My Not-So-Secret Love Affair


If you know anything about me, you probably know of my fascination with halacha, or Jewish Law. There is so much involved with it. There is the original law, prohibition or commandment. Then there are interpretations, fences placed around it, questions about it, rulings on the questions, etc. The end result may not even resemble the origin of the whole thing. The law takes a life of its own and morphs into what was practiced yesterday, today and tomorrow.

One area of misunderstanding or no understanding on my part has to do with the disparity between certain law and the way they are played out by Orthodox and Conservative, which often looks the same but also can look very different.

Why can Conservative drive to shul on Shabbat but Orthodox cannot? I know this answer. My burning questions are, "Why do Conservative reinterpret a generally held standard interpretation of driving on Shabbat to be something that is allowed? What is the basis for revisiting and reinterpreting that, especially since it changes tradition? Does it serve a purpose and is that purpose a good one? And if Conservative interprets it to be okay to drive to shul on Shabbat, then why are the most spiritually advanced Conservative Jews I know all Shomer Shabbos and would not dream of driving on Shabbat?"

We were discussing these things and more, my friend/ teacher/ mentor and I, over lunch recently. She mentioned that Rabbi N. may have some resources for me. Next time I saw Rabbi N., he generously lent to me "A Guide to Jewish Practice" by Klein and "Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants" by Dorff. I really wanted to read A Guide first so I forced myself to start reading the other one first! I didn't have to force myself too much as the book by Dorff is fantastic.

I am only 1/5 of the way through the book but already it is clear that there is a big disconnect between the philosophy and the practice of Conservative Judaism if one looks at the general population of Conservative Jews. That being said, the key beginning players of the movement had a tall order to fill and I am impressed with their commitment to halacha and the struggle (both inner and outer) to etch out a place for a modern halachic movement.