Sunday, September 1, 2019

Choosing not to choose


In July, I presented three sessions at NewCAJE, the New Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education.

I also attended many sessions, including one asking “Can the Center Hold?” with Dr. David Starr, who was one of my teachers at Hebrew College. He’s also a JTS-ordained rabbi, and by “center” he meant “Conservative Judaism.”

Conservative Judaism has portrayed itself not only as the philosophic center of Judaism, positioned between Orthodox and Reform, but also as the “big tent” that had room for everyone. For decades it was the largest movement in American Judaism, but the desire to include all Jews was a constant strain. On one hand, a large share of members became more liberal in practices and views. On the other, a minority wanted the Conservative movement to be more like Orthodox Judaism.

Today the Reform movement is the largest in America. It is also probably the philosophical center, not only because of moving toward the center itself, but also because so many American Jews have moved to the left of Reform.

As I see it, the fastest-growing segment of American Judaism is “Just Jews”: those who do not define themselves by affiliation to a movement, even if they happen to be members of a movement-affiliated congregation. I expect to see growth in the number of communities like ours, attempting to include all Jews by “choosing not to choose.”

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