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You Don’t Have to be Orthodox

I am not an Orthodox Jew.

 

Yet this does not prevent me from living a fully committed Jewish life.

 

I observe Shabbat by having a traditional Friday night meal every Friday evening. We light the candles, chant the Kiddush, say motzi over two covered hallot, and sing Shalom Aleichem prior to a beautiful Shabbat dinner on a festive table adorned with a white table cloth. I bless our children (when they are home), sing the traditional Eishet Hayil praising my wife and attend Shabbat services, even when I am out of town and not leading them. I spend Shabbat afternoon at home or occasionally with friends, but never go shopping on Saturday. I do all this, but I am not Orthodox.

 

I keep kosher. We have two sets of dishes in our home. (Actually we have six sets of dishes – meat and milk for weekday, meat and milk for Passover and nice meat milk china as well.) We only purchase and eat kosher meat and chicken and consume nothing that is traife. When we go out to eat in a restaurant, we eat vegetarian dishes, fish, salads or pasta. But I am not Orthodox.

 

There are many other things that I do, such as study Torah and pray on a regular basis as I attempt to live my life in accordance with Jewish teachings. But I am not Orthodox.

 

My point in writing this is to let you know that it is possible to live an observant and fulfilling Jewish life within the context of the Conservative Movement and here, at B’nai Tzedek without having to become Orthodox.

 

I choose to be a Conservative Jew for a number of reasons. I appreciate its intellectual honesty and its struggle to preserve Jewish tradition while confronting modernity. I appreciate its emphasis on Jewish universal and particularistic values, and its embrace and support for Israel, and on the concept of community and Clal Yisrael. I believe its philosophy and approach reflect the Judaism the rabbis aspired to create.

 

I have always felt one of my most important roles as a rabbi is to be an advocate for mitzvot. I urge and encourage you to take on mitzvot on a regular basis and to partake in the beauty of our heritage, traditions and customs. I remember when I was in Reform congregations and would encourage members to incorporate aspects of Jewish observance into their lives, individuals would often say to me, “But rabbi, we’re not Orthodox.” We should not cede Jewish observance merely to the Orthodox. There is no reason why we cannot also find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in the beauty of our traditions. Conservative Judaism respects Jewish laws and identifies itself as a halachic movement.

 

B’nai Tzedek has been a gateway for many to a life in which Judaism plays a regular role. I am especially proud of the many members of our congregation who have found that B’nai Tzedek has been a place where they can deepen their attachment to Judaism and connect to our community, by taking classes, by availing themselves of the many programs and opportunities we offer. Many individuals attend services on a regular basis who have never done so before. Others have started to keep kosher and observe Shabbat. One can live a fully immersed Jewish life in the Conservative Movement, and I encourage you to take your spiritual journey here.


Also published on Medium.

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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.