Implications for Practice

What are some of the practical implications of all of the above? First, to restate the obvious, we should not be embarrassed by the rampant theological and halakhic pluralism that characterizes our movement. It is not only inevitable but even praiseworthy. Nothing in this attempt to articulate a theology for Conservative Judaism should be taken as vitiating this pluralistic impulse. What we have tried to address, here, is rather the need for a metatheological justification for a pluralistic approach to issues of belief and practice.

Second, our stance emphasizes a critically open or positive attitude to the entire non-Jewish world, out of the conviction that not only the Jewish community, but even the outside world will be enriched thereby.[1] Just as our ancestors "Judaized" institutions from the surrounding cultures (that is precisely the point of our study of the influence of ancient Near-Eastern religions on the Bible), just as Maimonides incorporated logic, physics, mathematics, and metaphysics into the curriculum of the authentic Jewish believer, so must we create our own synthesis or midrash out of the best of what we have received from our past and the best of the surrounding world. This kind of "assimilation" is precisely the process that Bickerman contends was undertaken by the Pharisees who absorbed a wealth of foreign influences into Judaism, once their poison had been drawn and once the community felt internally strong enough to open itself to the outside world.[2] Note that Bickerman's point is that this process alone made it possible for our ancestors to withstand the onslaught of a rich and powerful foreign culture.


From Toward a Theology for Conservative Judaism by Neil Gillman in Conservative Judaism, Vol. 37(1), Fall1983 @1983 The Rabbinical Assembly




[1] I am grateful to my colleague, Professor Joseph Lukinsky for pointing out that a stance of openness to the outside world enriches not only the Jewish community but the larger society as well.

[2] From Ezra to the Last of the Maccabees, p. 181. Gerson Cohen's "The Blessings of Assimilation in Jewish History," Boston: Hebrew Teachers College Commencement Address, June 1966, expands Bickerman's thesis beyond the Hellenistic period and traces this theme a significant leitmotif throughout Jewish history.