Temple Beth El in Hollywood, Florida has launched something called “Shabbat Lite.” The innovative Friday night service will begin this month. It is an attempt to accommodate members of the congregation who, according to a story in the local Sun-Sentinel Newspaper, are very busy and “need a taste of Shabbos, even if we can’t devote an entire day to it.”
The abbreviated service is 18 minutes long. Congregational leader Rabbi Allan Tuffs hopes to meet the needs of his time-challenged congregants. The service will incorporate candles, Kiddush, challah, prayers and songs. It will begin at 6 p.m. and end at 6:18 and will leave open the option for attendees to go home to a family Shabbat dinner or “to a nice restaurant or a walk on the beach.”
Unfortunately, Beth El’s quick and easy approach to Judaism is not a unique endeavor in our community. Many synagogues and Jewish organizations have gone out of their way to host and hype a myriad of happenings that are targeted at increasing attendance but have little or nothing to do with Jewish practice or custom. Usually, in the long run, they fall short of their goal.
The simple truth is that despite the best of intentions, efforts to dumb down and modify Jewish tradition always fails in the end. The pintele Yid, that stubborn little spark in the soul of a Jew, rejects the obvious pandering. It is turned off by the misguided efforts. It longs for an authentic experience.
Attempts to accommodate everyone wind up accommodating no one. Speed dating may work for a select few seeking a date, but speed davening works for none seeking spirituality. Efforts to make Judaism “easier” make it irrelevant and meaningless.
The ba’al teshuvah movement prove this premise. The “lite” approach may be successful when it comes to ingredients in fat-free cooking. But in terms of Judaism, it’s a recipe for disaster.Shelley Benveniste