Posted on February 6, 2014 by Deborah Renert
As I reflect on Rabbi Daniel Roth’s introduction to “Constructive Conflict ‘for the Sake of Heaven’…” I cannot help but also reflect on the Pew Study, and the Pew Survey program which took place here at Pardes this past December.
The Pew Research Center published on October 1st 2013 findings that reflected that the intermarriage rate of American Jews has now reached 58% and that of non-Orthodox Jews has reached the all time high of 71%.
Now if the loss of diversity in the American Jewish community is not to be seen as a problem by either the most liberal elements of the American Jewish community or by the Orthodox Jewish community then the future of a relatively homogenous orthodox American Jewry may not be a troubling factor at all.
However, if we, as part of the greater Jewish community, and particularly as members of the Pardes community, find value in a diverse, multi-denominational American Jewry; and, we are committed to the perpetuation of a diverse American Jewry, then it behooves us to do some soul-searching and brain-storming in order to search for solutions or at least viable responses to the challenges that lie at hand.
It seems that the foundation for the ideal of a diverse Jewish community consisting of a multiplicity of voices is well entrenched in our Jewish texts. For example, there is a tradition that the Torah has 70 faces (Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16) and there is a tradition that 600,000 unique Jewish souls stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
Also there is the following famous piece of Gemara found in Eruvin 13b which states:
Rav Abba said in the name of Shmuel: For three years, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel debated each other. These said that the halacha follows their view, and these said that the halacha follow their view. A heavenly voice went forth and declared: These and those are the words of the living G-d…
So then the question I ask myself based on Daniel’s “shita” on Judaism and conflict resolution is this: How can we engage effectively the diverse elements composing the American Jewish community in order to promote a greater good?
The suggestions put forth by the Pardes sponsored Pew panel on December 26 by Professor Steven Cohen, Rabbi Naamah Kelman, and by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin included major commitments to outreach—particularly to non-orthodox Jewish teenagers and to intermarried couples and families. Suggestions included creating new types of impactful summer experiences analogous in their success to Birthright–that reach additional teens and, also, establishing conversion centers oriented towards the non-Jewish spouses amongst intermarried couples.
This would seem to suggest that we need to find ways to provide a welcoming Jewish environment and impactful cultural and spiritual experiences for those who may not be drawn to traditional Jewish practices–regardless of our own predilections. One major aspiration is that we might be able to find ways of conveying a love of Jewish values and texts that is not specifically contingent on traditional Jewish religious behavior.
The reason that I think the Pardes Institute is a most ideal platform for confronting these issues is because its initial inception and its central core values focus precisely on the value of diversity in the Jewish community.
Pardes is made up of self-selected committed Jews of all denominations, lovers of learning and the Jewish people who are committed to Jewish leadership and Jewish education–most specifically–in the American Jewish community.
Who could be better equipped to respond to the challenges presented by the Pew study than those of us drawn to the uniquely Pardes learning and davening environment?
So the Pew Study represents both a crisis and an opportunity and for those of us who study at Pardes.
I personally greatly appreciated the opportunity to attend the Pardes sponsored Pew Survey program at Pardes and I am convinced that confronted with these challenges the future Jewish leaders and educators who study at Pardes and who will emerge from Pardes will respond to this calling with “hineni” and rise to these challenges with unique suggestions.
Please do follow up with your thoughts and suggestions as this is meant as an invitation to engage in a dialogue; and, all of your voices are important. Todah!