Monday, March 16, 2009

Steve Greenberg and Conservadox

One of the topics which I hope to spend more time researching (and publishing) is that of the denominations in Judaism. I am especially interested in the new formation of 'non-denominational' or 'trans-d' or 'post-d' (especially paired with the new 'partnership minyans') because these people, I claim, are basically conservative Jews who don't want to admit it.

Either they grew up Conservative and don't identify with them anymore - either because C is too liberal, too wishy-washy, too materialist, or what have you. I don't know too well because I haven't interviewed these people, but that's my assumption.

The ones I do know, who do belong to Partnership Minyans, are liberal Orthodox Jews who were taught Torah and Halakha but not about the philosophy of the halakhic process and were basically Conservative Jews for years without even knowing it.

No matter what they call themselves (trans, post, non) I still think of them as Conservadox: and by that I mean that they have the ideology of Conservative - which includes the conception of the halakhic process as constantly mutating and mutable - but with the basic practice of ignorant (Modern) Orthodox.

The ignorance is an important component; because while there are ignoramuses in both Modern and Charedi Orthodox, the ignorant Charedi does not have another system to fall back on to fill up the lacunae of knowledge: when they don't know what to do, or why they do what they do, they fall back on either superstition, minhag, or the combination of the two (what I label "tabloid halakha").

Ignorant Modern Orthodox fill in their gaps of knowledge with modern culture which makes them think like 21st Century Americans; which also fits in very well for whatever passes for Conservative halakha at this time.

The biggest aspect of the Orthodox born conservadox - again the people I'm most familiar with, so it could be for the whole group - is a bigotry against being called Conservative. They hate the label and will do whatever they can to still be called either 'Orthodox' or at least not-conservative.

Part of the bigotry comes from plain ignorance: they don't know what the terms mean; but related to that is the main impetus: when these people grew up, in their home cultures, being Orthodox was 'good' (authentic, real, valued) and Conservative was 'bad' (fake, invented, unauthentic). And to these labels they cling.

I have had many conversations with these people where I have to assure them, repeatedly, that being Conservative is OK if that's what they are. I emphasize that being honest in what you are, and what you believe, is important to yourself and to others. This is especially important for rabbis (see below).

The motto of Conservadox is "where there's a rabbinic will, there's a halakhic way." This motto, invented by Blu Greenberg (On Women and Judaism (JPS 1981) p.44 sez this), is the whole denomination in a nutshell. Blu herself is classic conservadox (her husband is more like Doobie-dox or who knows).

If you believe the truth of that statement then:
  1. You are ignorant of the halakhic process - get up right now and rush into a yeshiva and start learning
  2. You are on notice for being Conservadox
  3. Which I think is fine as long as you're honest about it
Why isn't it an Orthodox belief? Because there are some things which just can't be explained away with legal mumbo-jumbo. It only appears that it can from the position of someone who knows how halakha works from listening to (bad) rabbi sermons or reading the footnotes in the Artscroll Chumash.

Steve Greenberg

What does this have to do with Steve "The Gay Orthodox Rabbi" Greenberg? Well, this morning I had a discussion with my bar-plugta about him because he was the guest rabbi in Brandeis over Shabbas.

Side note: my bar-plugta (an Aramaic term, from the Gemara, meaning a sparring partner in learning) is the driver of my daily car-pool. That's the basis of the name I'm giving her in this blog as well: Bat-Plugta.

Anyway, Bat Plugta is a very spiritual, and religiously knowledgeable person, who nonetheless holds the diametrically opposite view on almost everything from what I have. We even disagreed about whether we like fast days (she does, I don't). She's conservadox with a capital D - e.g. she puts on tallis and tefillin - yet she is under the impression that she's comfortably within the Orthodox definition. Even though she admits that David Weiss-Halivni is her posek.

Anyway, she went to hear Steve Greenberg and was gushing over his perspective on halakha. While normally I bite my tongue when conversing with benefactors (the carpool is very helpful and I'll ride with a J4J if it shaves 2 hours off my commute), but I needed to put my foot down about Steve.

Basically, I stated, that while I sympathize with Greenberg's plight - the closet is hell - I repudiate his fundamental dishonesty about halakha. Like many gay clergymen, he tries to find a way that being gay and 'frum' is OK. It is not; that is pretty much fundamental. Yet in his machinations and contortions to make being gay A-OK he ends up following the 'progressive halakha' methodology of Conservative halakha.

Which means that when he calls himself an Orthodox Rabbi, he's lying. Bat Plugta, in arguing with me, claiming Steve's still an Orthodox Rabbi, brought up all the bad proofs I fear (including 'rabbinic will, halakhic way.') She also brought proofs of his Orthodoxy from rabbis that, alas, are on the cusp of being booted from the definition. But, critically, she said that Greenberg claimed that he doesn't like 'labels' and that he doesn't need to embrace being 'Orthodox' while at the same time she said he said (and now I'm saying) that he doesn't identify as 'conservative' either.

Well bully for him. Sadly, Steve seems to have stepped from one closet into another: and that's what Conservadox is, it's a closeted conservative trying to pass as Orthodox.

Note, you can be Orthodox and gay. Either you are celibate - which means a life of righteous self-torture - or you are a lifelong compelled sinner. I have compassion for those who are compelled, through uncontrollable urges, to sin. They fall under a specific category of "mumar l'teyavon" (sinners of appetite) and can be trusted in halakha for many things. It's a sad life - it would be unconscionable for me to deny the difficulty - but it's honest, and as halakhic as possible.

Jewish law about homosexuality, as opposed to other modern prohibitions (like women's learning etc), is consistent: halakha severely limits sex. It's clear. And halakha is pretty much anti-compassion when it comes to violating Torah prohibitions. If you think not, then you need to learn more. If that's not the kind of Judaism you like, then, again, either learn more, or find another Judaism - just don't call it Orthodox; it's dishonest.

The last word, for now, on this huge troubling concept: what I'm very worried about is how examples from Modern Orthodoxy of halakha that *has* progressed - e.g. women's learning, Zionism, secular learning - are being used by these deluded sinners to substantiate their attempts to step beyond the line. I'm worried because, when push comes to shove, allowing women to learn Gemara should not lead people to believe that homosexuality is mutar. And if the connection is made too often, then Modern Orthodoxy will die: it'll be a horrible sacrifice to jettison women's learning in order to persist in forbidding homosexuality, but it will be a sacrifice that the Orthodox leadership will make.


ptjew said...

Hey if it wasnt for me would you get any comments? This was a great what do they call it trolling post. I respect your thoughts on gays in Judaism. Was your friend driving when you argued? Do you take turns driving? I hate driving, my wife drives us everywhere. My mother says that Orthodox don't like to be called that because it mean right. A preferred term is more religiously observant.

JC said...

1. You definitely leave more comments than others; I think that's because you're a blogger and you grok the milieu

2. Not meant to troll, really

3. She was driving when we argued but this is nothing new; we basically have a symposium on Jewish life every day. There are three of us, all Jewish Studies grad studies, in the car.

4. She's the only driver of the 3 of us

5. "Orthodox" is definitely a freighted term. It's useful only when discussing outside the Orthodox world.

Pierre Sogol said...

From a comment on Orthodyke's blog, it seems pretty straight up that he isn't even interested in the LWMO views on TMH;

And if he privileges academics over prevailing and normative approaches to Torah from even LWMO - which seems to be the acse (and doesn't just argue that his view is *tolerated* WITHIN *some* kosher mesorah), I'm not sure how he's orthodox.

JC said...

Thanks Pierre. Good data.