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Halakhic Authenticity and Conservative Judaism

Rabbi Len Levin has posted online an article of his titled “Is the ‘Halakhic Authenticity’ of Conservative Judaism a Broken Myth?” Here are some of his conclusions:

But for Kaplanians and Heschelians alike, affirming the halakhic seriousness of Conservative Judaism is (I here disagree with my teacher Rabbi Gillman) not just the equivalent of “Hooray for Conservative Judaism!” but is an affirmation with serious content. It affirms the following:
1. Law is an important resource in giving shape to our otherwise chaotic existence. An unenforced and imperfectly-kept law may doubtfully deserve the name of “law” at all, but we are better off continuing to affirm it as such and to strive for its implementation, than if we abandoned the attempt. It is the way we know best to articulate our aspirations in concrete, achievable form.
2. Law may not be specified verbally by God, but it is at least a human expression of the divine will, and maybe more.
3. Tradition may not be infallible, but it represents the accumulated experience of prior generations in their collective attempts to understand the divine will, and should be listened to with all seriousness.
4. Consensus is never absolutely achievable, but insofar as we can achieve it, it is an indispensable prerequisite to our continued group existence as Jews. Law and tradition are essential aids to this consensus.
5. The Written Torah and Talmudic tradition may not be infallible, but they are the bedrock of our collective existence and the basis of whatever consensus we may hope to achieve as Jews, and so should be overruled only where absolutely necessary.
6. Precedent is the basis of our continuity but not to be slavishly followed. Our intelligent, articulated disagreement with precedent is also a form of continuity (on Ronald Dworkin’s model of “the next chapter to be written in the book”).
7. Law and its underlying reasons are two sides of the same coin.[14] In analyzing law for its reasons we discover the values inherent in it; in translating our own values into new law, we give them a form in which they can be the next chapter in the tradition.

One Response to “Halakhic Authenticity and Conservative Judaism”

  1. 1

    Most of these conclusions are correct, in my opinion, and probably privately also agreed to by a significant number of orthodox thinkers [though he was unwise to include #5.] The problem, of course, was and remains, that nobody has figured out a way to keep the baby while throwing out the bathwater. Thus, the orthodox rabbinate corect perceived the obvious already in the 1950s, that conservative judaism would descend into the farce it is today, identical with Reform. It was inexorable. This, of course, causes Orthodoxy to keep within it numerous anachronisms. (I refer to things like yom tov sheni or laws connected with avoda zara.) However, as a society model, if not necesarily on an individual level, it is better than the positionless position posited above.




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