Movements in Judaism

We actually got a break for Hannukah. Isn’t that funny? Did we even get a break for Hannukah in Hebrew day school? Anyway, it was pretty uneventful, which is why I didn’t have much to write about. I did take some kickin’ pictures of Nachalot and a few of some very vivid fruit pictures at the Shuk.

Was there anything else that I did last week that merits mentioning? Mmm…Oh yes, I went to a Shabbaton sponsored by Masa dealing with the Jewish movements. Thanks to being under 35, I receive some money from Masa that helps cut my Pardes tuition significantly. Here’s a brief description from their Web site:

MASA enables thousands of Jewish youth to spend a semester or a year in Israel in any of over 150 programs, helping them build a life-long relationship with Israel and a firm commitment to Jewish life.


Since 2003, MASA has been a catalyst in the developing new and exciting, quality programs which express the multi-faceted experience of Israel.

In addition to financial aid, they offer enrichment and cultural programs at very little cost, which you can read about here. The shabbaton about religious movements was pretty well organized. It was not as information laden as other conferences I’ve been to, which is not a bad thing, and I think it was good to hold it in Jerusalem, where students could experience a Shabbat in Jerusalem. An educational organization called Mashkuchit ran the conference for Masa.

The shabbaton was definitely geared more towards those who participated in programs outside of Jerusalem, but it was still educational for me. I was also one of the older participants, which is what I expected, although I met a lovely 28-year old who is getting a teaching degree at Tel Aviv University. There was a certainly wide range of religious observance in the crowd, which is probably what Masa would have hoped for. Throughout the weekend, we participated in small group discussions about touchy topics such as what constitutes Jewish identity and what makes up our Jewish identity, how would we describe the different Jewish movements. The discussions were all civil and honest and people’s perspectives revealed their interesting backgrounds. 

The first day (erev Shabbat) we toured a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem called Zichron Moshe and learned a bit about the haredi community. Then we went to visit the Shuk in Machane Yehuda during peak time and watched a  Breslover give a bit of a performance to the crowd by dancing in a frenzy. In the evening people went to Friday night services at a Reform, Conservative or Orthodox place of their choice.
The next day people who were interested could attend Saturday morning services at the cornucopia of Jerusalem shul offerings. I decided to do something I wouldn’t normally do and visit the Kotel since the hotel was situated pretty close to the Old City. There wasn’t a women’s Torah service going on, so I prayed several of the main prayers and then took my time walking back to the hotel, strolling through the lovely gardens in Yemin Moshe and meditating over a water fountain.

Saturday was definitely the meatier day of the weekend because it featured talks from Rabbis and religious leaders of the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox movements as well as a panel. The Orthodox rabbi gave an interesting shiur about the Orthodox movement by talking about how the connection between the world above and the world below was lost when Adam ate from the tree of knowledge and how Jews are supposed to work towards restoring that. The other talks were more straightforward in terms of talking about the general principals of each movement–what each one endorses, whether they are halachic–and if they are not, how they diverge from halacha, their positions on certain hot issues like Gay marriage, their emphasis on community outreach and social justice…etc, etc. You get the point.

During the panel, there were a few tense moments, but that was what made it entertaining. Some students challenged the validity of the nonhalachic Reform and Reconstructionist movements. Questions were asked about the role of the rabbi in each movement as well as G-d’s place.

Interestingly, the Orthodox rabbi’s wife participated on the panel instead of her husband, and I was glad she did. I’m continually impressed by how incredibly brilliant and well spoken women from the Orthodox/Modern Orthodox movement are–and how they are often better teachers than the men–and this woman was quite incredible. When they were introducing her on the panel, they read off an list of her educational background and her current accomplishments that was quite impressive. When a poorly educated student asked her how she could be participating in the panel when it was known that the Orthodox didn’t allow women to speak in public, she skillfully put him in his place!

All in all, I enjoyed the conference (and the free food), but wished I could have gotten more of a perspective about what these movements are doing in Israel. Perhaps it would have been a bit too intense for people to dirty their hands in politics. Still that would have made for a more stimulating weekend. In Israel, religion is never far from politics.

I still don’t know where I fit in amongst all of the dizzying array of choices. Right now I’m avoiding categories, but if you must categorize me, you could put me in the ‘post-denominational’ group, where I’m sure I’ll have much company.

The conference definitely raised some important questions for me such as, if Judaism is an ‘anything you want’ type of movement, can it survive? Isn’t a Judaism that accepts everything, a Judaism that is about nothing? Do there need to be some restrictions, prohibitions so that we have a group of committed Jews? If so, what are these restrictions? Is there such thing as too many restrictions? How does a nonhalachic movement try to create a committed community without the consistency provided by halacha? What do I feel about the role of halacha in a religious movement?

Perhaps you could provide some thoughts. In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom 🙂


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