am (Reply)
The largest trend away from the historical denominational affiliation is the shift of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Chabad. Suburban America is dotted with Chabad Centers populated by Jews who may not self-identify as Orthodox or not be fully observant. Still in large numbers they see their affiliation to Judaism via Chabad. The National Jewish Population Survey points out that the Conservative movement has lost a third of their members in the last decade or so. A significant percentage of those previously affiliated with the Conservative movement are now involved with Chabad.

Surveys such as the recent one by the Avi Chai Foundation on Hebrew Schools point to a fundamental shift as many Jews are choosing to send their children to Chabad Hebrew Schools, which is a major bond of synagogue membership.

This represents a deeper trend also. Instead of supporting the move away from tradition that is at the core of the agenda of the American liberal movements, Jews are voting with their feet to strengthen their bond with tradition by going to Chabad.

While the classical Orthodox synagogue members are primarily Shomer Shabbat, a new model is emerging. Jews who attend Chabad Centers, who are slowly increasing their personal commitment to Judaism but not fully Orthodox/observant. This trend represents a fundamental shift in modern Jewish life.

In communities where Chabad centers have evolved from small storefront operations to proper community centers and synagogues the trend is more marked. As more Chabad centers open, and those presently embryonic mature, chances are the numbers of American Jews that shift their primary-and at times secondary ( I go to my Temple, but I attend classes etc. at Chabad) affiliation to Chabad will grow markedly.
Shirah Hecht on October 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm (Reply)
In response to these additional comments and Dovid E's in particular - another aspect to examine about this situation is putting all the functions of Jewish living under one roof, as the movement synagogue does currently in some ways (pray; study as adults; learn as children). Here is a strong opinion that would benefit from research most likely, maybe to be moderated. The traditional model had different institutions for different purposes. And different sects might even have different functions. We have lost so much diversity of Jewish involvement this way, and so many opportunities for entering the community on terms that work for people and that may lead to (a) sufficiently recognizable Jewish identity and (b) further involvement and (c) non-contending Jewish participation. It's a thought.
Larry Kaufman on October 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm (Reply)
Mr. Eliezrie's comments about the growth of Chabad underscore the irrelevance of ideology to large numbers of American Jews. I don't know if anyone has any accurate information about where the "missing" Conservative Jews went -- my suspicion is that an aging Conservative population has died off faster than their congregations have been able to replenish their ranks. If I am right, this would mean not that people are leaving the Conservative movement to go to Chabad, but that unaffiliated Jews who might once have "joined" Conservative are seeking alternatives, both on the right and on the left.

Mr. Eliezrie also attributes the growth of Chabad to Jews seeking to strengthen their bond to tradition, even as he wrongly asserts that the move away from tradition is at the core of the liberal movements. Both the Reform and the Conservative movements have become more "traditional" than they once were.

I would attribute much of the growth of Chabad to a business model that separates the delivery of services from the funding of the operations. Jews without any strong ideological convictions, just an atavistic desire to keep their kids Jewish, choose Chabad Hebrew schools because the price is right and the timetable for bar mitzvah preparation can be accelerated without requiring the three to five years in religious school that most Reform and Conservative congregations require.

We in the liberal movements have much to learn from Chabad -- in particular, hachnasat orchim and the separation between kemach and Torah.
Henry Jay Karp on October 20, 2010 at 1:05 pm (Reply)
What Dovid Eliezrie either does not recognize or attempts to gloss over is that, like it or not, Chabad is a denomination unto itself. It might be "sexy" for Chabad to claim that they are not a denomination, but even though the Chabad centers have a structure which is administratively different from the common synagogue, still as a denomination, Chabad is even more uniform than the other denominations - with a template Chabad magazine and standard Chabad programs which make the rounds across the country and around the world. The very cookie cutter nature of Chabad and its strong ties to Chabad central - Eastern Parkway - where even the local community has no power to hire or fire its Chabad rabbi, for that rabbi is appointed to that community by the Chabad establishment, testifies to the fact that Chabad is indeed a denomination; one with a far more centralized power structure than any of the other denominations.
Aryeh Tepper on October 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm (Reply)
This is an excellent article that clearly strikes a raw nerve.

There is an additional problem when Jewish identity becomes a matter of affiliation. Tremendous energy is devoted to defining Judaism, i.e., "what is reform Judaism," "what is conservative Judaism," etc. Aside from restricting the range of one's vision, the main thing - strengthening the will and vitality of the Jewish people, in general - is neglected.
G Lake on October 20, 2010 at 2:29 pm (Reply)
Schriber is correct in the modern historical context, but it's troubling to define ourselves by referencing hatred, violence and murder.

I also think the question perpetuates the divisive issues it attempts to address.

The challenge or issue, as I see it, is not so much denominational or "religious" difference. What is most troubling about this type of conversation is that Jews do not treat each other according to the most basic tenets of the Torah.

Almost everyone seems to have an opinion about their particular affiliation or the other ones, and lots of Jews sincerely believe they are correct.

The lack of courtesy, respect, and acceptance of the fact that we are all Jews is profoundly troubling. How we live with each other is of critical importance - whether it is in the diaspora or in Israel.

And incidentally, why wasn't Mr. Schriber's answer good enough to teach his children if it's good enough for him?
Moishe Tvvi on October 20, 2010 at 3:01 pm (Reply)
Very simply, one is either an observant Jew who practices Judaism according to halacha or one is a non-observant or not- yet-observant Jew.
Esther on October 20, 2010 at 3:05 pm (Reply)
Agree with its existence or not, fragmenting is part of being a member of a major religion. Christians, Muslims, and others all suffer from disagreements and the fragmenting that comes from it. Wherever you have a large group of people, people disagree with each other and seek out like-minded others.
David on October 20, 2010 at 3:33 pm (Reply)
My own thinking is why don't we drop all the labels and call ourselves Proud Observant Jews ... beats all the labels...and unite our people once again...
Just my $0.02 worth.

10024 on October 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm (Reply)
Orthodoxy's contemporary delegitimization of relationships with other denominations follows the precedent of R' S.R. Hirsch's secession from the community's Reform-dominated organization in the 1870s in Frankfurt. It would have been valuable if the article, in light of the long-term consequences of the delegitimization, had reconsidered whether following the precedent of R' I.D. Bamberger, who opposed secession, should instead now be followed.
Anita Silvert on October 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm (Reply)
To Independent Patriot, I actually think that is a terrible answer to "What kind of Jew are you?" It's negative, and shows no reason to be actively engaged in a Jewish life but for someone else's hate. It provides no real reason to maintain an identified Jewish life, something I've taught my children is paramount, not because people hate them,but because it's a positive way to live.
As for the denominations, the centrifuge of Jewish existence will determine, ultimately, what is relevant and what resonates with those actually living their Jewish lives. Denominations may provide a "truth in advertising" baseline, so people somewhat know what they may expect in a given experience, but beyond that, it remains to be seen.
Dovid Eliezrie on October 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm (Reply)
As a Chabad Shliach I see all of this up close. A few points.

1. No question Chabad is a world unto itself. But it represents a major shift in modern Jewish life. Many Jews who would self identify as non Orthodox are finding themselves part of a community that at its core is dedicated to traditional Jewish principles of Torah and Halacha.

2. Many are leaving Conservative in particular as it drifts closer to Reform (and Reform itself moves closer to tradition). Issues like Gay Marriage etc. are driving people towards Chabad.

3. The new business model is also a factor. But what it basically does is stop frontloading extensive fees. As people become more involved in Chabad they choose to increase their support.

4. The frequently heard complaints like that of Larry Kaufman that the demands are less in Hebrew School etc. It’s clear from the Avi Chai Study this is not true. Chabad has created a new kind of program that is very successful on its own merits. And what usually happens is a deepening of a bond between the Jew and the Rabbi. In Chabad Centers that are based on a smaller demographic the personal relationship is much stronger between the rabbi and congregant then larger liberal congregations. Invariably this relationship is a stimulus for more intense Jewish engagement.
Stuart Berman on October 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm (Reply)
Rabbi Karp's response, to me, seems to most clearly define the issue. Denominations provide structure whereas without them you have chaos.

However when viewed through the lens of Tanach there is a parallel in the choice of the Israelite people between living in chaos as in the period of the Judges and to live like other nations with a king. The king provided structure and security but G-d was more pleased when we did not live under a king.

1 Samuel 8:7 (Mechon Mamre version - JPS 1917)
"And the LORD said unto Samuel: 'Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them."

Modernized denominations seek to rationalize and emasculate our history and beliefs, embarrassed with a G-d who talks to men and creates miracles. Chabad refreshingly speaks of an active G-d while allowing people the freedom to live as they see fit. Modern denominations offer us ethnic and philosophical clothing whereas groups like Chabad present a spiritual and religious experience that satisfies a different thirst.
Steve Brizel on October 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm (Reply)
Articles of this nature tend to ignore a basic fact. A Jew either is a Shomer Torah UMitzvos or is not. Denominations underscore this fact.
Jayman on October 21, 2010 at 3:07 am (Reply)
Actually, outside the United States, Conservative, which there is called Masorti, is doing remarkably well. Masorti has remained closer to tradition in those countries than it has in the United States. In Britain, it is growing rapidly with former Orthodox-affiliated Jews alienated by Orthodoxy's rightward shift, as well as some ex-Reform Jews looking for more tradition. In continental Europe and in Latin America it is attracting a lot of the youth. Russia and Australia also have new, thriving Masorti communities and in the past decade an entirely new one has popped up in Uganda.

I too, am a generic Jew who speaks Hebrew and is learning Yiddish, who keeps a kosher home, and observes a certain degree of Shabbos. As to what I would affiliate with it depends from country to country.

In the United States or Canada I would only affiliate Orthodox, because I feel that Orthodoxy there is very dynamic and diverse and it preserves tradition and encourages learning. Also, North American Jewry is not centrally organized, which enables it to allow for a wide variety of expressions, from the yeshivishe to Chabad to traditional Sephardi and German communities, to centrist Orthodoxy and finally, this new and exciting liberal Orthodoxy which is emerging.

In Israel, where religion is highly politicized and the Orthodox world is divided into uniformalizing sects, I would affiliate with this new secular spiritual movement, because it celebrates Judaism as a culture and promotes Jewish spirituality and learning without all the dogmatism and stratification that characterizes Israeli Orthodoxy.

In Britain and Europe I would affiliate Masorti, because the Orthodoxy there is very centrally organized and not as dynamic and creative as in America. Also, Masorti is very traditional in those places and at the same time, it is open to converts, which Orthodoxy in those countries is not.

In a place like South Africa, I would affiliate Reform, because Reform there is traditional by nature and it is the only viable alternative to a right-wing, centrally organized Orthodoxy that I find very stifling.
Independent Patriot on October 21, 2010 at 7:25 am (Reply)
To those who misunderstand my closing line. It is a take off from Ben-Gurion when asked to define a Jew he said anyone crazy enough to say they are a Jew. It is not identifying ourselves by someone else's negative assertion of who we are, it is a realization that no matter which denomination you are they still are going to try to kill you.Anti-Semitic propaganda does not discriminate between "which kind of Jew" they hate. They hate us simply because we are Jews.It is a reality that is lost on the lefty Jews when they demonize their own people.

We are Jews in this house because of our attachment to 3500 years of history and tradition. It defines who we are and where we are going.We do not accept others versions of how we are to love and practice our heritage, nor do we let others define what kind of Jew we are. We are Jews plain and simple and pretty damn proud of it too.

BTW I am also not male. Interestingly with the pen-name I use, that seems to be a common mistake. Wonder why?
Grasmere10 on October 21, 2010 at 9:21 am (Reply)
As Mr. Brizel confirms - there are "Best Jews" and there are the rest. I don't know why denominations are necessary to delineate the lines between them. Judaism is rather like Islam in this (and unlike Protestantism) - the "moderate" Muslim is not like an Unitarian or an Aryan, who is just as firm in his Christian belief and conviction of his salvation as a strict Calvinist, but like a Reform Jew, who measures himself by how far he has fallen away from proper observance, and suffers private grief and a feeling of nervous insecurity when he apprehends the greater piety of his Qu'ran-true brothers and sisters.
MARK CHEVAL on October 21, 2010 at 9:55 am (Reply)
RE: Chabad Rabbis, etc.

As mentioned by Mr. Elienzie-with Chabad, the groups are usually so (comparitively) small (as compared to the Reform and Conservative Shuls, that the Rabbi knows the people by name, their families, their problems, etc., and the people know the Rabbi, his family, their problems, etc.

Comapred to the mega Temples with a few hundred members-does the Rabbi really know all of the members, their problems, etc?

A few months ago, I was at a function, and a Chabad Rabbi (NOT where I go, but whom I have met at variosu times, and spoken to) sought me out-he knew that I knew a woman who went to his Shul-and he knew she had family illness issues. He hadn't been able to reach her, so he asked me if I knew her current situation, and to relay the mesage, he is praying for her and her family, and she could contact him at any time.

On an occasion, a few hours before Erev Yom Kippur, this woman's daughter was rushed to a hospital. I tried reaching the Rabbi, could not, called ANOTHER CHABAD RABBI who did not know this person-never saw or spoke to her; he dropped everything and rushed to the hospital to see her, to try and comfort her. He got home in time to change and go to Kol Nidre- his fast was an extra 2 or 3 hours. When I asked why he did it, he replied simply, "she is a Jew; her daughter is a Jew." How many Reform or Conservative Rabbis would do this, before Kol Nidre, for someone whom they do not know, who goes to another Shul?
David Aharon Lindsay on October 27, 2010 at 2:27 pm (Reply)
Having finished studying an speech essay, called Acres of Diamonds by Dr. Russell Conwell, a popular Christian minister of late 19th and early 20th century and his life, I strongly recommend reading and studying this in order for you to get out of the denomination question.

The Chabad rabbi who was absent from Kol Nidrei services, deserves my deepest respect, for he did the same thing as the Chassidim did 200 years ago. One Berditcher Rebbi was on his way to shul, and heard a woman who had just given birth to a boy in the village. Her husband had left for prayers.

There are no labels here - only opportunities to fulfill the two great commandments
the Sh'ma and v'ahavta l'reicha Kamocha. The rest of the laws are a commentary on how to do these two.
jaredlr on November 29, 2010 at 11:28 am (Reply)
Various of the posted comments exemplify the divisions that breed discontent amongst many Jews. I particularly am insulted by those that separate ritually observant Jews from those that are not with no mention as to the degree, nature and extent of those observances. And, what exactly are these oft-cited traditions and who is defining them if not some empowered person?
As an extreme but not unknown example, I suggest that a shomer-shabbos three-amidah a day fellow who beats his wife would more likely be accepted in many Jewish communities than a shomer-shabbos three-amidah a day woman who is a Torah reader in her congregation. Well, happily not so in my Jewish community.
As a self-identifier, I am the kind of Jew who had a Jewish mother. And- I learned more from her about being truly Jewish than any other person I've ever known.
jaredlr on November 29, 2010 at 11:42 am (Reply)
Perhaps a significant factor in the counting of denominational members is that the numerous orthodox elements are all combined in the single rubric while the various non-orthodox are only labelled as to their congregational affiliation (either reform or conservative) "or" non-affiliated. Is this last label sometimes taken to mean "not-truly-Jewish"? As is suggested by many here, the affiliation-label may be more of a power/ego-booster than a mark of Jewishness.
I also suggest another factor discussed in the article is the encouraged high birth rate (hence, higher counts) amongst the orthodox; indeed mothers with few children are socially labelled as not fulfilling their Jewish duty in very-orthodox communities. That is definitely NOT the kind of Jewishness I would want to associate with.
conservprez on November 30, 2010 at 9:24 am (Reply)
The problem with labels is that they try to define individuals by the group. Whether one attends an orthodox, modern orthodox, conservative, or reform shul is not truly relevant. It is in the practice of what Judaism teaches us that truly defines us. Each of us is on a spiritual journey. If we surround ourselves on that journey with like-minded people only, we will fail to see the beauty of other ways, to hear other voices; and we may miss something. My comfort with one form of synagogue Judaism, does not and should not limit my thirst for understanding of other views. In the end, if we adhere to the principles in the Torah, the temporal labels we may wear have little meaning since our values, ethics and morals are what count.

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham