Thursday, November 17, 2005

Covenental Judaism?

The Forward's lead story today is that there is gathering momentum behind the candidacy of David Wolpe for the chancellorship of JTS. There is no question that he is highly intelligent, knowledgable and thoughtful (which is why I used to use him as a book reviewer for the J-Post), but more importantly, good looks, charisma and yichus go an extremely long way, particularly when an organisation / movement is feeling a little rudderless and is looking for a savior. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if these qualities are used positively to energize and inspire others (English readers can compare, lehavdil elef alfei havdalot, to what's going on at the moment in the Conservative Party, where form is winning hands-down over substance at the leadership level -- and the party is beginning to feel alive again).
Still, there is a tendency to jump at 'inspirational' and charming figures without being properly aware of, or even caring, what exactly they stand for (see, again,the Conservative party); and as the article says, R. Wolpe's views are not universally popular, or even properly known. As I'm not a Conservative Jew and do not know enough about where he stands on anything, really, I'm not going to comment, except in one respect. According to the Forward, he has proposed changing the name of the Conservative movement to 'Covenental Judaism':
In his November 10 speech, Wolpe argued that the Conservative movement often seems opaque and paradoxical to lay people who are craving a clear vision and message. "I'm from L.A., the land of simple marketing," he quipped. "But I want
to tell you that simple marketing does not mean simple ideas, it means simple expression of ideas."
Wolpe said that his proposed name change to "Covenantal Judaism" was meant to capture the profound importance that Conservative Jews place on three central relationships — between Jew and God, Jew and Jew, and Jews and the world. Conservative Jews, he added, view Halacha, or rabbinic law, as the language for engaging with God, and like any good conversation, it is dynamic and evolving. Wolpe contrasted this understanding with both Orthodoxy, which he said tends to view Halacha as a set of fixed laws, and Reform Judaism, which does not accept Halacha as obligatory.

Never mind that this is a gross over-simplification of the orthodox viewpoint; does he really think that a theologically-heavy and cumbersome term like 'covenental Judaism' is good marketing? Does he really envision people describing themselves as 'covenental Jews'?
I worry.

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