The Kaddish debate continues


Another top leader of Conservative Judaism is taking issue with Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University, for his recent assertion that "with a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements."

Here’s the statement put out by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the incoming executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s rabbinical union.

New York, NY (May 13, 2009) – One week ago today, I returned from the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC energized not only by the thrilling program but by the realization that out of the 200-plus rabbis in attendance, more than half were my colleagues, ordained by the Conservative movement and now standing at the helms of the leading Jewish communal organizations of the day. They came with delegations of committed Conservative Jews from their congregations and institutions.

During my time in our nation’s capital I also met with the Conservative rabbis who were heading up our new Office of Public Policy and Office of Israel Advocacy, respectively.  These initiatives are part of a five-platform agenda of the Rabbinical Assembly which includes Social Justice Partnerships, Interfaith Work and Hekhsher Tzedek — a star project of the Conservative movement which is focused on creating an ethical certification process for kosher foods.

The enormous popularity and success of Hekhsher Tzedek, which has captured the interest of the Jewish community at large, including many of Rabbi Lamm’s Orthodox constituents who are in agreement with my colleague, Rabbi Morris Allen’s call that we take ethical mitzvot as seriously as ritual ones in the preparation of kosher food. The message we are hearing loud and clear is that the American Jewish community is quite literally hungry to lead lives where the ritual is bound up in the ethical underpinning.

This contribution and others, however, have sadly eluded the notice of Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, who felt moved to publicly declare the need to recite Kaddish for our allegedly-dying movement in a recent Jerusalem Post interview.

It seems that Rabbi Lamm has been so busy making funeral arrangements that he has missed the news of our movement’s great and global vitality. Our seminaries are respected houses of religious learning and pastoral training, drawing new and committed students to the rabbinate. There are exciting congregational developments around the world, especially in Israel and Europe. Our presence in Latin America is critical. Our warm and welcoming synagogues throughout the United States and Canada offer proof that our movement occupies the very heart of Jewish life in North America.

And our camping and school system could not be stronger and more in demand. If any of our schools are feeling the pinch, it is an indication of the nation’s economic crisis as a whole… not our movement’s failure.

As I prepare to assume my post as executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly this summer, I am excited and optimistic at this very moment of transition into new leadership. With Chancellor Arnold Eisen directing the Jewish Theological Seminary and Rabbi Steven Wernick heading The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, we are prepared to energetically bring the Conservative Movement forward into the new century.

My advice to Rabbi Lamm is — save your Kaddish.  The imminent demise of Conservative Judaism is a tired and false mantra.  Instead, I would suggest that you direct your attention to working cooperatively within the Orthodox community to build for the Jewish future. This, and not eulogizing the institutions where Jews live their lives, ought to be the work in which we jointly and cooperatively engage.

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