Pesach brings to fore the core of the Jewish people and Judaism. It's all about birth, rebirth, sea-splitting emuna, and Redemption.
Yet the destructive Erev Rav forces quietly tear at the edges of even this most transformative earth-shattering process.
Authentic Jewish tradition tells us that a mind-boggling 80% of Jews in Egypt didn't survive the Plague of Darkness.
Astoundingly, they didn't want to leave the slavery of Egypt.
Ultimately, only 20% made it to the Exodus.
Recently, I was pondering the movement within non-Torah Judaism that refers to itself as "Conservative." (Boy, is that a misnomer!) I grew up within this movement and this was the community and synagogue to which we belonged.
And I was thinking about how much destruction they've wrought upon the Jewish people, all under the cheerful auspices of "progress" and good intentions.
What's insidious about the leaders within this movement is that they're knowledgeable enough to present their fallacious views in a convincing manner to Jews who aren't knowledgeable at all or only minimally knowledgeable.
Recently, Batya Medad blogged about her experiences with this movement (among other topics), saying:
"The vast majority [of Jewish teachers] were actually strictly practicing and believing Orthodox Jews, but they had to dilute their teaching to suit the Conservative theology and the even less Jewishly committed parents, who would have had them fired or pull their kids out of the school if there were signs of 'brainwashing'."
[Emphasis mine -- MR]
This isn't progressive, but dishonestly restrictive -- exactly what the Conservative movement's adherents accuse Torah-true Judaism of being.
The Conservative Movement's Contradictions
This is heartbreaking because such a precious Jew could do so much good within the Torah world, but it's very hard to untangle such indoctrinated Jews from the Conservative movement's finely woven heresies. And I've known several Conservative rabbis with this same kind of personality. They care about their congregants and have genuine affection for a lot that Judaism has to offer.
Why? Because Judaism is genuinely beautifully and the thirst within the Jewish soul is only slaked by Torah spirituality.
(Not to mention the Conservative rabbis who are merely good administrators and enjoy the nice home provided by the congregation in addition to the 6-figure salary common among such communities, particularly the larger communities. And yes, I'm aware that some Orthodox rabbis fit this description too.)
To make things more confusing, Conservative rabbis near major Orthodox areas (like New York) practice Judaism similarly to many Modern Orthodox Jews. In fact, I was shocked when one Conservative rabbi told me that he required his female converts to commit to mikveh and taharat hamishpach (the laws of Family Purity) after marriage, in addition to Shabbat and kashrut. (Taharat hamishpacha isn't generally valued or even know about within the Conservative movement.)
But in many parts of the US, the Conservative rabbi and cantor may be the only people who don't drive on Shabbat. Yet even th rabbi and cantor's Shabbat observance is lacking. With no respect for the millennia of interpretation by Sages possessing the intellectual level of Albert Einstein, the Conservative leaders simply pick and choose according to convenience.
God is a far and distant figure subject to their own imagination. And they deal with the personalities within Torah according to their own grasp, meaning that they bring all the greatest of the greats down to their own level (which is low indeed) instead of striving to lift themselves to follow the example of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and Prophets.
The result is that there is nothing to aspire to -- except whatever the lowly rabbi or Conservative teacher determines according to his or her own ego and personality limitations.
I remember one Conservative rabbi who rarely even made it to Shacharit services during the week; he just showed up on Shabbat (a "once-a-week" Jew!). Usually, there wasn't even a minyan (even when including the women) for weekday Shacharit despite its location in a predominantly Jewish area. The elderly guys complained about how "the rabbi doesn't even show up for Shacharis! What kind of a rabbi is that?"
A Conservative rabbi, apparently. With a 6-figure salary.
It's also common within the Conservative movement to pick a scene or person from Tanach, ignore wholesale the millennia of Sagely scholarship (mostly because they lack the skills to study it or understand it), then distort it so that the Conservative Jew ends up more religiously observant than, say, Avraham Avinu. (And yes, this is a real example. They believe that Avraham Avinu did not keep kosher, but the Conservative Jew does, so look who's the frummer Yid!) And that's how they justify their lack of observance.
It's incredibly egocentric.
The Progressive Lech
Their great hero, Solomon Schechter, initially dismissed the eloquently written bilingual (maybe even trilingual?) journal of Gluckel of Hameln simply because it focused on women's daily tasks (in addition to her Torah knowledge, business acumen, high intergrity, and much more).
Also, it's telling how they dump women's mitzvot to the side while promoting men's mitzvot. Women are encouraged to don tallis and tefillin, yet men aren't encouraged to light Shabbat candles, even though they are halachically obligated to if a female isn't lighting for them. In realtime, you see girls in their youth groups wearing tallis, tefillin, and kippahs, but almost none of the boys light Shabbat candles.
And I already mentioned their attitude toward taharat mishpacha...
Apparently, progressive "enlightened" men can't let inconvenient laws get in the way of their taavos.
I remember a Conservative rabbi who got booted out for having an affair with his secretary. This devastated me as a child because I'd liked her so much and couldn't believe such a warm-hearted nice lady could've done such a terrible thing. I remember impassionedly pleading something to parents like, "Are you sure it was with her and not with someone else? Are SURE it was her?"
Furthermore, go to some Conservative synagogues, and you'll see young woman reading from the Torah surrounded by a group of oh-so "helpful" and attentive middle-aged men who were probably too pathetic and Woody Allen-looking to get anywhere near attractive girls in their younger years. Who knew a girl needed so many gabbais to help her out?
Girls also help lead parts of the service.
But where are the boys? Or the middle-aged women?
Teenage and college-age girls are more fun to watch on the pulpit, I guess. (Although these helpful old guys will insist that girls are simply more interested and "more mature." How convenient.)
By the way, I heard this word all the time among the male congregants to describe teenage girls: mature.
Many Conservative rabbis and their male adherents enthuse over young female participation, and are oh-so encouraging of young females while lauding young female "maturity," all under the auspices of "progression."
It's just a load of weasel words, quite frankly.
They care about women's issues in the way that feminism cares about women's issues, which means that it's all about getting women to emulate negative male traits and valuing traditionally male contributions over traditionally female contributions (i.e. careers are in, but childbearing is out, etc.).
Note: The above may not be the case at every single Conservative synagogue across the entire 50 states. But what I wrote of aren't outliers either, despite what a Conservative adherent will otherwise insist.
Oh-So Stringent & Smart!
"And there was NO evidence of a mikveh!" he proclaimed.
(See? This is yet again an example of how they try to make themselves out to be frummer than our ancestors. "We do mikveh and they didn't! We're more machmir than the Avos!")
"How do you know?" I said. "Maybe you guys missed it. Maybe you just dug around it without even realizing it was there. Anyway, a woman's mikveh was often located a bit away for reasons of modesty."
He frowned as he thought this over, then declared, "No, we excavated pretty thoroughly!"
Knowing the technical difficulties and limitations of excavation, I was highly skeptical regarding the proclaimed thoroughness of their excavation. But I went with it and said, "Was there a natural body of water nearby, like a river or something?"
"Yes," he said.
"Well, maybe they just used that," I said. "I mean, we're talking about a Middle Eastern climate, not a Russian climate." These women also spent most of their years nursing and pregnant, which meant they mostly only needed a mikveh once every year or two. "Maybe they didn't feel the need to carve out a whole mikveh when they had a river right there," I added.
He fell silent for several moments, then said, "Hm."
And this is the really sad thing: At that time, this Conservative rabbi was a highly educated guy with degrees from university and his "rabbinical" seminary while I was just this twentysomething housewife pregnant with my second child and working in a little store part-time while my husband learned in kollel. Yet in an argument centering on his area of expertise, the little newly frum kollel wife bested him within a couple of sentences. Logically speaking, that shouldn't have happened.
But embarrassingly, he still managed to get me in the end.
How? He simply twisted over to another topic and distorted it in a way so that I couldn't recognize what he was talking about (although I was definitely familiar with it), and left me stammering, much to my embarrassment and frustration.
At the time, I hadn't yet read up on the different kinds of tactics utilized to manipulate arguments (strawman arguments, sloganeering, distractions, ad hominem attacks, cherry-picking, etc.), so I wasn't aware of what he was doing and got caught in it.
(If you'd like, you can see the continuation of that conversation in a previous post: How to Distort the Torah: A Guide for Apikorsim and Their Victims.)
If Ya Can't Beat 'Em, Convert 'Em!
With all their pseudo-"conversions" of people who are either pressured into it by well-meaning yet presumptuous Conservative Jewish in-laws or non-Jews who like aspects of Judaism without feeling compelled to commit wholeheartedly or for people who enjoy having the now-coveted status of being a minority, the Conservative "rabbinate" decimated the Jewish people in America.
(And yes, I realize there are also Orthodox rabbis who do not take conversion as seriously as they should and thus produce converts who are ill-prepared and ignorant of important aspects Judaism, and whose status is also questionable.)
Anyway...this year, I received emails from members of my old Conservative community (and the accompanying Reform community) which enthused about the family get-togethers for the Pesach Seders. Some were 50% Jewish. Then one enthused, "We had 13 people at the Seder!"
But only one participant was actually Jewish.
So you had non-Jews cooking up and conducting a whole Pesach Seder and chanting about how God took them out of Egypt (when He didn't), and opening the door for Eliyahu Hanavi to come in and take a sip of wine.
Now on the positive side, these predominantly non-Jewish Seders are likely Hashem's way of getting the basic message across to the one sickly elderly Jew at the table. That Jew at least heard the Haggadah and ate some matzah, so maybe some soul-healing will spark from that.
So it's all very ingrained.
Then you have the natural human ego and the leadership resistance to admitting that they're living a lie and giving up their nice home and their 6-figure salary.
It's all too human, of course. Which is exactly why you need traditional authentically Jewish mussar to have any chance of battling problematic character traits like greed, the need for honor, ego, and all that.
I'm not really different than them in that respect. The only real difference between me and them is that Hashem has allowed me to access these traditional authentic Jewish sources with an open mind, and these leaders and adherents do not do so.
Having said that, even an entrenched Conservative Movement leader can still do teshuvah.
Starving Out the Soul
But I'm looking over a long wide swathe of destruction.
Furthermore, so many Jews in this movement have warm Jewish hearts and shining souls. Yet where their beaming hearts and souls channeled?
Into a meaningless vacuum.
Many of the good adults I knew as a child are aged and dying now.
It pains me that, depending on their situation and life choices, they're dying without ever knowing the real beauty and depth of Torah. They only ever tasted a watered-down version.
They're dying with disillusions and confusion about why their children and congregations are so apathetic to that which was so important to their parents and grandparents.
Many are dying without ever having been in an authentic Jewish marriage.
Some die leaving self-hating assimilated progeny behind them.
Others die without leaving behind them even one Jewish child or grandchild.
And some of these non-Jewish children and grandchildren are even antisemitic (in a goody-goody politically correct way, of course).
Within their seventy, eighty, or ninety years, these precious Jews never do even a moment of teshuvah.
And whose fault is that?
He'll gather all the Jewish neshamas out of whatever Galus (Exile) he finds them in and bring us all Home, hopefully enveloped in within Hashem's Great Loving Revealed Compassion.
In the words of Gidon the Judge at his own family's Pesach Seder around 3100 years ago:
"If our forefathers were tzaddikim, then perform a miracle for us in their merit. And if they were reshaim, then just as you performed for them, perform a miracle for us too."
Aliyah, Moving To Israel (Batya Medad's blog post)
Sinking in a Deluge of Quicksand while Dancing the Hora
How to Distort the Torah
True Greatness Hides Itself (more about Gidon the Judge)