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[KE CyberTorah] A Passionate Conservative Jew

A Passionate Conservative Jew

I am drawn passionately to being a Conservative Jew because we engage the world on a spiritual level that is open to new discovery and academic inquiry. That is, our spiritual life holds complexity and doubt integrally. We see archeological discoveries as a key to deeper understanding of our ancestors rather than as a spiritual challenge. If it creates friction or leads to new unexpected outcomes, we embrace that change because God told Abraham to go forth and we are always ready to go forth when God calls.

For some, religious identity, as Soloveitchik says, is a kind of Arcadia, an imagined place of tranquility and escape. In this view, the Sanctuary becomes a hiding place from the turmoil and tumult of life. While there is a benefit to this vacation from one’s life and worries, it domesticates religion into self help. We are no longer wrestling with life’s deepest question and with our own worries and fears and uncertainties. We leave them at the door, unresolved and waiting for us when we exit.

Conservative Judaism chooses a different path. As Rabbi Blumenthal, our guest this past Shabbat, showed, the study of ancient text can illuminate meaning in a new way. The great Yochanan Muffs uncovered a number of ancient Akkadian texts describing the role of King. For these texts, being a great King is about providing for one’s people, feeding and clothing them. It includes protection and in some cases conquest. Yet these texts show Kings bragging more about their feeding the hungry and clothing the naked than conquering vast new lands.

The metaphor of God as King goes from an arbitrary autocrat to an entity who loves and cares for His people. Avinu Malkeynu – our father our King, becomes poetic doubling rather than unrelated metaphors. Now a brakhah becomes something quite special. Blessed are You, God, our God, King (feeder, sustainer, the one who cares for God’s people) of everything. When we add, “who creates the fruit of the vine,” we are saying that God in God’s essence sustains life in the universe. The blessing means that God’s expression of sovereignty is one of life giving energy.

An ancient text becomes a vehicle for new understanding. An antiquated metaphor springs to life as we learn how its earliest formulators may have understood it. Yet we are not originalists. We are informed and nurtured by understanding the original context but not imprisoned by it. We now must wrestle with our initial discomfort at the idea of a King and see how this new meaning may illuminate it. Such a reading is nurturing even as it opens up new and deep questions of faith and our connection to the Divine. 

Sometimes saying we are the movement of balance makes us seem that we lack commitment. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are passionate that archeology is real. We know that scholars of ancient texts and traditions are uncovering truths that require our attention. At the same time, we live in those texts and faith. We know that faith is never simple and that God wants us to engage in the journey. 

Finding balance is the harder path. It is easier to go to the extremes but such a move betrays us as Jews. It is in the middle path that our spiritual growth and God are truly to be found, and so we must go forth on that path, even amid its thorns and thistles. 

I feel so grateful to have you as my community on this journey. Your love and interest, your faith and joy, give me the tools to walk this path.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Booth

Wed, June 19 2024 13 Sivan 5784