KIAMESHA LAKE, N.Y. (Nov. 17)
Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman urged Conservative Jewry here last night not to harbor “guilt feelings” over the changes in religious ritual and practices Conservative Judaism has introduced over the past 60 years since its founding.
“We must acclaim them, instead, as in the true tradition of Rabbinic Judaism which has seen constant change,” Rabbi Kreitman declared in the keynote address to 2000 delegates attending the five-day biennial convention of the United Synagogue of America at the Concord Hotel here. The delegates represent 825 Conservative synagogues in the U.S. and Canada with a combined membership of over 1.5 million congregants. Rabbi Kreitman, whose pulpit is in Brooklyn, is executive vice-president-elect of the United Synagogue. He will succeed Rabbi Bernard Segal in that office at the end of the year.
Declaring that Conservative, Orthodox and Reform Jews are united by the same causes of Israel, Soviet Jewry, the Jewish poor and philanthropy, he decried “timidity” over declaring Conservative Judaism a “movement” rather than merely a trend.
Referring to the changes that have been introduced by Conservative Judaism, such as mixed seating in synagogues; the upgrading of the status of women; new liturgical forms and rituals; and the release of the “aguna,” the “chained wife who was not allowed to remarry until there was proof of her husband’s death,” Rabbi Kreitman said these “have been looked upon as temporary concessions to human weaknesses and that the truly pious Jew does without these concessions and compromises.”
He said “We are intimidated, we are weighed down with guilt feelings, we seem to agree with the fundamentalists that only severities are fitting for the pious and only the unchanged genuine Judaism.” In fact, Rabbi Kreitman continued, Rabbinic Judaism could “never have developed into normative Judaism if every leniency introduced by Hillel or his disciples was seen as human compromise. We must come to understand and appreciate Conservative Judaism as a logical, authentic heir to Talmudic and Rabbinic Judaism,” he said.
Rabbi Kreitman hailed the expansion of Conservative Judaism in Israel where 10 Conservative congregations now function. In Israel, Conservative Judaism could become “an alternative, possibly the only alternative, to a fundamentalist, rigid, unyielding orthodoxy that has alienated so many religiously-minded Israelis,” he said.