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Nachalat Shimon Posted - 10 January 2001 16:37

Although I am quite new to the board here, I noticed a rather out-of-hand discussion in this forum about Conservative Judaism. I am a ba'al teshuva (Orthodox) and have, over the last 2 years, abandoned my Conservative roots and settled on Orthodoxy. My father is a Conservative rabbi and so, in my many arguments and discussions with him, I have been able to glean what it is that Conservative Judaism is all about.

Normative Conservative Judaism believes that the Torah is "divinely inspired," much like Islam believes their Koran to be. They believe, contrary to many of your opinions in the other thread, that the prophets were legitimate messengers of G-d, and spoke the truth. They believe, additionally, that anything written explicitly in the Torah should be followed. However, things that do not make sense to the human logic--such as shatnez--are not as simple an issue. Conservative Jews believe themselves to be very much a part of this world, practicing first and foremost a religion--and are careful to avoid leaps of faith, as are many Orthodox Jews. The difference is that, if you believe that the Torah was divinely inspired but written by human beings--people as human as yourself--it isn't imperative to follow laws which make little sense.

(When I speak of "Conservative Jews," I mean those who are serious about their religion. 95% of Conservative Jews that I have known in my experience do not believe in even a fraction of what their movement teaches--they believe in Biblical criticism, don’t believe halacha must be followed, and believe that Jewish culture is the most precious facet of Judaism. This unfortunate majority is not the issue at hand; don't attack other Jews; this isn't the solution and it is exemplative of sinat chinam. If you have an issue with Conservatism, start at the top.)

My real problem with Conservative Judaism is its interpretation of the Rabbinic role in Judaism. I believe that decisions made in the Gemara nearly 2,000 years ago, by rabbis we can't hold a candle to in the present day, are authoritative. If the first ever mention of 39 melachot forbidden on Shabbat appears in the Mishna--so be it.

The laws of Shabbat have been decided, and I believe they are Divine--they had been followed by all Jews for millenia since Sinai, and had to be formulated into writing in the mishna only because of the dispersal of Jews to different parts of the world. It's the same reason the rest of the mishna was compiled--the law had never existed before? Everything in the Mishna was made up by a bunch of Rabbis on the spot? No. It was there before--orally only. Shabbat, the 39 melachot--all known orally.

A Conservative person, on the other hand, would tell you that all it says is "Remember/Observe the Sabbath Day," and nothing more. The Rabbis interpreted the proximity of that statement to the Mishkan narrative to indicate that work prohibited in the mishkan is prohibited on Shabbat--but that doesn’t mean we Conservatives can't reinterpret the law. We are as human as the Rabbis were, and we can be as knowledgeable as the greatest Rabbi who ever lived.

Thus, whereas Orthodoxy says the first decisions of the original halachists and Rabbis are not subject to change, Conservatives say that anything Rabbinic can, has been, and will be changed; that halacha is a living and breathing formation created by one--but not the only legitimate--interpretation of the Torah. Orthodoxy believes in the living nature of halacha as well, but only that we can channel earlier rulings, re-applying them to modern-day situations--not reinventing the halacha.

So when you make the true statement that Conservatives permit driving on Shabbat--you'd be right, but not because they don’t believe in or respect the halacha. They do respect the halacha, and try to use relevant parts of it to enhance daily life Jewishly. But where it comes to modern Judaism, most Jews today-- and the Conservative movement itself--place more value upon attending synagogue on Shabbat than actually keeping it to the letter of the law.

In other words: The Conservative lawmaking Committee knows and acknowledges that most of their adherents will drive on Shabbat one way or another: to baseball games, the mall, etc. At least let them drive to shul without having a burden of guilt placed upon them. That's the thinking. Orthodox Judaism, in fact, also believes that people today can decide halacha based on changing situations--only in Orthodoxy you have to have a source for your thinking, you have to be extremely learned and a profound Torah scholar, and you can't make things up.

If we always take from previous sources which took from previous sources as far back as the Talmud--we will have ourselves the undiluted application of the Oral Law--the Torah SheBa'al Peh, in all its mysterious glory--to our modern and relevant lives.

Another issue the Conservative Movement struggles with is feminism. Feminism is a philosophy that can be very antithetical to Judaism. But most women today believe very strongly in fully equal women's rights--in government, society, etc.

The problem is when it is applied to religion as well. Judaism is a way of life that includes instruction for absolutely every facet of ones existence. So: Yes, the Torah tells us about Niddah and related laws. But the idea that a woman is impure during her menstrual period doesn't appeal much too modern women, who don’t see a period as a disgusting thing. This is an unusual case, in which the Torah itself forbids something that absolutely must be changed (if you are a Jewish feminist).

So, in this case we conclude that "the Torah was written in a time in which women were subservient to men in every way--not just in Judaism, but in all the cultures around Judaism. So, as times change and all the cultures around us adopt feminism, why shouldn't we?" This conclusion makes the assumption that the halacha doesn’t function independently of the other cultures.

It assumes, as does Conservative Judaism, that the halacha was formed and meshed largely based upon the time period and society in which it was formed. THAT is the Conservative basis for changing halacha. Now that times have changed, "sexist" rules must go by the wayside to accommodate modern living.

Laws like Kol Ishah are found offensive: off you go. Niddah is offensive: see ya later. Religions around us have women priests now: come on in, women rabbis.

In such a way, Conservative Judaism turns halacha into a cultural expression of Jews surrounded by a gentile society. They might tell you, indeed, that if the world had been feminist during the time of the Talmud, we wouldn't have any of the "sexist" laws we have in Orthodoxy today. Orthodoxy though, recognizes the true integrity of the halacha. It is Divinely ordained, and doesn't change in its essence. Yes, it is our hands that must mold it to fit modern situations; that’s what it means "Ain bashamayim hi", "it (Torah) is not in Heaven". G-d didn’t say: When there is TV in the future, don’t use it on Shabbat. How long a Shulchan Orach would that have made for?:) It comes down to assimilation, folks.

Those who have assimilated want to believe that the guys who made halacha were assimilated and thereby based the halacha on Non-Jewish ideas. "So now that Non-Jewish ideas have changed, so should we." But Non-Jews valued or condoned lots of things: materialism, sexual promiscuity, the list goes on. Did Jews incorporate that into the halacha? No. Batei Yisrael continued to be more modest than the rest of the world around them.

Jews continued to strive for spiritual, not physical, wealth. And so Orthodox Jews will continue to be an example to the rest of the world that Judaism doesn’t bend for the sake of bending; that we value our heritage enough that we know it is relevant to us today.

- 10 January 2001 17:19

"Divinely inspired" is meaningless. How do we know that the Torah was divinely inspired? And how do we know what authority, if any, "divinely inspired" has?

Maybe this website is divinely inspired?

Maybe the Pope is "divinely inspired"?

You see, the entire "divinely inspired" thing is so ambiguous and means so little in the bottom line that anyone can say it means anything they want. And this is no surprise, since "divinely inspired" was the concoction of some relatively modern day conservative rabbis, and Jews have never thought of such an outrageous concept ever.

Why didn’t' the people who were "divinely inspired", their contemporaries, and the entire thread of torah tradition down ever mention the fact that the Torah was merely "divinely inspired" as opposed to the Word of G-d, which is what it says all over. How did these Conservatives decide this? Based on what? Nothing.

If we can just chuck Halachos that we consider offensive or nonsensical why hasn't any Halachos been chucked until the Conservatives decided to do it? Torah has been around for thousands of years. It makes zero sense to say that only since the advent of the Conservative movement do we understand what it really means.

And it makes no sense anyway. "Nonsensical" to whom? "Offensive" to whom? What authority does the "Conservative movement" have to decide what's offensive of non-sensical? I am offended by the Conservative movement. That, by Conservative standards, should be enough to abolish it, no? Who makes these decisions, and, most importantly, who gives any of these people the authority to decide laws and practices for other people? Like, who died and make them the boss?

The fact that Conservative Judaism does not believe the Torah is the Word of Hashem but rather "divinely inspired" whatever that means, makes it a totally different religion than Orthodox Judaism. The last time an Orthodox rabbi said this, the Conservatives freaked out and falsely publicized to the papers that we do not believe they are Jews.

Not so. They are Jews. Nobody ever said differently. Their religion, however, is not Judaism. Like Jews for Jesus, they are full-fledged Jews, but are practicing the wrong religion.

And at least Jews for Jesus believe that the Torah was given by G-d, not merely "divinely inspired".

Coool Caat Posted - 05 May 2002 18:47

Having been a Conservative Jew my whole life until this past summer when I became Orthodox, I totally agree with your objections to the Conservative movement- that's why I left it (with the help of NCSY). But I can't remain silent when you say something that implies Jews for Jesus is better than Conservative Judaism.

The Conservative movement is not a new religion; it just thinks it can decide what rules it does and does not want to follow based on modern times. Obviously it is not authentic, traditional Judaism, but it still partly follows Halachah and should not in any way be considered less Jewish than Jews for Jesus.

MODERATOR Posted - 05 May 2002 21:00

it doesn’t merely partially follow Halachah, it partially believes in Halachah. People who can’t resist temptation partially follow Halchah, but they know that there is more that they are not following. Conservativism has abolished Halahcos they do not like.

Our religion says the Halachos - all of them - were given by G-d. Not merely "divinely inspired", whatever that mean (it means nothing, really). To say that the Torah, including the Halachos are not binding is to create a new religion. Sorry.

PS - I didn’t say J4J are better than Conservativism. I said that at least they believe the Torah was given by G-d Himself. J4J is also not Judaism, and has other problems, but this is not one of them.


Anonymous said...

I am a Jew who believes Y'shua (Jesus) is the Messiah. I do believe that the Hebrew Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. Y'shua said, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:46)" Exodus 24:4 states, "Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said." Not much room for an oral tradition if you ask me. I speculate that the oral tradition came about as a pietist movement of the returning Babylonian exiles. It was a heartfelt plan to not allow another exile to occur. Over a period of time, it became simply a tradition of men, involving as much politics as polity. The Scriptures is straightforward enough to read and to see God's nature and God's will, if read honestly and by His Spirit. Why not take some time to get your nose out of Talmud and Rashi, and put your nose in the unadulterated Word of God that is TNK. How many of you have actually studied Isaiah as a source document from start to finish? I, as a Jew for Jesus am not better or worse than anyone. Like you, I do good things and bad things. God is first and foremost intersted in a relationship (Jeremiah 31:33). I may not be perfect, but I am a person who loves God, and took the time to read His Word, and determine His Standards. You don't have to agree with me, of course, but at least read God's Word first. May he bless you all during this Festival of Light with the Light of His Word and His Presence in DELETED


amolam said...

...Rich, you may want to stick your nose into the following...

TORAH SHEBALPEH------indispensable

The Oral Torah - Torah shebal peh - was given at the exact same time as the written Torah (Torah shebiksav). The Oral Torah is the explanation of the Written Law. Without the Oral Law, the Written Law, simply put, makes no sense.

This, among other reasons, is why other religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist "Judaism", and Jews for Jesus will never have any serious basis for their religious beliefs, since they all attempt the impossible: To base a religion on the Written Law only, to the exclusion of the Oral Law. That’s impossible, since without the Oral Law, the Written Law is meaningless. It is clear as day from the Written Torah that an Oral Torah goes along with it.

Example: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy assembly, all actions of work you shall not do; a day of blowing it shall be for you" (Bamidbar 29:1).

Ookay. Now, just based on this written verse, what in the world does this mean?

Proclaim a holy day, abstain from work, blow the shofar -- why? What is the meaning of this holiday? What is it in honor of? Do you think G-d told them to celebrate without telling them what it is they are celebrating?

Don’t you think G-d explained this to Moshe?

In Shemos 23:15 we read: "The festival of Matzos you should keep. Seven days you shall eat Matzos and I commanded you, in the designated time in the spring month, in which you went out of Egypt."

We understand that a "month" means the lunar month ("chodesh" - month - comes from the word "chodosh" - "new", as in new moon. The solar "month" is not really a month but a random division of the year into 12 parts with no real rhyme or reason. A solar month could have had 20 30 40 50 or 150 days - it’s just a random number).

But the problem is, the lunar year is 354 days and the solar year is 365. That means, every year, the lunar year slips 11 days behind the solar, so that this "spring month" will not be a spring month anymore in a few years, and will come out as often in the winter as it does in the summer or spring or fall (Ramadan of the Moslems comes out different times of the year because of this). So what in the world is a "spring month"??????

Don’t you think G-d explained this to Moshe? Yet there is not a peep in the Torah about what this mean or what to do when Pesach comes out in December!

"You shall afflict yourselves" (Vayikra 16:31) on Yom Kippur. How? By standing on your head? Sticking needles into your skin?

"You shall take for yourselves (on Sukkos) a good-looking fruit" (Vaiykra 23:40) - which one???

Despite the total non-committal nature of the Torah on these issues, no Jew in history ever questioned the fact that Pri Eitz Hadar means an Esrog, and affliction on Yom Kippur means fasting. Even the "Messianic Jews" who believe in Yoshka, fast on Yom Kippur! Not that they have any idea what they’re doing, but he question is, why does everyone in the world think without any disagreement that these verses refer to these particular things?

The Torah nowhere says you must fast on Yom Kippur!

And check this out: "And they shall be Totafos between your eyes" (Devarim 6:8).
What in the world are totafos? What does this word mean? It has no real translation, even.
Don’t you think that Moshe, when G-d told him this, asked "Please explain?"

All this information - and more - was given to us by G-d Himself to Moshe on Mt. Sinai, orally.

That is the Oral Law.

Without this Oral Law, the whole Torah just makes zero sense. Its clear form the Torah itself that there is Oral "notes" that accompany it.

And there is but one - and only one - version of the Orla Law in existence. Nobody - no religion, no professor, no historian - even claims in their wildest dreams that there may be another version of Torah shebal peh. It’s either the Talmud or nothing.

And clearly it’s not nothing.

You can’t forge a Torah shebal peh.It has to be a generation-to-generation tradition from Mt. Sinai down. That can’t exist unless everyone knows about it from the moment it was given - after all, its supposed be the religious authority of the entire nation. That’s why nobody could claim another Oral Law.

Besides the explanatory notes that G-0d gave moshe on Mt. Sinai, He also taught Moshe formulas for deciphering the Torah on their own. Using G-d's formulas, as well as instructions explicit in the Torah, we can find instructions in the Torah on how to deal with disagreements among the sages and other such issues.

The Torah also gives us guidelines of the authority of the sages regarding enacting decrees, the formation of customs, etc.

But you cannot take half of the Torah and leave out the other half - the Oral Law and the Written Law are one entity. Taking one without the other is like taking the odd pages of the Torah and leaving out the even. It’s either all or nothing.

Q: What was the point in both, shebaal peh and shebichsav. why didn’t hashem just make it together. why make a torah that makes no sense and you have to look up what it means. why not just straight out?

A: We needed both.

The purpose of the Oral Law being unwritten was to protect it from abuse by other religions - the way they abused Tanach by making it into the "Old Testament" etc. The Oral Law is the private connection between the Jews and G-d, and nobody else can have access to it - it’s the private relationship between us and Him.

However, one of the characteristics of the written Law is that it is "aidus" - "testimony" to the world of the events that happened - the creation of Klall Yisroel, the giving of the Torah, etc. Kind of like the official marriage documentation between us and Hashem. And as testimony, must be public and written. The Oral Law is our private relationship with G-d, but the written law is the documentation that we are His.

Posted by amolam at 5:18:00 PM 0 comments