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Is Sabbath Observance Enough?

I would love to consider all people who observe Shabbos as observant. That was once the case.
An Israeli family welcome the entrance shabbat in a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon.

An Israeli family welcome the entrance shabbat in a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon.
Photo Credit: Edi Israel/Flash90

The David Brooks article in the New York Times about Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn has stirred up a lot of controversy. This time it is a complaint in the Forward from an unlikely source – Jordana Horn, an observant Conservative Jew. I say unlikely – not because it is unlikely that she would complain, but because of her identification as an observant Conservative Jew. And by observant, I mean Shomer Shabbos. It is that particular Mitzvah that has in the past always been definitive of observance. At least in America I suppose that’s because it was so difficult to keep Shabbos during the great influx of European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There were plenty of Jews that immigrated to this country then who were observant in Europe and wished to stay observant. But because of the work ethic of the times, many of them succumbed to the pressure of working on Shabbos – even while keeping the other Miztvos (like Kashrus)to the best of their abilities. Many Jews felt that it was either working on Shabbos or starving.

That concession cost them greatly in their children. In many if not most cases their children abandoned the ritual observances of their parents in part because of the melting pot spirit of the times… but perhaps equally as important, because they saw their fathers working on Shabbos. They considered it hypocritical of their fathers to insist on their children keeping Shabbos when their fathers worked on that day.

I am not judging that generation. Times were tough. These are just the sad facts of reality. We lost a lot of Jews of the subsequent generation to assimilation back then. Of course this is not the only reason we lost them. The utter lack of any meaningful Jewish education in those days had something to do with it too.

On the other hand there were a lot of Jews who toughed it out and did not work on Shabbos. They kept getting fired from their jobs when they didn’t show up for work. Or they somehow found jobs that did not require working on Shabbos even when it meant lesser pay. They were in the minority. But their kids for the most art stayed Shomer Shabbos too – as well observant of other Mitzvos.

Others may differ but this is why I think Shabbos is the defining characteristic of observant Judaism. Which brings me back to Ms. Horn. She is observant. She is Shomeres Shabbos. She admits that this is a relative rarity in the Conservative movement and although there are more than a few like her – I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of Jews in the Conservative movement are not Shomer Shabbos.

She complains that Mr. Brooks ‘waxed rhapsodic’ only about Orthodox Jews. …that her observance of Judaism is just as legitimate as in that of Orthodox Jewry.

The obvious question is, what makes her Conservative if she observes Shabbos? That is a very good question. In fact, if there were no labels like Orthodox and Conservative… we would all just be Jews with different levels of observance. (This is the way Sephardim live. This is one of the things I am envious of about them.)

Alas, there are labels. Labels that identify ideologies. In some cases those ideologies contradict Halacha and Mesorah. The problem I have with Ms. Horn is that she sees egalitarianism as an essential feature of her life. So much so apparently that she cannot imagine Judaism without it. She believes that equality of the sexes in all areas of life including religion is so important that Halacha can be changed to accommodate it. And she has found a movement that agrees with her and even encourages that kind of thinking.

The Conservative movement has done away with all Halacha that does not bow to egalitarianism. They have changed the entire nature of the Halachic process from one of adhering to Halacha as laid down before us by the sages as recorded in the Talmud and finalized in the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries… to one of changing it to fit with the spirit of the times. Egalitarianism drives Halacha in the Conservative Movement – instead of Halacha driving egalitarianism.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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