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Thursday 10 April 2008

Imagine Jews worshipping together

Imagine Jews worshipping together

We Jews are too dedicated to defending theological turf. Consider these
disturbing scenarios: Most Orthodox rabbis would sooner close the doors
of their synagogue than permit a Conservative, Reconstructionist, or
Reform rabbi to speak from the pulpit and violate its sanctity with
"heretical" non-Orthodox teachings.
Many Reform rabbis will officiate at an interfaith wedding alongside
Christian clergy but refuse to stand under the huppa next to a
Conservative or Orthodox rabbi and condone a halachic wedding contract
of kinyan, or acquisition.
At its biennial convention in 2005, the Conservative rabbinical
association debated in earnest whether to expel traditional,
non-egalitarian congregations from the United Synagogue's highly
trumpeted, pluralistic "tent of Conservative Jewry." One rabbi referred
to non-egalitarian services as "immoral" and "misogynistic."
Through chauvinistic rebuffs, dogmatic authorities of every denomination
mark their territory, beat their chests, and bellow a warning intended
for loyal followers and heretical enemies. When the dust settles, they
adopt a self-satisfied pose, accusing the other side of starting the
fight. With swords sheathed, each dogmatist hunkers down in his own
synagogue or temple bunker to call upon God while an air of detachment
pervades the Jewish community.
Today, when hundreds of thousands of Jews opt out of Judaism,
internecine battles only contribute to the charge by the unaffiliated
that organized religion in general and Judaism in particular leads to
intolerance and fraternal hatred. When the decibel level of strident
carping drowns out the beauty and positive values of all streams of
Judaism, outsiders will choose to remain on the outside, and those on
the way out will quickly join the ranks of the unaffiliated.
THERE IS another path, one which could shore up the breach, slacken the
flow of Jews deciding to opt out, and attract back those who have
already left. Rabbis of different denominations should reach across the
divide and find theological solutions to not only work together for the
social betterment of the community, but most importantly for Jewish
unity, worship together.
For the sake of the future of the Jewish people, it is time for our
rabbinic leadership to reach out to other denominations and find the
will to pray together in one sanctuary. This would create a new paradigm
of worship, in which rabbis, standing before the Almighty, will show
their congregants that a Jewish world can stand together, not just apart.
Students of history will scoff at such an effort. The pessimistic
historian will cite millennia of Jewish theological rifts. The optimist,
however, will ignore these precedents, if only because a Jewish optimist
is committed to ahavat hinam, boundless love for other Jews.
ALTHOUGH THE theological challenge is daunting, solutions can be found.
Two recent developments illustrate the ability of Jews of different
viewpoints to pray together and welcome God into their midst.
In 2001, a group of Jerusalem residents created the first Modern
Orthodox Partnership Minyan, which seeks to readdress the role of women
in the synagogue within the strictures of halacha. As in any Orthodox
service, the Partnership Minyan consists of 10 men, separates men and
women with a mehitza, or barrier, and uses traditional Orthodox liturgy.
Yet it allows women to participate fully in the Torah reading as readers
and recipients of aliyot, and to lead certain parts of the service.
Female participants deliver sermons and lead classes for the
congregation, Partnership Minyans have now spread to several
metropolitan areas in the US.
Another promising development took place in Israel a decade ago when the
Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and the Masorti Movement
published a new prayer book titled V'ani T'filati, a traditional prayer
book which embraces pluralism and a variety of acceptable approaches to
thorny issues. It does so by offering alternative texts from which a
person may choose their prayer. An egalitarian Jew may sanctify not only
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel
and Leah. A Jew who sanctifies the exalted role sacrifices played in the
Temple skips respectfully over a paragraph in the musaf service that
views the sacrificial system as a primitive stage in the religious
development of the Jewish people.
Both of these examples allow Jews on opposite sides of the theological
spectrum to meet in worship. Although a Partnership Minyan is not the
ideal venue either for staunch egalitarians or for traditional Orthodox
Jews, it allows us to fulfill a higher value within a framework of
halacha - unity among the Jewish people. In a similar vein, Jews of
different beliefs can pray from Siddur V'ani T'filati because it
presents, together, the conflicting sacred texts of traditional and
non-traditional Jewish prayer services.
Large metropolitan areas usually boast synagogues of every denomination,
citadels of theological correctness. Yet, none of these fortified
institutions can boast that they bring Jews together as one. It is high
time for the soldiers of dogma to lay down their swords, embrace
creative solutions, and cross the widening chasm of Jewish
self-righteousness so that they can raise their voices to God. Together.
The writer, a businessman in Baltimore, Maryland, was ordained as an
Orthodox rabbi at Yeshiva University.


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