Conservative Rabbis Urge a Return to the Friday Evening Sunset Service

After four decades of conducting mid-evening Kabbalat Shabbat services, Conservative rabbis this week recommended a return to the traditional sunset service preceding Shabbat dinner.

Over 600 rabbis meeting at the Concord Hotel here voted in favor of a resolution to “reexamine the effectiveness of their Sabbath eve programs with the possible goal of evolving worship services closer to the traditional time of sunset.”

The vote took place during the largest gathering ever of the Rabbinical Assembly, Conservative Judaism’s 1,300-member central body of rabbis.

The change in the time of Friday evening services is intended to shift the observance of the Sabbath from the synagogue to the home.

“The late Friday service is clearly dying,” said Rabbi Neil Gilman, associate professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “Younger families are interested in a revitalized Sabbath participation with parents, children, grandparents and friends, especially in the home.”

With services in the past occurring between 8 and 9 p.m., families would have to break away from their Shabbat dinner early to get to shul in time.

“We haven’t had late Friday night services for years,” said Rabbi David Nelson of Beth Shalom synagogue in Oak Park, Mich. “People just didn’t show up.”

Conservative rabbis have actually found that when they canceled the late Friday service, attendance at Saturday morning services improved.

The late evening service began in the years prior to World War II as an attempt to accommodate those Jews who had to work late on Friday or all day on Saturday.

STANDS ON ABORTION, CONVERSIONS

But now that socioeconomic circumstances have changed in recent decades, with fewer Jews compelled to work on the Sabbath, there is less of a need for the late service.

The recommendation on the timing of Friday services was one of approximately 20 resolutions debated at the 90th convention of the Rabbinical Assembly.

Other noteworthy resolutions expressed support for donation of human organs and tissues after death, a woman’s right to abortion, the religious activities of the Women of the Wall prayer group in Jerusalem, and the inclusion of Jewish lesbians and gay men in synagogues.

A surprise resolution that sharply criticized the leasing of a Greek Orthodox Church building in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem by a group of Orthodox Jews was introduced by approximately 70 rabbis during the convention proceedings, and was adopted.

Two other resolutions called for continued support for the Conservative Masorti movement in Israel and the right of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel to perform conversions by means of the establishment of an institute for conversions there.

The Israeli population on the whole is not religious and not aware of its religious needs, said Rabbi Reuven Hammer.

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