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What do Conservative Judaism and the Federalist Society Have in Common?

Federalist Society mission statement: "[i]t is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be."

Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, on Conservative Judaism and Jewish law: "the role of the rabbi is not to decide what the law should be, but rather what the law is."

snowball (mail):
John Marshall was a rabbi! Who knew?
3.14.2006 4:24pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Both have a large number of fundamentalists among their membership.

Sorry, but someone had to say it.
3.14.2006 4:29pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
It boggles the mind to think that someone could spend three years in a decent law school and escape from it thinking that you can distinguish between "what the law is" and what it "should be."
3.14.2006 4:30pm
Joel B. (mail):
I've always thought it was interesting how the law was settled in disputes, very similar to the common law system. I also thought it was interesting how the people were rule by Judges up to the annointing of Saul.

Unfortunately, it seems like our Supreme Court, sometimes seems to take on the authority granted to those judges of old.
3.14.2006 4:32pm
carpundit (www):
Commenterlein wrote Both have a large number of fundamentalists among their membership.

What would a Conservative Jewish fundamentalist be? Did you mean that, or was it a throw-away? I am a Conservative Jew and I can't recall meeting a single person at synagogue who could be labelled a fundamentalist.

Come to think of it, I'm a member of FedSoc, too, and I'm not sure you'd get agreement that it has a "large number" of fundamentalists. Maybe I go to the wrong meetings.
3.14.2006 4:37pm
duh! (mail):
A:

Neither are grounded in reality.
3.14.2006 4:39pm
Gordo:
Answer: David Bernstein.
3.14.2006 4:41pm
JB:
Both dislike pork.
3.14.2006 4:47pm
Cornellian (mail):
That statement about the role of the judiciary is a good starting point but it doesn't account for everything that goes on in a common law system. That's why the common law looks different today from what it did in 1900 or 1800 or 1700.

To liberals, the statement is a good reminder that the Supreme Court isn't a place for dictating policy preferences to the nation. For conservatives it's a good reminder that it is, in fact, the judiciary (not the executive) that holds the judicial power, no matter how much the executive (or the legislature) might disagree with the Court's view on what the law is.
3.14.2006 4:47pm
J..:

What would a Conservative Jewish fundamentalist be?

Is everyone using "conservative" in the same way in this thread?

Anyway, the Ha'aretz piece is pretty interesting. The immediate few sentences after the one David quotes are:


Nevertheless, there are always new situations which were not clearly anticipated in the classical literature. For instance, rabbis have always insisted that smoking is prohibited on Shabbat. But recent health data might compel a rabbi to rule that smoking is prohibited altogether. Although this is an innovation, it is in conformity with the Torah injunction to preserve life. Similarly, our understanding of human sexuality has undergone remarkable changes in recent years. This information needs to be considered sensitively when applying Jewish law.
3.14.2006 4:49pm
SLS 1L:
Tyrone:
It boggles the mind to think that someone could spend three years in a decent law school and escape from it thinking that you can distinguish between "what the law is" and what it "should be."
I think the most sensible interpretation of the federalist society claim is that "what the law is" limits the space of acceptable outcomes to a relatively small set, not to a unique outcome. Depending how we define the universe of possible outcomes, this is even true: if A sues B for nonpayment of on a contract for cosmetic surgery, it's not a legally acceptable outcome for the judge to rule that it's a non-issue becuase the government is constitutionally obligated to pay for all medical procedures.

I lost all my sympathy for the federalist society position about two weeks into law school when I finally realized how much of American law is common law. Having judges decide what it should be, not what it is, is the whole point. If the federalist society doesn't like that, they should write model codes for every common-law field and convince legislatures to adopt them.
3.14.2006 4:49pm
Justin (mail):
Amongst both, there's a serious disconnect between their mission statement and their rank and file?

I mean, its awfully convenient that conservatives find the law in ways that just so happen to benefit them tremendously.
3.14.2006 4:57pm
jackson dyer (mail):
The idea that there are fundamentalists in the Jewish conservative movement is ridiculous.

First, the Conservative movement in Judaism is conservative only with regard to Jewish law. It took a middle of the road position between Reformed Judaism which wanted to change all aspects of Jewish law, to modernize it and Orthodox Judaism which would have non of it.

For the Conservative Jew traditional Jewish law needed updating, but the basic conceptual basis of the law was to be kept as a background against which these changes were to be made.

In the secular political realm most conservative Jews are not politically conservative and usually vote Democratic.


When people see the word "conservatism" they tend to assign to it a universal meaning. Big mistake.

Conservative Judaism is no more conservative than the Islamic Republic of Iran is a "republic."
3.14.2006 5:06pm
jackson dyer (mail):
With regards to law I have always had trouble with differentiating between what "the law is" and what the "should be."
3.14.2006 5:07pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I lost all my sympathy for the federalist society position about two weeks into law school when I finally realized how much of American law is common law. Having judges decide what it should be, not what it is, is the whole point. If the federalist society doesn't like that, they should write model codes for every common-law field and convince legislatures to adopt them.

It's not like code solves the problem. Applying statutory language to specific cases presents difficult questions not anticipated by the law's drafters. To answer questions of statutory interpretation, you need principles of statutory interpretation, which are not usually derived from the statutes themselves. And these, too, conflict with each other. Selecting the proper legal principle to decide a case is necessarily a question of deciding what the law should be.
3.14.2006 5:13pm
JLR (mail) (www):
My two cents (or maybe two-and-a-half) on the Fed Society position:

I think the key is to distinguish constitutional interpretation from common law interpretation.

Chief Justice Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland, "we must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding."

Modes of constitutional interpretation require, I believe, a distinction between the empirical and the normative. It is my contention that a judge who baldly reads his own personal policy preferences into the Constitution is not technically "interpreting" the Constitution.

The question becomes, what mode of constitutional interpretation is appropriate?

Originalist methods constitute one cluster of modes of constitutional interpretation. However, that cluster is not the only cluster. (It might be the only correct cluster, but I'm not prepared to say that at this time.)

John Hart Ely's mode of constitutional interpretation, which has at its root a "participation-oriented, representation-reinforcing approach to judicial review" (cf. Democracy and Distrust) is another option. In Democraacy and Distrust, Ely essentially explicates Footnote 4 of Carolene Products and turns it into a mode of constitutional interpretation. Justice Breyer's constitutional theory in Active Liberty strikes similar notes to the ones found in Democracy and Distrust.

One might argue that Ely in Democracy and Distrust does not really offer a "mode of constitutional interpretation," but in fact reads certain political theories into a preferred mode of constitutional interpretation. But I suppose all defenses of modes of judicial review (and in fact, all modes of interpretation of any written document) are at heart based on some normative proposition ("It is proper for the Supreme Court to use an originalist mode of constitutional interpretation" or fill-in-the-blank). The question then becomes how to determine which normative propositions are permissible in judicial review, and which ones are not.

Nevertheless, it would seem that the goal of judicial review is to actually interpret the Constitution, rather than simply read one's personal policy preferences into the Constitution.

To reiterate Chief Justice Marshall's quote from McCulloch v. Maryland: "we must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding."
3.14.2006 5:28pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Carpundit and Jackson Dyer:

It was a throw-away comment and, juding from your reaction, not a clever one. My apologies, I certainly didn't mean to offend.
3.14.2006 5:29pm
Houston Lawyer:
I thought the legislature had something to say about what the law is, but maybe that's why I joined the Federalist Society. If you like judge made law, you should talk to a plaintiff's lawyer in Texas. They are not at all fond of the interpretations of a Republican Texas Supreme Court.
3.14.2006 5:46pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
I thought the legislature had something to say about what the law is, but maybe that's why I joined the Federalist Society.

Everyone thinks that, so I guess we should all join.
3.14.2006 6:01pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
jackson dyer:

Well put. A lot of people might not realize that Conservative Judaism is in the nature of a reaction to Reform Judaism. Fundamentalist Jews would be Orthodox Jews or belong to one of the breakaway variants like the Hasidic. In many regions of the US the Reform and Conservative movements have tended to converge and are always politically liberal (in the current sense). Outside of the Orthodox there are very few politically conservative Jews. Among the secular Jewish community, political conservatives are virtually non-existent. I personally know only about three and I know a lot of Jews.
3.14.2006 6:11pm
WB:
So, do Reform Jews refer to the "living Torah," and "evolving standards of decency"? Do they occasionally cite sharia law in interpreting their own?




PS: Commenterlein, you're not "sorry" and no one "had to say it."
3.14.2006 6:13pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I really think there should be some sort of obligation on the part of law schools to honor the accomplishment of other, more rigorous disciplines in a way that is fair to both sides of this issue:

(1) it is impossible to say what the meaning "is" because, as we now know, there is no "meaning" other than conensus on a particular interpretation, shared by both author and audience.

(2) BUT it does not follow that, epistemically speaking, because the constitution does not have a meaning that "IS" something, judging should be a means of advancing various subjective value judgments. Even if the constitution does not "mean" a certain thing, each judge should consistently apply a methodology for resolving that indeterminacy.

but i think my drunk ex colleague wrigley put it best several weeks ago, when responding to someone screaming about fixed meaning:

How about the equal protection clause? Does that require equal income? How about equal education? Is progressive income taxation unconstitutional? Is a flat tax unconstitutional as inherently regressive? Are libel and slander laws unconstitutional? Does the right to counsel attach at arrest? Arraignment? Trial? Are jury trials required for all causes of action? Is torture cruel and unusual? What rights are reserved to the states? The people? What process is "due"? Does that vary under the circumstances? Where do I find the non-delegation doctrine? Does the 11th amendment bar suits by citizens against their OWN states? What count as "cases" or "controversies?" Does the full faith and credit clause require Iowa to honor the marrraiges being performed in Massachutts? What are the priviliges and immunities of a citizen of any given state? Can Congress constitutionally fund the Air Force? If the federal government has to gaurantee that each state provides a "republican form of government," are popular referenda acceptable? What things constitute a republican form of government? Can the President fire his cabinet without Senate approval? Where does the Constitution explain that? What about withdrawing from treaties? Are Congressional-executive agreements with foreign nations acceptable? What about sole executive agreements? I forget which Article talks about those.
3.14.2006 6:20pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Commentarian,

The fact that you followed your (utterly uninformed) post about how conservative jews were fundamentalists with the comment that "someone had to say it" means that it was not a "throwaway comment." You took the trouble to emphasize it. I do buy that you're sorry though.
3.14.2006 6:25pm
jackson dyer (mail):
A. Zarkov,


Yes, the Orthodox Jewish denominations tend to be more conservative politically than the reform-conservative ones.
Orthodoxy, though, is not a form of fundamentalism. Strictly speaking there is only one fundamentalist sect in Judaism that can be so considered, the Karaites. However, they are a tiny minority which isn't even regarded as Jews Rabbinic Judaism of all stripes.

In a sense Rabbinic Judaism can be thought of as the un-fundamentalist religion immersed as it is in textual interpretation. Their anti-literalism had earned them the contempt not to say hatred of early Christians who called them Pharisees. The word itself comes from an Hebrew word meaning to interpret or translate. Historically Rabbinic Judaism is the descendants of these textual interpreters and Rabbi Hillel who was supposed to have been Jesus' Rabbi was also a Pharisee.

It is ironic then that Orthodox Jews who are strict adherents to the notion of textual (Talmudic) interpretation should be seen as literalist which is to say fundamentalists. It's like calling Ayn Rand followers Marxists.
3.14.2006 6:28pm
jackson dyer (mail):
No offense taken, Commenterlein.

You and Zarkov are giving me a chance to show off the little knowledge I have about Judaism.
3.14.2006 6:33pm
Wild Bill:
Orthodoxy does tend to lean toward a strict interpretation of texts, although there are clearly varying strands of thought on the topic. The Ultra-Orthodox take the hardest-line position, allowing very little deviation from receivied texts. Modern Orthodox tend to be more liberal in understanding what a given text means, more flexible in application.

But I don't know that these values transmit easily into constitutional interpretation as well. You could argue that a religion over 2,000 years old needs some room for flexibility (within limits), as the Modern Orthodox do, and still hold that a constitution must be strictly interpreted to ensure the rule of law (again, within limits).
3.14.2006 6:40pm
josh:
This whole debate belies the truth of decision-making: If it were so simple to proclaim "what the law is," we could plug our legal questions into computers (Yay! No more WestLaw) and have Solomon's wisdom spitted out by the HAL 9000.

Unfortunately, it's not so easy. And when one side doesn't like a non-silicone judge's take on "what the law is," that side concludes that, of course, the judge has erroneously chosen to state what the law should be, rather than what it is.

I'm sure the conservative rabbi could explain what the commandment prohibiting a Nazir from eating grapes means (Num. 6:3), but I'd bet reasonable minds could differ. Certainly the orthodox rabbi would find the conservative rabbi's interpretation to be treif.
3.14.2006 7:02pm
J..:

Strictly speaking there is only one fundamentalist sect in Judaism that can be so considered, the Karaites.

If by fundamentalist we mean rejection of the Misnah and Talmud (and strict reliance on scripture), then the Karaites are it. I always thought of those Hasids, esp. Lubavitchers, as fundamentalist. . . but I suppose that doesn't really make sense given the Baal Shem Tov, the reliance on mystacism (and, therefore, interpretation), etc.

I've never met a Karaite. I don't know if there was a temple in any city I've lived in. I don't think I heard of it until I went to Brandeis.
3.14.2006 7:08pm
J..:
those Hasids ^

^ that rely on strict interpretation of rules...
3.14.2006 7:10pm
Cyrus (www):
It's funny. I think a better question would be, what do the federalist society and Rabbi Cohen have in common? Answer: They're both wrong.

I don't want to talk about the legal side of this so much, though. I just think it's funny that Rabbi Cohen cannot have gotten Jewish tradition more backwards:

Jewish law is *exactly* Jews deciding what the law should be. See this link for one of my favorite Jewish parables. The Torah is not in heaven, I say, and God doesn't get to tell us how to interpret his words.
3.14.2006 7:13pm
anon) (mail):
As arguably the most Jewish person on this board (details upon request), I think it is a sin to join the Federalist Society, because it is a sin to try and "kiss your way" into the administration. A real Jew would work hard for many years and the god would make him president.
3.14.2006 7:18pm
Rickersam (mail):
I'm puzzled by the idea that it's hard to distinguish between what law is and what we think it ought to be, even in the context of the parable about the Torah not being in heaven.

Consider kashrut. Some of use might have eaten bacon and enjoyed it. Hence we might think that bacon ought to be kosher. That does not mean we can make a reasonable argument that it in fact is kosher.

A believer in the living law might sugggest that we now know that cooked pork won't get us sick so there's no reason not to eat it. (That of couse, assumes that preventing sickness was the only reason for the existance of the law.) Such a belief might lead one to conclude that Jewish law ought to end its prohibition upon pork-eating. Most people, I suspect, would hold that whatever one thinks ought to be the law, it's impossible to claim that pork is kosher.

The same applies to American constitutional law.
3.14.2006 7:44pm
Rickersam (mail):
P.S. I'm puzzled by the claim to be the "most Jewish person on the board." A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. There's no rank. There might, however, be different levels of observance.
3.14.2006 7:47pm
Pitman (mail):
For a good recent discussion of Jewish legal theory, especially within the Conservative Movement see Elliot Dorff's The Unfolding Tradition (I couldn't find a link through Volokh for Amazon so I used my web page, if Volokh has one they get first dibs). My criticism of the book is that much of it is just that, theory, and very little is based on an actually examination of rabbinic responsa. I feel that this is because no rabbi affiliated with conservative Judaism, at least in America, is a consistent author of rabbinic responsa so there's a lot of theory but very little application of any type of legal theory.
3.14.2006 8:03pm
anon) (mail):
Most Jews have some idea about how much more Jewish they are than the next. This is natural.
3.14.2006 8:31pm
JRL:
"It boggles the mind to think that someone could spend three years in a decent law school and escape from it thinking that you can distinguish between 'what the law is' and what it 'should be.'"

Really? I was able to do it before I got to law school.
3.14.2006 8:35pm
laurence rothenberg (mail):
see, Rabbi Avi Shafran, "The Conservative Lie,"

http://www.momentmag.com/archive/feb01/feat2.html
3.14.2006 10:04pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Rickersam,

Of course your pork example is easy. When the constitution says "no ex post facto laws" or no laws that violate "equal protection," nobody disputes that those rules are there, but in practice there is dramatic disagreement about what they mean. Nobody thinks it's ok to say that up means down or red means green. But the idea that you can't do those sorts of things does not mean that the constitution "has" a meaning. It was intended to mean very different things by the individual people who framed it, and it was understood to mean very different things - both at the time of the ratification and throughout history - depending on the composition of the audience.

JRL, it's nice that you think that.

It's interesting to see discussion to occur on a thread about interpretation of religious texts, whose modern meanings vary dramatically both from other modern ones and also from the interpretations and expectations of the people around when the texts themselves were developed.

Sometimes you just have to admit that there are parts of texts that are indeterminate - period. The equal protection or privileges and immunities clause don't mean "one thing" - not because you should be allowed to politicize their meaning, but because there are radically different but honest interpretations of what those terms mean. The impulse to stamp feet and say "no it means one thing" almost inevitably ends with an awkward silence when you ask the person how you decide what it means. Of course some aren't silent, and they answer "the text," apparently oblvious to the egregious circularity of that argument. Or they might say "framers intent," which is also completely subjective and, incidentally, rejected by this same groups as a means of interpretating other important legal texts - statutes. Of course I'm simplifying, but the fact that I need to simplify in order to explain only reveals how difficult this question is, and how dreafully wrong the people that pretend that the answer is simple are.
3.14.2006 10:17pm
Kovarsky (mail):
I have no idea why I chose ex post facto laws to make the point. That might have been the single worst example I could have selected.
3.14.2006 11:19pm
SLS 1L:
Tyrone - I don't disagree with you, but I think the existence of the common law refutes the federalists without needing to resort to more contentious quasi-philosophical claims about the nature of law. The common law is overtly judge-made and gets changed by judges all the time without anyone needing to pretend that they're "applying" the law rather than changing it. If you think "the law" can provide reasonably precise answers to all legal questions and judges shouldn't be in the business of making law, you have to believe that the common law should all be entirely replaced with statutory codes. I've never heard a federalist express this opinion or anything like it.
3.15.2006 12:54am
Public_Defender:
A couple definitions may be helpful:
"What the law is" means "the position I am advancing in this litigation."

"What the law should be" means "the position my opposing counsel is advancing."
3.15.2006 4:51am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
our understanding of human sexuality has undergone remarkable changes in recent years

I bet "we" unterstood human sexuality fine 5000 years ago. It's not quantum physics.
3.15.2006 10:16am
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):
Tyrone - I don't disagree with you, but I think the existence of the common law refutes the federalists without needing to resort to more contentious quasi-philosophical claims about the nature of law. The common law is overtly judge-made and gets changed by judges all the time without anyone needing to pretend that they're "applying" the law rather than changing it. If you think "the law" can provide reasonably precise answers to all legal questions and judges shouldn't be in the business of making law, you have to believe that the common law should all be entirely replaced with statutory codes. I've never heard a federalist express this opinion or anything like it.

Some Federalists prefer regulation by unelected judges to regulation by elected legislatures.
3.15.2006 10:29am
BegToDiffer:
If Kenneth Cohen actually believes that, he's in the minority of Conservative rabbis. The Conservative movement pretends to be based on halacha, but the majority of its constituents are wholly ignorant of even the most basic concepts of Jewish law. Lacking both intellectual honesty and backbone, the Conservative movement has seen an exodus of its constitutents to the reform and orthodox movements. I believe the median age of Conservative Jews is 52, compared to 49 for reform and 42 for orthodox.

As the Conservative movement struggles to retain a purpose and a populace, the shreds of halacha they claim to keep surely will soon slip away..
3.15.2006 11:19am
Public_Defender:
"Lacking both intellectual honesty and backbone, the Conservative movement. . . ."
Wow. Some of the most anti-Jewish (dare I say antisemitic) statements come from Jews. Imagine if an imam had said, "Jews lack both intellectual honesty and backbone."
3.15.2006 12:26pm
Rickersam (mail):
It's a bit late for this post, but I'll say it anyway. Sir Edward Coke did not think that common law was judge made law. The idea that it is judge made law is a recent invention.

While I'm writing I'll note that if there are many cases where the text is, in fact clear, there is no way one can say that there is no difference between what law is and what it ought to be. It might be that judges often rule according to what they believe the law should be, but that's a separate issue. They don't always do so. If a judge thought it was wrong to have a graduated income tax, it is highly unlikely he would void the sixteenth amendment.
3.15.2006 1:24pm
BegToDiffer:
So criticizing the Conservative movement of Judaism (versus Judaism as an abstract religion, or Jews as a group) as lacking intellectual honesty is now anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic?

Yawn.
3.15.2006 1:40pm
JoshL (mail):
As a Conservative Jew, I have some thoughts that I think need to be addressed.

First of all: while most people have been good about it in this post, capitalization is necessary to differentiate between "conservative" and "Conservative." Conservative Judaism is a movement. conservative Judaism is living Judaism in a conservative, as opposed to liberal fashion.

Second: While BegToDiffer's comment was perhaps a bit harsh, it's no harsher than someone citing a particular judicial philosophy as lacking intellectual honesty and backbone.

Third: The problem with Conservative Judaism is and has always been that it is based strongly on institutions. Reform Judaism has historically been population based (going with the demands of the people), Orthodox Judaism has been rabbinnically based...and Conservative Judaism institutionally based. Which means that it has some phenominal institutions (JTS, the Ramah camps, etc) but does a very bad job of reaching out to the people or giving its rabbis authority. Full and fair warning: I'm one of those who feels that the 1954 ruling allowing driving on Shabbat should be repealed and who thinks that a push towards observance of Kashrut and Shabbat needs to occur in all Conservative synagogues. I'm also a big fan of Joel Roth, who I mention below.

Fourth: Traditionally, rabbinic law is based on other rabbinic law. This holds true within the Conservative movement as well: the faculty paper that allowed women into JTS, written by Joel Roth, is heavily based on halacha, unlike most of its predecessors (see Meyer Rabbinowitz, for example). Roth's actually still on the CJLS, wrote the decision against gay ordination that was approved in 1992, and one of the four papers to be voted on (extending that opinion) is his. Of the four papers in this particular issue, two reject gay ordination (confirming traditional halacha), one accepts gay ordination while specifically maintaining a ban on gay sex (which technically fills halacha; that's Dorff's paper, who is mentioned above), and the last one approves gay ordination and gay sex.

Fifth: The last paper has been ruled a takannah, technically, which would mean that 80% of the CJLS (24 members total) would have to vote for it. Takannot are not unknown in Jewish history; the banning of polygamy is due to one. They are, however, quite rare, and I'm not familiar with any that have approved behaviours traditionally seen as banned, as opposed to the other way around. Which probably means that someone is going to cite such a takkanah in the next three minutes.
3.15.2006 2:11pm
Just an Observer:
I offer no opinion on the issues of Judaism presented here.

However, I submit that the mission statement of the Federalist Society is so pre-9/11, and in need of updating.

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.

Does not the new John Yoo / David Addington school hold that it is emphatically the province and duty of the President to say what the law is?
3.15.2006 2:44pm
laurence rothenberg:
Takkanot are not unheard of in Jewish history but they were all issued by rabbinic authorities of the highest possible stature in learning and wisdom. No rabbi today--especially not any Conservative rabbi--is near being equivalent. The average graduate of an Orthodox yeshiva high school is more learned than the average Conservative rabbi, and the top graduate of an Orthodox yeshiva is more learned than anyone on the CJLS.

Having said that, Joel Roth is a pretty learned guy, and probably one of the most learned Conservative rabbis (along with David Weiss HaLivni and David Novak, who probably don't consider themselves "Conservative" anyway, having split with the movement over the ordination of women). Roth's book, "The Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis," is valuable even to an Orthodox reader. It should be an indication of how radical a step on gay issues the CJLS is about to take that it is opposed by their most learned member.
3.15.2006 5:06pm
laurence rothenberg:
to add to the above,

It should be an indication of how radical a step on gay issues the CJLS is about to take that it is opposed by their most learned member, just as it was radical to claim that halakha permitted the ordination of women, which drove away HaLivni and Novak, the most learned Conservative rabbis at that time.
3.15.2006 5:12pm
Public_Defender:
So criticizing the Conservative movement of Judaism (versus Judaism as an abstract religion, or Jews as a group) as lacking intellectual honesty is now anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic?
So criticizing the Judaism (as opposed to religions generally) as lacking intellectual honesty is now anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic?
Yes.
3.15.2006 7:55pm
BegToDiffer:
Your last post wasn't coherent. Try again?
3.15.2006 8:30pm
JoshL (mail):

So criticizing the Conservative movement of Judaism (versus Judaism as an abstract religion, or Jews as a group) as lacking intellectual honesty is now anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic?

So criticizing the Judaism (as opposed to religions generally) as lacking intellectual honesty is now anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic?
Yes.


That's clearly not the implication of BegToDiffer's comment. The issue that he (I have no idea on the correct pronoun, so I'll choose the masculine) is making is not that Judaism as a whole has no itellectual honesty or backbone (which would be anti-Semitic), but claiming that a particular movement of it does. That is, a movement that claims to be guided by halacha (Jewish law) but influenced by modern life, which is now advocating things that are clearly against the traditional reading of that law. The implication is that they should either declare that halacha isn't binding (a la the Reform movement), that it has some influence but not an overriding one (a la the Reconstructionist movement), or stand up and say that despite current biological explanations for homosexuality, it's forbidden and against halacha. That is, either stop being intellectually dishonest or grow a spine to stand up to the current statement of philosophy.

It's very difficult to point to the Reform or Reconstructionist movements as dishonest (as they practice what they preach). Ditto with Orthodoxy. Conservative Judaism, however, is the one movement where what the rabbi does at home doesn't match up with what most of their congregants do at home, and where the statement of philosophy differs from the practice in both the lay population and the clergy. That's not anti-Semitism, it's opinion. It is (though BegToDiffer might have some issues with this comparison) the equivalent of criticizing a particular school of legal theory as intellectually dishonest, as opposed to saying that anyone who supports the legal system of the United States is intellectually dishonest. Which actually brings us around, somewhat, to the original topic of the post.
3.15.2006 11:55pm
Ed Stephens:
"Rabbi Kenneth Cohen, on Conservative Judaism and Jewish law: 'the role of the rabbi is not to decide what the law should be, but rather what the law is.'"

If only! This is the funniest thing I've heard in a while. The reality is that the vast majority of Conservative Judaism has veered so far from even pretending that Jewish law (or "halacha") matters that it hardly even merits discussion. Any Rabbinical body that is seriously considering santifying Gay marriage cannot argue with a straight face that it is merely concerned with what the law is.
3.16.2006 5:05pm