Goodbye to Heterodoxy


Regarding Ori’s question, I reject the forced choices — I think the majority of Jews would join Orthodox shuls without becoming observant. That is option 3. And I think that would be a vast improvement over the present situation.

In South Africa (where I lived for five years) there is no Conservative and only a very small Reform movement. Almost all South African Jews belong to O shuls, though few are observant. When they arrive in the US, many of them find themselves culturally comfortable in C congregations, whose services superficially resemble the services they are familiar with but whose rabbis and congregants are accepting of low levels of actual observance.

In practice — sociologically speaking — the change from O in South Africa to C in America usually results in a very rapid decline in the level of any observance, as well as a greased slide towards intermarriage, since interdating and intermarriage no longer carries any stigma in C congregations. Intermarriage does still have a stigma in South Africa.

Non-observant Jews who are nevertheless connected to an O shul and O rabbi for major life cycle events — girl baby-naming, bris, bar mitzva, wedding, funeral — are fundamentally attached to Judaism in a way that is simply not the case with a Jew who belongs to a “Conform” temple. Conform exists for only one reason — to make Jews psychologically and emotionally comfortable with their total disloyalty to the religion of their forefathers, to ease their conscience when they intermarry or do whatever they please.

The reason I refer to both Reform and Conservative as “Conform” movements is that both exist for the same reason — to help Jews conform comfortably to the prevailing secular ethos of America. Conform does very little to help people stay connected to Judaism, just the opposite.

Plus, as a result of patrilineal descent and Mickey Mouse conversions, the percentage of actual non-Jews in Conform temples is extremely high. Which makes it increasingly difficult and impolitic for any Conform rabbi to say boo about intermarriage.

There is also another factor to consider, and that is the question of, to whom do we owe loyalty? It is true that we owe loyalty to all our fellow Jews and that we want — or should want — to maintain close ties between all Jews, and to make sure that all Jews feel welcome in our community.

But we also owe loyalty to G-d. We do not have the right to falsify the Torah in order to make our fellow Jews feel comfortable. We hate to lose any Jews, we grieve over our fellow Jews who have elected to live in such a way that they will not have Jewish children — but we do have a mesorah, a chain of transmission, that has kept going father to son, mother to daughter, for three thousand years now, since Sinai. And we absolutely do not have the right to be the generation that breaks that chain.

We have an eternal promise (and it has been fulfilled for three thousand years) that the Jewish people will never disappear. The Conform movement has a lot to answer for, since it has done so much to shrink the total number of Jews in America (and in the world). It has helped millions of Jews commit suicide, Jewishly speaking, and that is simply tragic and heart-breaking — and unprecedented in our history. But the fact is, we have to transmit the Torah faithfully, and we rely on G-d’s promise that from a faithful remnant, however small, we can rebuild. We are an eternal people.

When I say good-bye to Jews who have chosen to marry out and to raise non-Jewish children, I say good-bye with a heavy heart. I grieve to see them go, and I want them to know — my door is not locked and will never be locked against them. They are welcome to come home to their people any time. Any time.

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9 years 11 months ago

In response to DMZ’s question (comment no. 9, above), Conservative halachic opinions issued by both the US-based Rabbinical Assembly and the Israeli-based Masorti Vaad HaHalacha are available on-line at and

9 years 11 months ago


Thank you for characterizing the Orthodox as limiting their intellect, but bowing to the superiority of Gedolei Torah makes no less intellectual sense than finding a qualified doctor to determine a course of medical treatment. There are plenty of people out there performing do-it-yourself homeopathic medicine, which in most (but by no means all) cases means a treatment that has no more than a placebo effect. Trying to follow Judaism without Torah guidance similarly has a placebo effect — it feels good, but a sick patient is still likely to die. It’s a tragedy in the making.

I think I can… Read more »

10 years 6 hours ago


Some of my best friends in college were observant Conservative Jews – people who, if they didn’t daven in an “egalitarian” minyan, would probably have fooled 99% of observers into thinking they’re Orthodox. I had many, many conversations and discussions (and arguments) with them – I _think_ I’m somewhat well-informed about the Conservative movement. And, indeed, I have some respect for their ideas, if not the overall results.

The real problem is not so much the act of including intermarried couples post-facto, but the fact that when this is a wide-spread practice, it ends up legitamizing intermarriage. After all, if there… Read more »

Ori Pomerantz
10 years 9 hours ago

Toby Katz,

Replying to me, you said: It depends on the Jew and on the synagogue. Outside the big cities (in Chattanooga, for example, where my husband was the rabbi in the 1980’s) many O shuls have a majority of non-observant members.

In your reply to Robbie, you said:“Accepting an intermarried family into a congregation is very different from encouraging intermarriage”

Sez you.

Let me see if I understand this correctly. There are three types of Jews:

1. Orthodox. Obviously welcome in an Orthodox shul.

2. Regular non Orthodox. Will be welcome in most Orthodox shuls, in the hope of encouraging greater observance.

3. Jews who… Read more »

10 years 10 hours ago

Has it not occurred to you (and to so many others on this forum) that some may affiliate with non-Orthodox synagogues not as a means of justifying non-observance, but for a variety of more positive reasons:

(a) an inability or unwillingness to accept the unquestioned dogmas that are normative in much of the Orthodox world, i.e., a reluctance to shelve one’s intellect in certain critical areas;

(b) a respect for principles such as a woman’s right to meaningfully participate in the religious life of the community, and a refusal to rationalize or condone what is perceived as a violation of those… Read more »

Ori Pomerantz
10 years 12 hours ago

Regarding Ori’s question, I reject the forced choices—I think the majority of Jews would join Orthodox shuls without becoming observant. That is option 3. And I think that would be a vast improvement over the present situation.

I admit to being Amero-Centric, as you implied and Habib said. The reason I didn’t think about being non observant and going to an Orthodox synagogue is that I didn’t see it growing up in Israel. Israel has very small heterodox movements and a huge non observant Jewish population which only goes to the (Orthodox) synagogue for Bar Mitzvahs, and maybe on Yom Kippur.

How… Read more »

10 years 13 hours ago

Robbie – I realize that this does not address the crux of your comment, but what does it mean for one person (male or female), to be able to daven better than another person? In terms of carrying a tune? Having kavannah? I’m not sure what that issue has to do with egalitarianism as a concept or a practice. Also, why do you put scare quotes around the word orthodox?

10 years 13 hours ago

I think we need to clear up a few things about the Conservative Movement, first:

– Conservative Rabbis are forbidden from performing intermarriages. If they perform one, the are kicked out of the Rabbinical Assembly and effectively no longer in the Conservative Movement. Accepting an intermarried family into a congregation is very different from encouraging intermarriage, as you seem to infer. And, according to official Movement policy, non-Jewish spouses are NOT counted as members of the synagogues.

– Conservative Judaism exists as a modern response to the stagnation of Orthodoxy. Conservative Judaism’s aim is to incorporate Judaism (Halachic,… Read more »