Friday, October 29, 2010

Sanctuary Ennui

My retired friend spends much of his unscheduled time in the library, sitting at publicly funded screen while searching cyberspace for items of interest to send along to friends who are not retired.  Sidestepping the issue of electronic clutter that this sometimes creates, he hit a home run this week with an op-ed piece from The Forward, America's principal Jewish weekly, regarding the experience of attending services in different locales.   In some ways I may be a modern day Hellenist willing to sacrifice some elements of tradition and letter of the law to enhance beauty or justice, and like most Americans have been acculturated to pluralism by the tenets of our basically irreligious Founding Fathers.  I think Judaism would be better if the law promoted gender equality.  I am less convinced that it is better by adapting the law to reflect that, as most Conservative synagogues have done, though they seem to have paid a very high price for the practice.  Perhaps parity would have been a better goal.  Yes, I am for gender equality and my activities outside AKSE reflect that.  I am also for having Kohanim and Levi'im precede me in Torah honors even if there is a measure of lunacy to having some shoeless Am-Ha-aretz mumbling a bracha that had to be transliterated for him so that he might function as a divine conduit to bless a congregation of lesser yichus but greater accomplishment.

To make the proceedings of the sanctuary less intimidating to the novice we introduce contrivances like responsive readings of inanely translated liturgy.  I think the sermons at AKSE rarely contain content that require anybody to be particularly literate to understand.  Whether the Rabbi intentionally dumbs it down or actually functions at that level of erudition himself can be debated in both directions, I suppose.  Berel Wein in his Tending the Vineyard, his memoirs on life as a congregational Rabbi, noted that each week he only has one real chance of about ten minutes to convey a real message of Judaism to the listeners that will have to sustain then to the next Shabbat morning.  It our effort to be inclusive and not leave people behind, we sometimes forget that the mission of Judaism is to elevate people to a higher standard than from the starting point.  Instead, we have changed the destination without really changing the people.  In the USCJ world, egalitarianism, for all its social merits, ran in parallel with congregational decisions to popularize attendance via expanding comfort zones when they should have been upgrading educational standards.  We elevate people to the mitzvah.  We do not diminish the mitzvah to facilitate compliance.

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