A few weeks ago our Contemporary Jewish Controversies class had an interesting discussion with Rabbi Danny Schiff of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation about his new book “Judaism In A Digital Age.” Rabbi Schiff explores why Conservative and Reform Judaism both seem to be in a deep crisis, with congregational memberships shrinking and institutions either merging or disappearing. A new census of congregational “Hebrew schools” released this week which reveals that Hebrew school enrollment has fallen by almost 50 percent since 2006 only serves to verify the sense that we are in a true crisis -- and by no means is it just our congregation, not that this necessarily brings any consolation.
Rabbi Schiff in essence says that the two major movements have not done anything wrong per se but that they are answering questions that Jews are no longer asking. Reform and Conservative Judaism -- and remember, Conservative Judaism was a more traditional split off from Reform -- were both responses to modernity and emancipation. They were answers to the question “how can I remain Jewish and yet participate fully in Western society?” Rabbi Schiff says that we are no longer in a period of “modernity” or “Emancipation” but rather “post modernity” and “hyper-emancipation.” While there has certainly been an increase in antisemitism recently -- something Rabbi Schiff, as a rabbi in Pittsburgh, certainly understands -- being Jewish in America is generally not a barrier to participation in general society. As one data point, let’s look at Jewish political representation in Montgomery County where we are generally believed to be about ten percent of the population. Three of 11 County Council members are Jewish, as is the County Executive. One of Maryland’s two senators is Jewish. Three members of Congress represent parts of Montgomery County. One of them, Jamie Raskin, is Jewish. The two others, David Trone and John Sarbanes, are both married to Jewish women and have Jewish children.
In essence, Rabbi Schiff’s book posits that both Reform and Conservative Judaism are excellent answers to questions no one is asking any more.
The Passover Seder is of course an exercise in provoking questions. What are the questions that modern Jews really have and how should we be answering them?
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 email@example.com 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.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian