Prescriptions for Conservative Judaism

Next Wednesday, Sept. 5, Arnold Eisen will be “inaugurated”: as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, the flagship seminary and intellectual center of Conservative Judaism.

Much has been said in recent years about the challenges facing the Conservative movement, which strives to be moderate and centrist — balancing Jewish tradition with modern realities — in a culture that is increasingly prone to polarization.

tjndc5-5c3xhrp5vlkp48z39qu_layout.jpgEisen himself has conceded that the Conservative world does not put forth a strong, clear message about who it is and what it’s trying to do.

As the inauguration nears, The Forward has asked some big-name Jewish thinkers to say (quickly) how Conservative Judaism should move forward.

You can read it “here.”:

Some highlights:

Rabbi David Wolpe of LA: “Covenantal Judaism. That is our philosophy and should be our name. Renaming heralds our rejuvenation…Covenantal Judaism holds aloft the ideal of dialogue with God, with other Jews of all movements, and with the non-Jewish world. In holding each of these as sacred we stand in a unique position in Jewish life.”

David Shneer, University of Denver: “Pulpit rabbis (an odious term that shows how mainstream Judaism has aped its Protestant counterparts) become CEOs of synagogues, appointed by boards of donors and charged with communal operations, moving yet further away from the spirit. Perhaps if Conservative Judaism spent more time allowing its rabbis to cultivate their own spirit and personal charisma, more of them would see what they do less as a job and more as a calling, and more Jews would approach Conservative shuls with passion.”

Author Scott Shay: “The goal should be a total turnover of incumbent leadership over a two- to three-year period to a new group of energized grassroots leaders. This should be accomplished with kavod, compassion, but urgency as well.”

Rabbi Naomi Levy of LA: “The Conservative movement needs to send out an army. We must plant 50 new spiritual communities across America with the mission of reaching out to unaffiliated and disaffected Jews. I say spiritual communities because I am not referring to synagogues or havurot.”

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of NY: “Lose the “Label yourself Conservativeâ€? mentality. Try instead: We encourage Jews to seek meaningful, empowered engagement with Judaism. Wherever that leads, we trust them, even if it is outside the Conservative menu of options.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.