Is Conservative Judaism Relevant?

Conservative Judaism is an ideological response to two main philosophical frameworks that existed in 19th century Germany.  On the right, one segment of European Judaism was religious and held Halachah as binding; and on the left, European Enlightenment thinking and secularism gave birth to Reform Judaism where Halacha is not binding.  Solomon Schechter, a major contributor to Conservative Judaism, saw Reform Judaism as negating “positive” legal aspects of Judaism, but being historically representative of Jewish philosophical dynamism.  Conversely, according to Schechter, Orthodox Judaism recognized “positive” elements in Jewish Law, but did not account for Jewish legal dynamism.  The moderate group is Conservative Judaism, recognizing “positive” elements in Halachah and accounting for historical dynamism (i.e. Positive Historical Judaism).

In its historical context, Conservative Judaism holds a very important role as a way for Jews to be identifiably Jewish and to participate in modern secular society, but Conservative Judaism is no longer relevant in American society for the following reasons: (1) American society is by nature polarized, (2) Conservative Judaism is a reactive rather than proactive force and (3) in reality the religious space between Orthodoxy and Reform is a fluid spectrum, not a defined set of religious possibilities.

American Society is by Nature Polarized

American Jews are both politically and religiously polarized because America is polarized.  Moderation does not achieve results.  For this reason, Americans are forced to join what he or she believes is the morally correct camp or what they believe will be the most successful one.  In the exact same way, a Conservative Jew grows up in America, sees the world split in two and feels the need to join one side or the other.

Conservative Judaism is Reactive Rather Than Proactive

Conservative Judaism is a reaction to previous Jewish life ways its creators saw as unfeasible, but is Conservative Judaism important as a standalone philosophy?  Perhaps it is, but to many Conservative Jews, it lacks a strong and meaningful rallying call.  It seems the reason most American Conservative Jews claim to be Conservative is because it is the closest available Shul, not because they strongly believe in the tenants of Conservative Judaism.  This is not the case with Reform and Orthodox Judaism.

There are More Religious Options Now than Ever Before

Lastly, for those able to escape polarization, there is more than one stop between Orthodox and Reform.  Conservative Judaism is not a fresh glass of water in a religious desert between Reform and Orthodox Judaism.  There are countless levels of religiosity that are actively pursued by individual Shuls across the nation.  If you live in a Metropolitan area and want a particular type of Shul, chances are you can find one.

Conservative Judaism is an important, viable, real and beautiful part of the reality of Jewish existence, but its importance in American Judaism is waning because by nature they do not take a side.  In addition, Conservative Judaism does not provide and promote a defined rallying call under which searching Jews find repose.  Also, for those who deny the polarized view of Judaism in America, they can find people similar to them; Conservative Judaism is no longer needed to fill the religious vacuum.

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Jewish Settlements: A Chassidic Perspective

Modern Jewish Voice is canvassing Rabbi’s and community leaders on the issue of settlements to better understand the political and religious implications of Jewish life in the West Bank.  The following was authored by a Chassidic Rabbi who wishes to remain anonymous.

Here’s the answer in one line:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Jews building in any part of the Land of Israel, including the eastern part of the land.

The idea of a peace process based on Israel giving away parts of it’s land should not exist in the first place, for the following six reasons:

1.       The land of Israel is a G-d given gift to every Jew. No one has the right to demand it from the Jews and no one has the right to give it away.

The first Rashi on the first verse of the entire Torah quotes a Midrash, which asks why the Torah begins with the account of the creation. Since it is taught that the Torah isn’t a history book but rather an instruction book, shouldn’t it have been more fitting for the Torah to begin with the laws pertaining to the fulfillment of the Mitzvos?

The Midrash’s answer is nothing short of prophetic. Rav Yitzchok explains in the Midrash that the reason the Torah begins with the account of creation is because if there comes a time when the nations of the world turn to the Jews and tell them that they are thieves because they conquered the land of Israel, we should respond that since the world was created by G-d (as related in the beginning of the Torah) He has the right to do with the land of Israel as He sees fit. Furthermore, G-d chose to gift it to the Jews, as recorded in the Torah. So the Jews are not thieves, they are merely inhabiting a land which is rightfully theirs.

2.       Trading land for peace does not save lives. One might say that Pikuach Nefesh (someone’s life is in danger) allows, and even demands, for going against the Torah.  Therefore, the government should be allowed to give away parts of its land if it would cause lives to be saved. The answer to that is; giving away land does not save lives, it takes lives!

3.       The land-for-peace process perpetuates violence. Look at the major explosion of terrorism that occurred since the peace process started. The Arabs always find another reason to demand more and more from Israel, themselves stymieing the peace process. When dealing with any other region, the world and the media fully understand that negotiating with terrorists only emboldens them and causes more violence. For example, no one is calling for the US to negotiate with the Taliban and give them a part of Afghanistan to make a country of their own, but for whatever reason, which deserves an entire discussion for itself, Israel is expected to negotiate with those who hate it and are bent on its complete destruction.

4.       Modern nations cannot afford to negotiate with terrorists. Israel is told that it can negotiate with Abbas because he (unlike Arafat, with whom Israel negotiated for over a decade) is genuinely interested in making peace. Under our “partner in peace” Abbas, public squares are named for suicide bombers; school children are taught that the Israeli government is bent on killing Palestinian children; the official state TV is filled with anti-Semitic propaganda; and under Palestinian law, a Palestinian who assists the Israelis in finding a terrorist operative is executed. Surely, this does not sound like a society interested in making peace with Israel. This attitude only ensures that future Palestinian generations will grow continuing to hate Israel.

The excuse Abbas gives as to why he allows this to happen is very telling. He says that if he would try to put an end to this hatred, he would lose the support of the people. You cannot make peace with a leader unless he has the backing of the people he represents. A leader only represents the people he was appointed to lead. If the populace does not seriously want peace, what is the point of coercing Israel to “make peace” with this leader.

5.       The Occupation is not the source of Palestinian-Israeli tensions. The Arabs have always claimed that the main obstacle to peace is Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the so called pre-1967 borders). Is this a legitimate argument?  Recent occurrences tell us not.  Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip so that Palestinians could be autonomous and self ruling. Israel was answered not by peace but by tens of thousands of rockets raining down on the men, women and children of southern Israel. These rockets were fired from locations where once stood Israeli Synagogues and pre-schools. By Hamas’ own admission, Gush Katif is being used as a launching pad to fire missiles deeper into the center of Israel.

Tellingly, soon after the disengagement, the Palestinians overwhelmingly voted for Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group, to govern them.

Similarly, the world now expects Israel to give up the West Bank, hence the outcry over the construction in the settlements, so that Palestinians can have their own state, not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank. History teaches us, however, that this experiment failed.

Let’s discuss for a moment the issue of the pre-1967 borders. Is the fact that Israel controlled Gaza and the West Bank really the root of the problem the Arab world has with Israel? Is that really where the unbelievable animosity the Arabs (and the majority of the world for that matter) have against Israel stems from?

I think not, look at the attitude of the Arabs towards the Jews before 1967.  In 1920, an Arab led pogrom in the Old City of Jerusalem killed five Jews and wounded over 200, while Jewish shops and Yeshivot were set ablaze. In Jaffa, in 1921, 47 Jews were murdered and almost 150 wounded.  Was that because of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip?  A massacre in Hebron in 1929 resulted in the deaths of men, women and children – 67 in total. A massacre in Tiberias, in 1938, saw the passing of 19 Jews, 11 of them children. Was that because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank?

6.       The Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza were gained through defensive wars. When the UN voted to make Israel a state, she was attacked by five Arab armies who vowed to drive the Jews into the sea. During the Six-Day War, a war in which Israel fought for its very survival, Israel miraculously survived the invasion of three powerful Arab armies. That is when Israel received the Sinai, Gaza, West Bank and the Golan Heights. Prior to this war, Gaza belonged to Egypt and the West Bank to Jordan.

Israel must realize that the only way the Arabs will make peace with it, is if the root of their problem with Israel is resolved, and that is the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Unless the Israelis are willing to close up shop and move somewhere else, the Arabs will always find a reason to continue to hate the Jews.

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A Paradox in Turkey

The Turkish government has released new findings from an inquiry it conducted on the Israeli raid of a Gaza bound boat which resulted in the deaths of eight Turks and a Turkish-American.  The Associated Press reported that among the findings purported by the Turkish government is that Israeli soldiers shot five victims at “close range,” and that two of the victims were killed before IDF commandos boarded the ship.  These findings deny the inquiry Israel already conducted on the raid which cleared its military and government of wrongdoing and will further destabilize the already tense relationship held between Israel and it’s former ally, Turkey.

Within the terrifyingly narrow historical scope utilized by Israel’s detractors, these findings are a heroic and truthful expression of the oppressive regime in Israel.  History teaches us, however, that the opposite is true and that Ottoman Turkey herself conducted genocide.  Furthermore, the Turkish President denies this tragedy and his only goal is to promote lies which only serve to support previously held conclusions.

In 2009, during an interview with Charlie Rose, Turkish President Erdogan denied the Armenian Genocide.  When asked what more proof he needed, Erdogan responded that the accusations of genocide are “completely a lie.”  The Turkish President simultaneously denies the Armenian genocide, which resulted in the unimaginably horrible loss of more than one million Armenians, while parading reports that claim Israel is the international criminal.  By espousing this belief, the Turkish Government continues it’s century’s old systematic racist agenda against the Armenian people.  Erdogan has joined the global conversation of anti-Israeli rhetoric, along with his contemporaries Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah.

Israel, like every other nation has made its fair share of mistakes, under no circumstances should the opposite claim be made in honest intellectual conversation.  On the other hand, the blatant hypocrisy of the Turkish Government is overwhelming and the global community should not hesitate to call him for it.  Turkey should admit it’s wrongdoings and give reparations to Armenians before judging Israel’s right to defend itself.

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Consequentialism and Israeli Arabs

According to consequentialist thinking, where existence is justified by virtue of what is achieved when a particular institution is in place, Israel has the most justifiable government in the region.  Within the scope of consequentialism, the desirability of an institution is based solely on whether or not the results of its existence can be viewed positively.  That being said, Israel has a more legitimate claim to existence than any of its bordering nations or fiercest enemies.  Furthermore, this is also true of Israel’s Arab community.  If we compare quality of life of Arab countries neighboring Israel to that of Israeli Arabs, it is strikingly clear that with regard to aggregate benefit produced, Israel has more of a right to exist than Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon.  That is to say, quality of life for Arabs citizens of Israel has improved, compared to their cousins living in Egypt, Jordan, Syria or Lebanon.

The following statistics substantiate the above claim:

Life expectancy for Arab Israeli’s is 74.5 for men; compared to Egypt, 69.82; Syria, 72.1; and Lebanon, 73.28 (UN).

Access to Israeli universal health care by Israeli Arabs ranks their care 28th in the world, compared to Egypt, 68th; Jordan, 83rd; Syria, 108th; and Lebanon, 91st. (WHO)

For Israeli Arab men, unemployment is equal to that of Israeli men, around 6%, compared to Egypt, 10.5%; Jordan, 12.9%; Syria, 8.5%; and Lebanon, 9.2%.  (UN, Cambridge Journal Online, CIA)

70% of the 200,000 Palestinians living would choose to remain under Israeli sovereignty, rather than PLO. (The Washington Post)

This is not to say that Israel is without social injustices, it means only that compared to Arabs living in countries surrounding Israel to Arabs living within Israel, Israel has produced more net human benefit.  Accordingly, within the parameters defined by consequentalist thought, Israel has the best claim to existence compared to its neighbors.

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The Arithmetic of Justice

The status quo costs the Government of Egypt $1.1 million annually.  That was the price paid to Washington lobbyists, by a foreign government, to keep Senate Resolution 586, which pressed for “democracy, human rights and civil liberties in Egypt,” off the Senate Floor.  What is the human cost? What is the arithmetic that the Egyptian and American governments hold by?  300 new jobs in Mississippi are worth 300 dead protestors and a potentially threatened Israel.

On July 20th, 2010 Senator Russ Feingold put forth Resolution 586 which:

Reaffirms that respect for human rights is a fundamental U.S. value and that providing unconditional support for governments that do not respect human rights undermines U.S. credibility and creates tensions, including in the Muslim world, that can be exploited. Recognizes that while the government of Egypt faces legitimate security threats political reform in that country will help to counter extremism and solidify prospects for stability and prosperity. Encourages the government of Egypt to repeal the state of emergency. Calls on the government of Egypt to lift legislative restrictions on freedoms of assembly, association, and expression in advance of the 2010 elections. Urges the President and the Secretary of State to: (1) make respect for human rights and democratic freedoms a priority in the U.S.-Egyptian relationship; and (2) broaden engagement with the people of Egypt and support human rights and democratic reform efforts in Egypt.

The response to Feingold’s bill, which sought to help establish the freedom and democracy promoted by Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, was a flurry of lobbying aimed at appeasing an irked Egyptian Government.

How did this happen?  One active player in the assault against Senate Resolution 586 was Lobbyist Bob Livingston, who in his attempt to halt the progress of the bill, found a supporter in Mississippi Congressman Roger Wicker.  Only three months prior to the bill being introduced, shipbuilder VT Halter Marine Inc. struck an $807 million deal with the Egyptian Government, creating 300 jobs for Mississippians.  In addition, VT Halter Marine received $3.2 million in earmarks requested by Congressman Wicker.  Quid Pro Quo, perhaps not, but it certainly reeks of corruption.

What are the ramifications of American Lawmakers preventing a potentially impactful bill from hitting the floor?  In this case, 300 Americans get jobs, and 300 Egyptians, whose lives could have been improved or at least on track to improve, would still be living.

How does this affect the shape of Middle East politics?  American policy makers may have prevented the adoption of a bill that would have improved living conditions for Egyptians, prevented the necessity of protests and revolution in Egypt, and preempted a potentially dangerous situation for Israeli’s if the new Egyptian government takes a hostile stance towards Israel.

If you are interested in contacting Congressman Wicker to follow up on this issue, please follow this link.

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About Modern Jewish Voice

In the marketplace of ideas, extremism tends to take precedence over moderation.  Our “sound bite” culture has created an atmosphere where only the extreme survive and moderate voices are drowned out by pointed fingers and ad-hominem.  Modern Jewish Voice represents all ends of the political, social, and religious spectrum.  We strive to nurture an atmosphere where Judaism and Israel can be discussed without fear of criticism.

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Life as a Single Jewish Female

By Anonymous Contributor to Modern Jewish Voice

Life as a single Jewish female can be rough.  What is it that they say in
therapist’s chairs up and down the East Coast?  Devise a support system?  Well I
seem to have found one right on the left side of the spectrum.  The gay male –
you see:

Jewish Chicks are Like Gay Men

We both have it pretty rough in the “search for a long term relationship” war
that needs no years next to it since it never ends.

I have always felt a kindred spirit with my gay male brethren who are also
looking for love in all the wrong places. The following are some similarities
that Jewish females have with Gay males:

Judged Pretty Harshly on Looks

I know, I know, everyone is judged by looks but I think that we have it harder
than the rest. It is no biggie smalls if a Jewish straight dude is 10 pounds
overweight, has stubble, and is losing some hair. As long as he can hold down
some semblance of a job and doesn’t beat you, return his call for the love of
Hashem!  But Jewish chicks are supposed to look good. A Jewess will not even
make it to the first date unless she looks exactly the opposite of the guy’s
mother.  The mantras in our heads include: straighten out that Jew-fro, lay off
the challah, get a nose job, swoon if a guy has a Benz.  Gay guys too. In fact,
when I went to a gay club one night, my friend commented about one man with a
bit of a beer belly: “He just came out.”

Face Familial Pressure to Succeed

I imagine that gay guys have to put up an “I’ve got my shit together” front to
their families. They have to prove that they can not only be gay, but hold down
a full time job, pay rent, and keep house. Jewish (single) chicks also have this
chip on their shoulder. Ok, well maybe I just have this chip on my shoulder. I
want to show that I can do it all.  But a Jewish straight dude can still be
living with mommy and daddy while he “sorts things out” and will still get some
bootay or act like it is a privilege to be seen with him.

Legal/Religious Discrimination

Despite recent progress, gay marriage laws are at the level of the 2/3rd vote
for slaves during Lincoln’s time: a step in the right direction, but something
our grandkids will look back on and think “WTF! Worst. Country. Ever.”  In
Jewish law, babes are pretty powerless. In fact, technically the Jewish wedding
contract is a financial transaction. So much so that if the dude buys the ring
on credit card, the wedding is not legit unless the bill is paid off in full.
Jewish women aren’t supposed to be participating in many rituals and prayer
services because we are supposed to be minding the kids. I’m all for missing
synagogue to sleep in, but don’t tell me I should be cranking out kids instead.

Subjected to Blind Dates

Since both of us face slim dating pools, we can’t be so picky in the date
department. We are supposed to just date someone who fits remotely what we are
looking for (Jewish and male and not a felon, or Gay and male and not a felon)
and lives within a 15 mile radius.

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