Rather than focusing on a particular organizational topic this week, I wanted to make sure you’ve seen a fascinating online debate about synagogue renewal efforts.
It was initiated by a post by Rabbi Gerald Skolnik on Synagogue 3000’s Synablog entitled Synagogue 3000: A Concurring Dissent; Or, Of Babies and Bathwater. Rabbi Skolnik first describes his Orthodox childhood and education and his journey to becoming a Conservative Rabbi.
Rabbi Skolnik writes:
It is from this vantage point that I approach the work of Synagogue 3000, STAR, and similar organizations dedicated to the re-creation and re-vitalization of the American synagogue. I understand the challenge at hand. I work with those “Jews in the pews” (or not in the pews!) every day, and know the deep sense of alienation that so many of them feel from traditional synagogue worship and ritual. They are profoundly disconnected from that world of Jewish practice that I live, breathe, and so value. But I have a nagging feeling that, though I understand the goals of organizations like Synagogue 3000 and appreciate what they are trying to accomplish, re-creating the synagogue and its worship is, at its core, a flawed enterprise. That’s why I’ve called this piece a “concurring dissent:” an oxymoron if ever there was one. I agree with the problem, but I’m uncomfortable with the solution. We are changing the davening to suit the daveners, and in so doing, we are losing something precious and irretrievable.
STAR is mentioned specifically in the post and I’ve responded fully to Rabbi Skolnik’s comments. Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve offered to meet with Rabbi Skolnik in Minneapolis or New York to explore the rich, independent data we’ve gathered over the years which tell a story of positive impact that our initiatives have had on congregations of all denominations across North America. We have a good grasp on what has been successful and what has not, and we think that it’s important to have conversations with others who share our passion for Jewish life and the synagogue which are informed both by feeling and fact.
We are inspired by the rabbis and synagogues with whom we work – their willingness to hold on to two goals simultaneously:
- Maintain and value Shabbat services which authentically reflect congregational, denominational and ideological history.
- Experiment on Shabbat and during the week with spiritual, educational, cultural and social alternatives which expand possibilities for involvement and Jewish growth.
These goals can be compatible.
We encourage you to take a few minutes to weigh in on these issues. Read the Synablog post and comments.
Rabbi Hayim Herring