Sunday, March 30, 2008

Did the Exodus Really Happen?

The Jewish Week

A few weeks ago, a sermon by my Conservative colleague Rabbi David Wolpe made headlines out in L.A., when he expressed his doubts that the Exodus, as described in the Torah, really happened. Read more about Wolpe's comments and the subsequent vehement response by Orthodox leaders, at the Jerusalem Post,

The original sermon text is not available online, but the original article from the L.A. Times is, at

This debate perfectly frames the difference between the Orthodox and Conservative worldviews. While one might argue that the Orthodox approach offers more consistency in regard to Jewish ritual practice, the Conservative movement prides itself in its intellectual honesty. It should be clear where I stand in this matter. I believe fundamentalism to be a great danger to both religion and to society as a whole. That is why, despite all the good things they do, I can not support the efforts of Habad-Lubavitch along with other groups espousing Jewish fundamentalism, whose theological approach I respectfully believe to be naïve and dangerously narrow. They, along with the rest of right-wing Orthodoxy, see the intellectual honesty offered by Conservative Judaism as a great threat, so they choose to de-legitimize it in various ways.

Moment Magazine recently published a highly inflammatory article by Rabbi Avi Shafran, entitled "The Conservative Lie." Read about the resulting brouhaha at Moment's web site. The original article is at Shafran re-ignites the pluralism debate, essentially framing it in the same way that Wolpe frames it: as a question of honesty. For Shafran, Conservative Judaism is dishonest because it claims fealty to Jewish Law when most Conservative Jews are not halachic. Wolpe, on the other hand, says, "I think faith ought not rest on splitting seas. For a Jew, it should rest on the wonder of God's world, the marvel of the human soul and the miracle of this small people's survival through the millennia."

Can Conservative and Orthodox Judaism find common ground? Absolutely. That ground is being paved by modern Orthodox leaders like Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and Rabbi David Hartman. They have helped us all to appreciate the value of the "other." Unfortunately, they are increasingly being pushed to the margins of Orthodox Judaism. The battle for the soul of Orthodoxy is being won by the fundamentalists, both in Israel and here in America. Which is why, personally, when I have tzedakkah dollars to offer to Jewish organizations, I make sure to donate only to those who promote true pluralism and mutual respect, not only among Jews, but among different visions of Judaism. I will gladly support the activities and visions of all groups who would just as eagerly promote ours. Otherwise, not a cent.

Mordecai Kaplan put it best when he said, "The foremost problem in Jewish religion is how to get Jews to take the Bible seriously without taking it literally." Courageously, David Wolpe is showing us how to do that.

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