Menachem Mendel

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Kaddish de-Itchadata

In a recent interview with the Jerusalem Post, among a number of interesting comments, R. Norman Lamm said “With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements.” I keep wondering whether Lamm was speaking in hyperbole or that he really believes that in the near future HUC, the URJ, JTS, and the USCJ are all going to close their doors. Are all of these institutions and movements facing severe financial and ideological crises? To varying degrees the answer is yes. Is there a serious possibility that they are going to close their doors? No. There may be a serious reorganization, but there is no way that Reform and Conservative Judaism are just going to disappear. If Lamm was hoping for a large influx of congregants and supporters with no home, he’s going to be waiting for a long time. In the past two hundred years the majority of the Jewish people have voted with their feet and declared that Orthodoxy is not for them. See here for a discussion by Samuel Heilman of the demographics of Orthodoxy in America. For a discussion of general trends in demographics and affiliation see this post at Three Jews. As numerous commentators have pointed out, the largest denomination among American Jews is “unaffiliated.” What Lamm may not understand is that there are many Jews who are seriously committed to Jewish learning and observance who just don’t see their home in Orthodoxy. Whether it is the issue of egalitarianism, how flexible halakhah should be, theology, take your pick, they are not going to be writing checks to YU in the future. Back in the day Dennis Prager used to say that we need Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and I would add Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal, Post-denominational, etc, because they all contribute something important to Jewish life. While I may not daven at some shuls, I sure am glad that their doors are open for those who do want to enter. I would agree that Reform and Conservative Judaism, along with much of American Judaism, will probably look very different fifty years from now, but if Lamm wants to bury the Reform and Conservative movements, maybe he should make sure and say the Kaddish de-Itchadata, which while recited at a burial, speaks of renewal.

4 Responses to “Kaddish de-Itchadata”

  1. 1
    Harry Perkal:

    I cannot agree more with your comments. The Orthodox community seems to be enamored of the idea that they are the saving remnant of the Jewish people. I think this is a fundamental mistake. Their success to an important degree is due to the economic and political strength of the wider Jewish community. Take that away and their vulnerabilty will be all too evident. We all need each other. Harry Perkal

  2. 2
    neil fleischmann:

    His words and your words are both very interesting food for thought. For some reason his comment brought to my mind his piece in the first issue of Tradition and stood in contrdistinction to them.

  3. 3
    Jeff Kuperman:

    Dr. Lamm’s misplaced triumphalism reminds me of all the predictions in the ’50s that Orthodoxy was going to disappear.
    I predict that as a people, we will always be bad at predicting things.

  4. 4
    Mike Koplow:

    “With a heavy heart.” Dr. Lamm continues to have a sarcasm problem.

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