A few weeks ago, the Conservative movement released a survey, which was mostly intended to explore attitudes toward the recent decision to permit ordaining gay clergy, and also explored issues of observance of halacha among clergy and lay leadership in the Conservative Movement.
The official press release (click here to read it) focused on the gay issue, and the strong support across the movement for ordaining gays and lesbians. However, the survey addressed a lot of other questions of observance — including the dining habits of Conservative clergy and lay leaders.
An article in this week’s The Jewish Week quotes the survey as saying 80% of Conservative clergy eat hot dairy foods out. The article, “Warning To Conservative Jews: Don’t Eat That Pizza!” by Stewart Ain, pits me against Rabbi Paul Plotkin in a debate about what should be done about our eating habits. To read the article click here.
Rabbi Plotkin says we shouldn’t be eating out.
“It’s been disappointing to me and a matter of personal consternation for a long period of time,” Rabbi Plotkin said of the Conservative movement’s widespread practice of eating hot dairy food in non-kosher restaurants.“I’ve been toying with writing a responsum on the issue,” he said. “Not only do I want to see this issue revisited [by the Law Committee] but there is a misconception in the Conservative movement that Conservative Jews are permitted to eat hot food in non-kosher restaurants. That is not true.”
I respectfully disagree with Rabbi Plotkin’s conclusions. The article quotes me,
But Rabbi Barry Leff, of Toledo, Ohio, said that although he agrees with Rabbi Plotkin’s conclusion (that the Conservative Movement is not just about finding leniencies), he believes halacha, or Jewish law, has to adapt to the times. Making it stricter, as Rabbi Plotkin suggests, “would reduce the relevancy of halacha in the eyes of many.”“Every once in a while we have to bring halacha into line with what people are doing or we lose respect for the system,” he explained. “Don’t impose something on the community unless they will abide by it,” and a change in halacha now would not be accepted by the people.
The author contacted me because he found the teshuva I wrote “Eating Dairy Meals at Unsupervised Restaurants,” which you can read here. I told the reporter that my teshuva had been put in the “inactive” file…he said, who knows, maybe his article will help nudge the Law Committee to consider it. I doubt it. But I think it would be a mistake to tell 80% of the clergy that they are sinners.
On the other hand, maybe there are more “sinners” among the clergy than many of us in the Conservative Movement would care to admit. I was rather unpleasantly surprised by the following paragraph in Ain’s article:
There are great divisions between clergy and laity on other practices as well. For instance, 64 percent of clergy refrain from driving on Shabbat, compared with 27 percent of professionals and 11 percent of lay leaders. And although 94 percent of clergy refrain from shopping on Shabbat, that is true of only 60 percent of professionals and 43 percent of lay leaders. In addition, while 83 percent of clergy pray at least three times a week, that is a practice followed by only 40 percent of professionals and 33 percent of lay leaders.
6% of the Conservative clergy go shopping on Shabbat? Only 83% of our CLERGY pray three times a week? Three times a week? What happened to three times a day? Hello??
And, as a post in Jew School points out, why is it in these surveys they only ask about ritual mitzvot? Why don’t they also ask about things like giving tzedaka (charity)? You’d think being observant had nothing to do with how we treat other people.
Lots of “food for thought” in all this!