One Mad Rabbi
Slate magazine has an interesting reflection on the state of Conservative Judaism. The piece was occasioned by a commencement address by Ismar Schorsch, the outgoing chancellor of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary. Schorsch was not optimistic about future prospects for Conservative Judaism. The author, Samantha Shapiro, closes with the following observation:
Earlier in this century, the common wisdom was that Orthodox Judaism would die out in America, outmoded and irrelevant. Instead, it’s the American Jewish center that’s eroding. Conservative Judaism, once the most popular Jewish denomination in the United States, has recently taken second place to the more clearheaded Reform movement. About 33 percent of American Jews affiliate with Conservative Judaism, down from 38 percent 10 years ago. And interestingly, as the Reform movement swells, to a lesser degree, so do the numbers of Orthodox. And as sociologist Samuel Heilman shows in his recent book, Sliding to the Right, the form of Orthodoxy that’s on the rise is the more extremist and isolationist sort—the congregations and movements that are deliberately at odds with American norms.
The project of looking squarely at the demands of our time and Jewish texts is both true to Jewish tradition and badly needed at this particular historical moment, and I wish it didn’t seem to be faltering. People of all faiths who are trying to hold the middle ground need to get up a little more “nerve,” as Schorsch put it—some oomph, confidence, joyfulness. Although I don’t think he said it in the right way or at the right time, I hope some of Schorsch’s zeal makes it way to staid suburban synagogues.
I think there are some parallels here to forms of Catholicism that also try to mediate between the demands of tradition and the concerns of contemporary culture.