Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants
By Elliott N Dorff
Extracts posted with permission of
United Synagogue of America Youth Commission
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1. Cited in Mordecai Waxman, ed., Tradition and Change (New York: Burning Bush Press, 1958), p. 9.
2. Arthur Hertzberg, "Conservative Judaism," Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 5, col.902.
3. John]. Appel, "The Trefa Banquet," Commentary, February, 1966, pp. 75-78; cf. also American Jewish Archives of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, November, 1974, pp. 128-133. I would like to thank Rabbis Stuart Kelman and Stanley Chyet for these references.
4. Oscar I. Janowsky, The JWB Survey (New York: The Dial Press, 1948), p. 239.
5. American Hebrew, XXIX (November 16, 1886), p. 34, cited in Moshe Davis, The Emergence of Conservative Judaism (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1963), p. 239.
6. Solomon Schechter, Report of the First Annual Meeting of the United Synagogue (New York: United Synagogue, 1913), pp. 16-19; reprinted in Waxman, Tradition and Change, pp. 163-172.
7. Solomon Schechter, Report of the Second Annual Meeting of the United Synagogue, p. 26.
8. Norman Bentwich, Solomon Schechter.. A Biography (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938), pp.191, 195, 190.
9. American Hebrew, XXIX (January 7, 1887), p. 136; cited in Davis, Emergence, p. 239.
10. American Hebrew, XXV (February 5, 1886), pp. 194-195; cited in Davis, Emergence, p. 235.
11. Alexander Kohut, The Ethics of the Fathers (New York: 1920), pp. 3,14-17; cited in Davis, Emergence, pp. 222-223.
12. Alexander Kohut, "Science and Judaism, " Jewish Messenger, LIX (May 7, 1886), p. 4; cited in Davis, Emergence, pp. 289-290.
13. Kohut, Ethics, p. 48; cited in Davis, Emergence, pp. 223- 224.
14. The phrase occurs only in the Jerusalem Talmud (PT. Bava Metzia 7:1 [11b] and Yevamot 12:1 [12c]), but the principle is used in the Babylonian Talmud and the later codes as well: cf. Menachem Elon, "Minhag." in the Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 12, cols. 5-26, esp. cols. 13-19. As Elon points out, custom could add to Jewish law in many areas, and change it in monetary matters, but it could not permit that which had been forbidden in ritual areas. Only a formal takkanah (revision) by the rabbis could do that.
15. Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism (New York: Meridian Books Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1958 [paperback]), pp. 16-17, 15.
16. Robert Gordis, "Authority in Jewish Law," Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1941-1944 (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 1944), pp. 64-93; reprinted in Seymour Siegel, ed., Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law (New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 1977), pp. 47-78.
17. Schechter, Studies, p. 15.
18. The Rabbis of the Talmud also distinguished between peshat and derash, but for them peshat signified the accepted interpretation of the text; d. Shabbat 63a, where what passes as peshat is clearly not that, and cf. R. Loewe, "The Plain Meaning of Scripture in Early Jewish Exegesis," Papers of the Institute of Jewish Studies (London: Institute of Jewish Studies, 1964), Vol. 1, pp. 140-185, and Bacher, Arkhai Midrash (Jerusalem: Carmiel, 1923, 1960), Vol. II, p. 269, n. 3. It was only when the medieval Jewish grammarians had done their work that peshat came to denote the meaning of the text itself as distinct from any of its later rabbinic interpretations. I would like to thank my friend, colleague, and teacher, Dr. Eliezer Slomovic, for directing me to these sources.
19. For example, cf. the papers reprinted in Part II of Waxman, Tradition and Change, the earliest of which is by Louis Finkelstein, entitled "The Things that Unite Us," from the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1927.
20. E.g., Arthur J. Levine, "Needed - A Definition," Judaism, Vol. 26, No.3 (Summer, 1977), pp. 292-295. Cf. Chapter V of this sourcebook.
21. Solomon Schechter, "The Work of Heaven," in Waxman, Tradition and Change, pp. 163-172.
1. Waxman, Tradition and Change, p. 20.
2. For example, compare Deuteronomy 16: 3 with Deuteronomy 16: 8. A good summary of the evidence for the historical approach is in the article "Biblical Criticism" by Isaac Landman in The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Vol. II, pp. 284-293.
3. Except for Massechet Berachot, there is no Babylonian Gemara on Seder Zeraim (perhaps because the agricultural laws applied only to Israel), and there is no Babylonian Gemara on Seder Tohorot either, except for Massechet Niddah. The Babylonian Gemara is also lacking for Massechtot Eduyyot, Avot, Middot, and Kinnim. The Jerusalem Gemara is missing for all of Seder Kodashim and Seder Tohorot (except for a brief section on Massechet Niddah) and for Massechtot Eduyyot and Avot.
4. Shabbat 87a, Yoma 75a, Hagigah 14a.
5. This theme is considered in Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1952), Chapters, III-IV, especially on the "indeterminacy of belief," pp. 131-142.
6. I would like to thank my friend and colleague, Dr. Joel Rembaum, for his advice on Section (B) of this chapter.
7. I just recently heard a nice, alternative interpretation of the last words of this Midrash, "NitztHuni banai, nitztHuni banai." Instead of "My children have overcome Me, they have overcome Me, " translate (on the basis of the root netzaH) "My children have given Me eternal life, they have given Me eternal life."
8. The Hebrew phrase, Torah Misinai, literally means "(Torah) from Sinai," although here - and often - it is translated" on Sinai." Prof. Jose Faur of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America suggests another interpretation based on time rather than space: "Torah from (the time of) Sinai," i.e., beginning at Sinai and continuing through history.
9. The Editors of Commentary Magazine, The Condition of Jewish Belief (New York: The American Jewish Committee,1966), p. 24.
10. Ibid., p.124.
11. Ibid., pp.124-125.
12. Ibid, p.25.
12a. "Right-wing" generally refers to a position which is least willing to change past patterns of thought or practice. As you go left on the spectrum, you encounter positions which are increasingly willing to reinterpret, modify, or substitute. A position may be "right-wing" in thought and "left-wing" in practice, or vice versa; the spectrum of ideology and the spectrum of observance are two different spectra which do not necessarily coincide, although there usually is some correlation between the two, as the descriptions of the various positions in this section will indicate.
13. Occident II (April, 1844), p. 4; cited in Davis, Emergence, p. 285.
14. Isaac Leeser, Bible View of Slavery, p. 22; cited in Davis, Emergence, p. 293.
15. American Hebrew, LI (July 1, 1892), pp. 279-280; cited in Davis, Emergence, p. 296.
16. Schechter, Studies, p.15.
18. Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1955), pp. 180-181, 244-245. That Heschel believes in verbal inspiration is also indicated by his claims that there was "a mysterious voice coming through the clouds" at Sinai (ibid., p. 219; cf. also pp. 225, 228, 245, and 247), that we should care "for what God has to say" (p.222) and that God spoke "while Moses heard" (p. 241). Similarly, in The Prophets (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), he speaks about the "word" of God (pp. 12, 25, etc.) and His "Voice" (p. 358), and he points out "The prophets asserted that many of their experiences were not moments of passive receptivity, mere listening to a voice or mere beholding a Presence, but dialogues with God. By response, pleading, and counter speech, the prophet reacts to the word he perceives" (p.366). Cf. also ibid., pp. 221-223, 430, and 432. I mention all of these references because he attacks biblical fundamentalism so resoundingly (cf. note #20 below) that one might get the impression that he belonged in Conservative II rather than Conservative I.
19. Heschel, The Prophets (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), pp. 388-389 and 364. Note also the rest of Chapter 22 and Chapters 24 and 25.
20. Heschel, Search, p. 265.
21. Ibid., pp.178-179.
22. Ibid, p.275.
23. David Novak, Law and Theology in Judaism (New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc.1976), Series II, pp.10, 13-14.
24. David Novak, "A Response to 'Towards an Aggadic Judaism,' " Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXX, No.1 (Fall, 1975) pp. 58-59. [see also..DS]
25. Ben Zion Bokser, Judaism: Profile of a Faith (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1963), pp. 273-274.
26. Ibid, pp.268-270.
27. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, Part II, Ch. 36; Heschel, The Prophets, pp. 358-9,443.
28. Bokser, Profile, pp.270-271.
29. Ibid., p.269.
30. Condition of Jewish Belief, p. 186.
31. Robert Gordis, A Faith for Moderns (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), p. 155.
32. Heschel, Search, p. 198.
33. Ibid., p. 230.
34. Condition of Jewish Belief, pp. 52- 53.
35. Franz Rozenzweig, "The Builders", in On Jewish Learning, Nahum N. Glatzer, ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1955), pp. 72-92; substantially reprinted in E. Dorff, Jewish Law and Modern Ideology (New York: United Synagogue Commission on Jewish Education, 1970) pp. 112-120.
36. Louis Jacobs, A Jewish Theology (New York: Behrman House, Inc. Publishers, 1973), pp. 202-206, 208-210.
37. Condition of Jewish Belief, pp. 223-225. Ct. also Seymour Siegel, "Theology for Today," Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXVIII, No.4 (Summer, 1974), esp. pp. 45-50.
38. Jakob J. Petuchowski, Ever Since Sinai (New York: Scribe Publications Inc., 1961), pp.l08-110, 112-113.
39. Eugene Borowitz, How Can a Jew Speak of Faith Today? (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969), p. 68.
40. Eugene Borowitz, A New Jewish Theology in the Making (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968), p. 213.
41. Jacobs, A Jewish Theology, p. 224.
42. Seymour Siegel, "Theology for Today," Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXVIII, No.4 (Summer, 1974), pp. 48,50.
43. Condition of Jewish Belief, pp. 11-12; d. also his essays "Laws as Standards: the Way of Takkanot," Conservative Judaism, Vol. VI., No.4 (Fall, 1950), pp. 8-26, (reprinted in Siegel, ed., Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law, pp. 28-45, esp. pp. 33-34 and 37-38) and "Obsolescence in Jewish Law," Conservative Judaism, Vol. VII, No.4 (June, 1951), pp. 9-19.
44. Ibid., pp.140, 141, 143-144.
45. Emil Fackenheim, God's Presence in History (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), Ch. 3.
46. Elliot N. Dorff, "God and the Holocaust," Judaism, Vol. 26, No.1 (Winter, 1977), pp. 27-34.
47. Elliot N. Dorff, "Revelation," Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXXI, Nos. 1-2 (Fall-Winter, 1976-77), pp. 64-65,68.
48. Jacob Agus, Guideposts in Modern Judaism (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1954) Part II, Section 2; Elliot Dorff, "Two Ways to Approach God," Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXX, No.2, (Winter, 1976), pp. 58-67.
49. Condition of Jewish Belief, p. 120.
50. Mordecai M. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask.. Reconstructionist Answers (New York: Reconstructionist Press, 1956), pp. 265, 266.
51. Condition of Jewish Belief, pp. 45-46.
52. Ibid, pp.216-219.
53. "The Columbus Guiding Principles," cited in W. Gunther Plaut,The Grow of Reform Judaism (New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, Ltd., 1965), pp. 96-99.
54. Ibid, p.99.
55. "Reform Judaism:A Centenary Perspective," Central Conference of American Rabbis, June 1976, pp. 2-3.
56. For a clear, forthright statement of the Conservative use of ethics in making molal decisions, see Seymour Siegel, "Ethics and the Halakhah," Conservative Judaism, Vol. XXV, No.3 (Spring, 1971), pp. 33-40 (reprinted in Siegel, ed., Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law, pp. 123-132), which also includes some examples of how the Rabbis of the Talmud used ethics in their legal decisions. The latter point is developed more fully in Elliot N. Dorff, "The Interaction of Jewish Law with Morality," Judaism, Vol. 26, No.4 (Fall, 1977), pp. 455-466. Cf. also Novak, Law and Theology in Judaism, Series I, Chapter 1 and Heschel, God in Search of Man, Chap. 33.
1. Robert Gordis points out that se'or "leaven," is probably an error. It is not applicable to Torah, since its metaphoric use refers to sinfulness. The reading should probably be me'or, "light."
2. Schechter, Studies, p. 15.
3. Ibid., pp. 19-20.
4. Quoted in Davis, Emergence, p. 283.
5. Davis, Emergence, pp. 283-284.
6. Simon Greenberg, Foundations of a Faith (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1967); Louis Jacobs, We Have Reason to Believe (London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1957), chs. 3-5; Principles of the Jewish Faith (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1964), ch. 2; Faith (New York: Basic Books, Inc. 1968), entire; A Jewish Theology (New York: Behrman House, Inc., Publishers, 1973), entire.
7. Mordecai Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization (New York: The Reconstructionist Press, 1934, 1957), Part Five; The Meaning of God in Modem Jewish Religion (New York: The Reconstructionist Press, 1962), entire; Eugene Kohn, Religious Humanism: A Jewish Interpretation (New York: The Reconstructionist Press, 1953), chs.1-3.
8. Jacob Kohn, Evolution as Revelation (New York: Philosophical Library, 1963), entire.
9. Harold Schulweis, "From God to Godliness: Proposal for a Predicate Theology, " Reconstructionist, Vol. 40, No.1 (February, 1975).
10. Jacob Agus, Guideposts in Modem Judaism (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1954), Part II, Section 2; Ben Zion Bokser, Judaism: Profile of a Faith (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1963), chs. 3-4; Robert Gordis, A Faith for Moderns (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1960), chs. 1,6-9.
11. Milton Steinberg, A Believing Jew (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1951), ch. 1. Steinberg's stance changed several times during his life, but in this essay he openly characterizes his position-as an adaptation of Hegel (and others).
12. Max Kadushin, Organic Thinking: A Study in Rabbinic Thought (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1938) and The Rabbinic Mind (New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1952).
13. Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966) and Morality and Eros (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970), ch. 11. In the latter book Rubenstein associates himself with Western and Oriental mysticism in that he is affirming belief in God as "the ground and source of all existence" (p. 185; this is the mystic Ein Sof), but Western mystics also affirm belief in the God who acts in history (the Shechinah), as he is not willing to do. Since his approach in After Auschwitz is heavily influenced by the psychological needs of the individual, I have preferred to characterize him as an existentialist, a description which he himself adopts in the title of Chapter 6 of After Auschwitz.
14. Cf. H. Matt and S. Siegel in The Condition of Jewish Belief and Arnold J. Wolf, Rediscovering Judaism (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965), Introduction. Rosenzweig had considerable influence on a number of my colleagues when I was at the Seminary, and I am frankly disappointed that more of the many in our Movement who follow the existentialist approach have not stated their views in writing.
15. See A. J. Heschel's many works, especially God in Search of Man (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1955) and Man Is Not Alone (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Young, 1951). Dr. Heschel indicated his preference for associating his theology with the phenomenological approach in a conversation with Dr. Lieber. He specifically rejected the description of "mystic," but some of his disciples are beginning to write in a mystic or neo-Hassidic vein (e.g., Samuel Dresner, Arthur Green).
16. Zohar following 73a.
17. Davis, Emergence, p. 321; cf. note 8 there.
18. A. J. Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom (New York: Farrar, Straus &Giroux, Inc., 1972), p. 283.
19. Reprinted in Waxman, Tradition and Change, pp.457-466.
20. Preface to Seminary Addresses; reprinted in Waxman, Tradition and Change, p. 100.
21. Cf. Davis, Emergence, pp. 268-274.
22. Robert Gordis, Conservative Judaism (New York: The National Academy for Adult Jewish Studies, The United Synagogue of America, 1956), p. 22.
23. Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1927, p. 33.
24. Zechariah Frankel, cited in W. Gunther Plaut, The Rise of Reform Judaism (New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, Ltd., 1963), pp. 87-88.
25. Solomon Schechter, Seminary Addresses and Other Papers (New York: The Burning Bush Press, 1959), pp. 88-89.
26. Quoted by Louis Finkelstein in Waxman, Tradition and Change, p. 323.
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