Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Conservative Movement Faces Internal Contradiction

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is probably best known at UCSC as the backbone of the entire Hebrew Language Program and for her scholarship in Biblical Hebrew and Jewish Thought. She may be less known to students as one of the founding members of Santa Cruz's only Conservative congregation, Congregation Kol Tefillah, and her active leadership role in the lay-led kehilla.

Tammi recently published an extremely critical scholarly article about contradictions in the Conservative Movement in the online publication The Open Source Project. The article was previously rejected by four other publications, namely: JUDAISM, Tradition, Azure and Conservative Judaism because, Tammi believes, of her paper's controversial nature.

The article focuses on the implications of the movement's 2001 Torah commentary Etz Hayim, which is the first new Torah commentary for the movement in over 70 years. What bothered Tammi is the Conservative movement's professed dedication to halacha, despite the fact that their newest Torah commentary openly rejects the belief that the entire Torah was received by Moses at Mt. Sinai. In other words, it assumes that the Torah was written by multiple authors at different periods throughout history.

There are huge halachic implications in the multiple-author theory, which leads to "inconsistency and compromise at the highest intellectual level" according to Hillel Halkin, and potentially renders entire classes of halacha (like those of milk and meat, Shabbat, and Kohanim) impotent. In her own words:
"Having publicly identified itself with an interpretation of P’shat which denies the unity of the Torah, the Conservative Movement is now in a serious theological quandary. For as a movement which swears fealty to Halakhah, its rejection of the most fundamental theological assumption of the rabbis who derived that Halakhah from the text is seemingly self-contradictory."
The paper itself, Tammi says, is mainly a response to her frustration with inadequate responses she received from some of the Movement's leading rabbis regarding its "open rejection of Torah mi'Sinai." Tammi ends the piece warning that continued contridictions within the Conservative movement don't bode well for the movement or for the Jewish people as a whole.

I applaud Tammi for her intellectual integrity regarding the movement that she has been so dedicated to. To read the article yourself, click here. It's a pdf file. Also, it is an obviously well-researched and scholarly article, so don't be intimidated by its length, because it's completely worth the read.

Let the apologetics begin!


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