It is with a feeling of heartbreak that I read the column of Rabbi Jerome Epstein, who bemoans the fact that the Conservative movement is on a steady decline and needs to redefine itself in order to avoid its “predicted death “ by some observers (“Key To Conservative Survival: Returning To Our Core,” Opinion, April 18).
Rabbi Epstein goes on to express his frustration over the fact that “ most Conservative Jews feel no requirement or obligation to the Conservative movement except to pay dues to their synagogues.” The fact is that every major Orthodox movement undergoes the same frustration in getting the grassroots to identify and become active with their organization. Yet Orthodoxy is thankfully flourishing and growing.
So what is the key to Orthodoxy’s renaissance? Rabbi Epstein draws the distinction between the Conservative movement and Orthodoxy in that for “most Orthodox Jews halacha is not evolving. For Conservative Judaism halacha is both evolving and binding.” Rabbi Epstein may not catch the irony of his words. When it comes to the Orthodox, he refers to “Jews”; when it comes to the Conservative, he refers to “Judaism.” Therein lies the huge difference.
Orthodox Jews practice and believe in their faith on a personal level. There is an emotional connection. The Conservative movement, however, due to decades of compromise and accommodation with “evolving” halacha, or Jewish law, has stripped away the spiritual value.
It would do the Conservative movement well to follow the famous dictum of the 19th-century Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch: “The question is not if Judaism is up to the times; the question is are the times up to Judaism.”
Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills Kew Gardens Hills, Queens