Some time in the early 1990s, when I was the Hillel Director at American University, I was invited to be the “Scholar In Residence” for a Seaboard USY weekend convention in Virginia Beach. At the time, USY had a group called the “Heschel Society” whose members committed to a certain amount of time weekly or monthly studying Jewish texts, and one of the perks of membership was a post-curfew learning session with the convention’s Scholar in Residence.
The overarching theme of my talks was trying to define what exactly “Conservative Judaism” is. As part of this I tasked all the staff members to go around and ask the participants to define Conservative Judaism without using the words “Orthodox” or “Reform.” Most of them could not come up with anything. Some of them tried to use words like “Traditional” or “Liberal” instead of “Orthodox” or “Reform” but I vetoed those substitutions. A couple of the students did manage to come up with definitions of Conservative Judaism without reference to other branches or denominations but for the most part the resemblance between those definitions and “official” Conservative Judaism was purely coincidental.
Tomorrow night I will discuss the question of what is distinctive about Conservative Judaism. Do we have our own ideology or are we merely “not Orthodox and not Reform”? In preparation for our discussion, it would be great if you would try to come up with your own definition -- and please don’t use the words “Orthodox” or “Reform.”
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoons from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Additionally, if you know of a Kehilat Shalom congregant who could use a phone call, please let me know.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian