Sunday, July 16, 2017

Someone else’s need

The Atlantic has published a lengthy article about the current debate in the Conservative Jewish movement over interfaith marriages. While this is clearly an important debate to many people in the Conservative movement, there aren’t very many people left in the Conservative movement. Perhaps it’s because the Conservative movement has spent decades driving away enormous segments of its membership.

Rabbi David Wolpe is quoted in the article as saying “I don’t necessarily feel that someone else’s need is my obligation. Someone else may need a rabbi to bless that union, or may want a rabbi to bless that union. It doesn’t mean that I have to do it.”

That is the exact attitude that rabbis and synagogue leaders decry in the unaffiliated and the underaffiliated. People do not join synagogues or do not provide enough money or time to keep synagogues afloat, saying “I don’t necessarily feel that someone else’s need is my obligation. Someone else may need or want a synagogue to feel connected to a Jewish community, to provide Jewish education for children or adults, to offer worship services or social services, or to help with major life events and transitions. It doesn’t mean that I have to support a synagogue.”

I certainly cannot persuade someone who has no need for a synagogue that they should personally support a synagogue. I feel I can make a reasonable case to someone who does sometimes need or want a synagogue, as long as rabbis and synagogue leaders are not actively dismissing them. The quote from Rabbi Wolpe, on the other hand, makes that case much harder to make. I am sure he would be able to explain why I should not expect him to extend his logic to refusing to lead a funeral or refusing to counsel a congregant, though I do not see that distinction in his quote.

Someone else’s need is not my obligation.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

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