I Am Not a Distraction to Conservative Judaism

Editor's Notebook

Nobody’s Distraction: Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, one of the Conservative movement’s top leaders, wears a prayer shawl.
Nobody’s Distraction: Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, one of the Conservative movement’s top leaders, wears a prayer shawl.

By Jane Eisner

Published November 18, 2013, issue of November 22, 2013.
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Addressing the young men she knows who grew up Conservative and now consider themselves Orthodox, Liben wrote:

“Stop writing about how there is no longer a place for you and further widening that [gender] gap by leaving….Stop saying that you can reconcile an egalitarian upbringing with a non-egalitarian community, because some of you do not know what it means to be told that you are not a ritually equal member of a community.”

Please don’t dismiss this observation as whining from women seeking attention. There is an oozing demographic crisis for anyone who believes in a Judaism that can embrace tradition and egalitarianism simultaneously. You may have read Josh Nathan-Kazis’s excellent story citing new figures from the Pew survey showing that the Orthodox population is growing even faster than earlier reports suggested.

Even newer figures illustrate part of what’s behind that trend: not just Orthodox growth, but non-Orthodox shrinkage. Steven M. Cohen, an advisor to the Pew study, shared data with me showing that there are now 1.35 million non-Orthodox American Jews aged 40 to 57 but there are only 950,000 non-Orthodox Jews under 17 years of age, a 30% drop. Given the extremely low fertility rates among the non-Orthodox, what does this portend for the future?

It pains me to think that men raised as egalitarian Jews are discarding that value without regard to the profound effects on women and the community as a whole. Surely the fault lies in a Conservative movement that doesn’t retain enough Jews interested in meaningful, worldly Judaism. But the “movement” can only bear so much blame. Individuals are giving up on egalitarianism. Why? And at what cost?


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