Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Conservative driving teshuvot: Fifty-five years later

I finally got my hands on a (paper) copy of the “Responsum on the Sabbath”, more commonly known as the “driving teshuva”, one of the most (in)famous, controversial, and misunderstood responsa of the American Conservative movement.

Before I analyze the answer, we should review the question, asked by an anonymous congregational rabbi, and answered in 1950:

One cannot serve a congregation for any time without being depressed and disheartened by the widespread disintegration of Sabbath observance among our people. This breakdown of one of the major institutions in Jewish life is too deep and too prevalent to be countered by preachment and exhortations. . . . They [the congregants, second- or higher- generation American Jews] are Jews who not only have been born into the modern, industrial world, but have also been educated in its institutions and have been mentally and psychologically shaped and moulded by its approaches, attitudes and activities. . . . On the other hand to overlook the spiritual alertness and interest as well as the healthy Jewish pride and desire for Jewish identification which motivate them, is to doom to atrophy those characteristics which hold forth greatest promise for the future of American Jewish life. . . . I therefore turn to you to ask for guidance in instructing my people as to our view as a movement on the Sabbath disciplines, our best thought as to its proper observance and a practical program by which its meaning may be better understood, its spirit more widely shared, its sanctities more greatly respected by our congregations that look to us as Conservative rabbis, for guidance and instruction.

The rabbi faced congregants who wanted to identify with Judaism, otherwise they would not have been in his synagogue in the first place. But still, they were unreceptive to exhortations to be more traditionally observant. He feared that pushing the matter would cause congregants to leave instead of bringing them closer to observance.

In fact, two answers were given to the same question (how unusual :-) ). The first by Rabbis Morris Adler, Jacob Agus and Theodore Friedman, and the second by Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser.

The Adler-Agus-Friedman teshuva is the one referred to as the “driving teshuva”. They identify these issues:

The Sabbath is central to Judaism (“A Sabbath-less Judaism is no Judaism”), and is just as or more important an institution now as it was to our ancestors. It serves the individual as a spiritually necessary “sanctuary in time” from the “drives for posession and dominion” that control modern life. The Sabbath serves to join families and the community together.

They diagnose the problems leading to the decline in Sabbath observance.
  1. Jews cannot operate economically only by interacting with other Jews. Therefore, they are forced into the six day work week (Monday-Saturday) to maintain a decent standard of living. An economic infrastructure making Sabbath-observance feasible was simply not in place.
  2. Previous immigrant generations had already started working on Shabbat, without any negative social consequences within the Jewish community.
  3. American Jews accepted the American ideal of economic advancement above strict observance to Jewish law. Therefore, a simple education campaign, preaching, or quoting halacha would do no good.
  4. The second generation of American Jews never even knew of proper Shabbat observance.1 If the trend continues, it can be expected that the Shabbat will disappear from American Judaism entirely.

While writing that halacha must be responsive to changing times and attitudes, they state without equivocation that

The preservation of the Sabbath spirit and of Sabbath practices is an indispensible element in any program for the Jewish future.

Therefore, the teshuva presents itself only as an emergency measure:

Emphasis on this immediate program should in no wise militate against the ultimate objective — the cessation of all gainful employment on the Sabbath. It is in the convinction that only the immediate can lead to the ultimate that the following program is proposed.

The “program” calls for the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue to encourage Conservative Jews to acknowledge the sanctity of the Sabbath with certain changes to their regular behavior. They encourage cleaning the house before Shabbat,.lighting candles, saying kiddush, blessing children, and singing zemirot. In addition, they encourage synagogue attendance at least once on Shabbat and studying Torah. And, they should discourage “all activities that are not made absolutely necessary by the unavoidable pressures of life and that are not in keeping with the Sabbath spirit, such as shopping, household work, sewing, strenuous physical exercise, etc.”
And, finally, they arrive at the issue of driving:

Refraining from the use of a motor vehicle is an important aid in the maintenance of the Sabbath spirit of repose. Such restraint aids, moreover, in keeping the members of the family together on the Sabbath. However where a family resides beyond reasonable walking distance from the synagogue, the use of a motor vehicle for the purpose of synagogue attendance shall in no wise be construed as a violation of the Sabbath but, on the contrary, such attendance shall be deemed an expression of loyalty to our faith. (emphasis added)

The commonly-heard Orthodox response, that synagogue attendance is not mandatory, is then answered. Previously, the teshuva had compared the average contemporary American Conservative Jew to the Talmudic תינוק שנשבה בין העכו"ם ושכח עיקר שבת - A child kidnapped and lost among the non-Jews, who had forgotten the practices of the Sabbath.2 By their logic, synagogue attendance is the bare thread hanging these Jews to their Jewish identity. Without it, they may lose that connection and they would certainly not pray on their own at home.

They go on to make a halachic argument about why use of electric lighting and cars may not be considered to be direct m'lachot (prohibited creative work), using some technical features to have their prohibitions covered under the category of shevut, rabbinic enactments meant to guard from actual performance of m'lachot.3. They base their heter (allowance) on three basic principles: (1) אין שבות במקדש, that these prohibitions do not apply to the work of the Temple (note the capital letter there). (2) That certain public obligations override the Sabbath. (3) And, finally, they claim the right to negate those rabbinic prohibitions in a specific time and place. The arguments themselves seemed to me like relatively weak grasps at straws, but, it is pretty clear that, unlike the popular perception, the teshuva's prime purpose was not to permit driving and use of electricity. It was, instead, to provide a little wiggle room for rabbis to feel comfortable “allowing” their congregants to come to shul, while the massive reeducation plan takes place.

Perhaps the most interesting point of the Adler-Agus-Friedman driving teshuva is that its ultimate target audience was the congregational rabbis, not their congregants. In my reading, in order to take advantage of the heter, one must be too ignorant to understand the heter!

The Bokser teshuva empahasizes that the purpose of the Sabbath prohibitions is to force increased spirituality by negating mundane activities. He picks out the prohibition on travel, in particular, as a way to keep people near their homes, where the Sabbath spirit can be fulfilled to its fullest extent. He acknowledges that the travel prohibitions were set aside, even for practical purposes, citing the varying Talmudic understandings of long ocean-going voyages. He then asks whether the modern circumstances warrant overturning the prohibitions. He advises the congregational rabbis:

Jewish tradition knows many periods in our history when widespread violation of law was followed by a new-won respect for it. One thinks of the tribute paid Rab that prior to his coming Sura was “an unfenced area, but that he fenced it in,” making it a community of Torah observant people. . . . We owe it in any case to those who desire to observe the Sabbath and find in it its sanctifying influence, to advise them as to what is sound.

Bokser adds something interesting and relevant:

It is fair to add that in many cases the dilemma [of being unable to walk to synagogue] is not altogether real. People who feel they must travel could and do often walk greater distances on an occasional stroll. Our problem has become acute because, with the prevalence of the automobile, the art of walking has simply disappeared from many people and they use their cars for the shortest distances.4

Bokser's answer, though, is not totally prohibitive. He advises rabbis not to turn away congregants who feel they have no choice but to drive to shul. His ultimate answer, in fact, calls on a principle of “individual autonomy” for this particular Sabbath violation. Rabbis should recognize that an individual Jew will make decisions that are not always in accordance with halacha, and the rabbis should have a “sympathetic understanding of the facts which have led him to his decision”. But, they should not attempt to alleviate the guilt that Bokser presumed prompted the original question. According to Bokser, the guilt is there because the demands of observance are incompatible with their practice. He suggests that the good 'ol Jewish guilt (ok, not in those words) could encourage an individual to return to traditional practice. Removing it might move him further away.5

It's been 55 years since the driving teshuvot, and, since then, the place of American Jews has changed dramatically. The suburbanization (an exurbanization) of America has continued and the Jews have followed the general trend. While Orthodox Jews have made for themselves suburban enclaves, and built the institutions near their populations, Conservative Jews tend to live in all the far-flung corners of suburbia. The pressures working against Shabbat observance have changed. For most Americans, the direct economic disincentive to Shabbat observance is no longer applicable. Americans are used to the five-day, 40 hour work-week. In the retail sector, stores are now open on Sunday, so, Jews on six-day work-weeks can frequently work then instead of on Saturday. The pressures have become the suburban pressures of keeping up with the proverbial Joneses, little league, and so on. As it appears to me, the incentive is now mostly the Jews' social place among non-Jews, instead of the previous major economic and social causes of the emergency that prompted the enactment. Bokser warned:

If [travelling were] allowed, it would become regular, continuous. It would then be difficult to distinguish between one kind of travel and another.

A classical slippery-slope argument. Friedman had an opportunity to respond to it when the teshuva was reevaluated in 1961. Then, the question was asked whether the 1950 teshuva permitted driving to another synagogue on Shabbat for the celebration of a boy becoming bar mitzvah. The answer, given by Friedman, was emphatically negative. He stressed that no exceptions should be made to the ruling that one may only drive to one's own regular synagogue, envisioning a slippery slope where once the CJLS would budge on this restriction, permitted driving would become a regular occurrence. Has the USCJ upheld its part of the bargain? I don't know what happened in the 1950's. But, now, there is no major campaign to restore Sabbath observance, and, sure enough, most Conservative Jews are not observant. Many even think that certain levels of Shabbat observance are uniquely “Orthodox,” and shy away from them on the grounds of identity politics.6 Sadly, Bokser's slope began to slip with the first permissive teshuva. How many Conservative Jews today know that the movement allows driving on Shabbat? (I will bet the answer will be a great majority) How many know that they may only drive to their own synagogue and back? (Probably a small minority) How many know that they may only take advantage of the permission if they do not live in “reasonable walking distance” from the synagogue? (Even smaller?)

Technorati tags: , ,

1 An interesting point is made that Jews may be unwilling to begin Shabbat observance because they would feel like hypocrites if they started some observing some aspects, but not the whole thing. Strangely enough, I have heard this kind of twisted logic more from Orthodox Jews than Conservative Jews.

2 It is pretty clear that this categorization also includes the ones who go to shul.

3 The logic used permit starting and running engine, an act that involves starting a fire, was that the prohibited act is in the use of fire for cooking, heating, lighting, or production of ash. In a car, the fire is used to locomote, which was not envisioned by the Torah/rabbis when the prohibition was enacted. Incidentally, this logic prohibits the use of a the car's heating system on Shabbat.

4 Standard suburban construction of predictably winding roads with rows of houses (and no sidewalks!) well separated from the nearest commercial district certainly contributed to this one. And the obesity epidemic?

5 Note that the question asked here was referring to normal, healthy people. I am not sure if Bokser would have granted a heter of a different sort to the elderly, sick or infirm.

6 Sometimes, the easiest way to convince a Jew not to do something is to tell him that those other Jews do it, and vice versa.

Identity politics in Judaism has to be the saddest of all its "recent" decay.

Great post.
Good summary of the teshuva.

The "driving teshuva" is not a slippery slope. If you want to argue that the "driving teshuva" is a slippery slope, we can also argue that eruv is a slipery slope. If I can carry my house keys in a public place, I may not differentiate between carrying house keys and carrying money, which is muksah. And since I am carrying money, I might stop off at the candy store on the way home from shul and buy a newspaper.

If people care about following halakha, they will study the "driving teshuva" and will only drive to and from their own synagogue.

While the derivation of the heter seems questionable, the heter prevents the Conservative movement from being anchored in hypocrisy. We cannot build synagogues and encourage people to attend them, knowing that to do so they would have to break Shabbat

Two other points:

1) Even though a six day workweek is no longer the norm, employers value flexibility and want employees who can work flexible schedules. Consequently, there is still an economic incentive to break Shabbat.

2) I would guess that most Conservative Jews do not care whether the Movement allows them to drive to shul on Shabbat.

You should read Avram Hein "reflections on the Driving Teshuvah" and "Responses to Avram Hein" (Conservative Judaism 56:3 (Spring 2004)
I think it's very important to clarify the reason I characterized the driving teshuva as a "slippery slope." It is precisely because someone who cares to understand the driving teshuva is precluded from taking advantage of it. The teshuva is an emergency measure meant for Jews who would lose all contact with Judaism if they did not take advantage of it. I'm all in favor of leniencies. If the "slippery slope" argument were to apply to all halacha, I could not hold any lenient positions, nor could there be any halachic positions with any level of detail beyond a "yes" or "no." In this particular case, the leniency is made for a population that does not understand the process of halachic differentiation, and, as far as I can tell, there have been little more than half-hearted attempts to rectify that situation.

Had the Conservative movement really accompanied the heter with the education campaign it envisioned *and* sustained it as long as is necessary, the driving teshuva might have really been approached within the movement's ranks as an emergency measure. If that were the case, I don't think I would view it as negatively as I do. As is, the movement has - through its own silence - allowed the driving heter to be expanded in practice well beyond its original intent.

On your other points:
(1) true, but, again predicated on someone who cares. Life may be harder as an observant person, but, it's become a heck of a lot easier than what was described from the 1950's. It doesn't take extraordinary circumstances anymore to make an observant person able to succeed economically.
(2) I think that's only true to some extent. Those who really don't care would continue to drive on Shabbat whether or not the driving teshuva were ever written. I could be wrong, but, I think that a lot of Conservative Jews really do think that the movement allows "driving on Shabbat," and the idea has been perpetuated through the community. Add to that we're now at the second generation post driving teshuva, making any "reminders" seem like a policy change.
I would seriously question whether the driving teshuvah had any concrete impact on observance in Conservative communities. It is true that the teshuvah has not led to better Jewish education or increased observance, but I don't think that it has interfered with observance, either. The main function of the teshuvah in the 1950s was to allow rabbis to encourage their congregants to come to shul without being hypocritical. It still serves that function today.

You suggest that many Conservative Jews believe that the movement permits driving on Shabbat, but that they don't recognize the limitations on the leniency. I would argue that this problem stems from the abysmal level of Jewish literacy within Conservative communities, rather than from the teshuvah itself. Many Conservative Jews don't realize that the movement requires any level of observance beyond synagogue attendance. (Keep kosher? That's what Orthodox Jews do!) The solution to this problem is not to withdraw the heter, but to improve education.

I also don't think that it is reasonable to be overly condenscending toward those who choose to drive on Shabbat or live beyond walking distance from a synagogue for reasons that are "merely" social. After all, we have personally made some less than ideal decisions about kashrut observance (for example) for the sake of maintaing relationships with non-Jewish friends and colleagues. Participation in Saturday Little League games may not seem like a "vital need" to us, but that is because we are in a different situation with a different set of concerns and challenges.

Overall, I agree with anonymous. Those who choose to educate themselves and become more observant are likely not to drive to synagogue if that is at all feasible. Such individuals, incidentally, deserve more attention and encouragement from Conservative leaders than they currently receive. However, the movement also has to find ways to cater toward the majority of its constituents, who are neither educated nor observant, and to those in between, who want to become more involved in Jewish life but aren't ready to move or otherwise radically change their lifestyles.
Makes me wonder where along the spectrum my own kooky Orthodox synangogue falls. As far as I can recall off the top of my head, they've never advocated driving to shul or implied that it was permitted. But they do have a large parking lot and (conspicuously non-Jewish) people directing traffic on the High Holidays. Their philosophy is probably "if they're going to drive anywhere, they might as well come to shul." But I wonder whether an accompanying tshuvah would muddy things further, or make them clearer.

(And, of course, speaking of identity politics, who gets to decide whether they're Orthodox or not?)
And then you have people like me who live within reasonable walking distance of shul (for the first time in a long while), but keep winding up with a choice between getting to shul in time to make a minyan for (and very possibly daven) Pesukei d'Zimra or walking to shul. And in my household, we like Pesukei d'Zimra. We are also accustomed to arriving in time for it.

Yes, I realize that the solution has to do with getting out of the house fifteen minutes earlier and that this is halakhically pathetic. I even know the terms of the driving teshuvah. But, somehow, it seems more Shabbosdik to drive a few minutes and get there in time to say a few relevant prayers instead of huffing our way to shul as quickly as possible. Walking is one heck of an attitude adjustment. That might be worth factoring in.
anonymous --
look forward to a blog on the Avram Hein article.

fleurdelis --
That's probably close to the position I think the Conservative Movement should have taken. Advocate what's right, but facilitate people coming to shul. It would have been less generally confusing (more on that in the next blog post), and it would have fit in with the Bokser teshuva. The parking attendants thing is a bit over the top, for any kind of shul.

elf --
After all, we have personally made some less than ideal decisions about kashrut observance (for example) for the sake of maintaing relationships with non-Jewish friends and colleagues.

But, I'm not asking for them to be recognized as valid.

Which leads right into naomichana's question:

That might be worth factoring in.

Why? You have all of the information and you've already made your decision. Why should the movement be expected to valudate every compromise that everyone makes?
I wasn't actually suggesting that halakhah should expand to allow for Saturday Little League games. It just seemed to me that you were being a bit contemptuous of people who make counter-halakhic decisions. Then again, that's the way you tend to talk about everyone ;-)

I am actually quite ambivalent about the halakhic reasoning employed by the teshuvah. I'm just arguing against the notion that the driving teshuvah was some sort of watershed moment marking the downfall of the Conservative movement. I'm not convinced that the movement would look any different if the teshuvah had never been written.
The parking attendants thing is a bit over the top, for any kind of shul.

Howso? Maybe I should add that they're there because the overflow parking involves all sorts of peripheral grassy areas and would quickly devolve into absolute chaos if someone weren't telling people where to park so that other people could get in and out. You get WAY more drivers on the High Holidays.

I'm not sure how they manage the halachah there -- someone told me once that they sell the parking lot itself (which is also attached to the affiliated day school) for the duration of Shabbat.

It's close to the transition from passive acceptance to active encouragement and facilitation.

I'm not sure how they manage the halachah there -- someone told me once that they sell the parking lot itself

As far as I can tell, that would be the equivalent of having a parking lot nearby. If it were well-known enough that the shul disclaims the parking lot, then, I guess it's not quite as bad as I was thinking.
The rot has penetrated the conservative movement very deeply. JTS routinely arranges rabbinical-student and cantorial-student internships which involve auto travel on shabbat, rather than insisting that no congregation can list a request for a student placement without arranging for within-walking-distance accommodations - and rather than policing their own students. Yes, these are the rabbinical students driving on shabbat, and if you ask them how this is possible!? - and I have - they cite the "heter" which, as the blog points out, allows no such thing.

And my own rabbi, a UJ graduate, has repeatedly indicated that worrying about driving on shabbat identifies me as an out-of-touch old fogy. I assume this is part of the car culture of LA.
Your statement about rabbinical and cantorial students surprises me, because, to the best of my knowledge, JTS now required its students not to use the driving heter precisely for the reasons that I outline in this and the next post. Can someone from JTS please confirm or deny that this is the case?

To the best of my knowledge, UJ represents the less halachically-minded stream of Conservative Judaism, so, it would not surprise me if the rabbi's reasoning had little to do with legal interpretation.
The official stance as of right now is that rabbinical and cantorial students may not take advantage of the heter. It is not really enforced, though, and a policy currently being developed may only forbid students from driving in the JTS vicinity, for the obvious reason that one doesn't need a car to get to shul around here.

I'll be arguing against the new policy. I don't think my legal arguments will carry any weight, but a sociological one might. There are students — myself included — who do not consider the heter to be halakhic. If two equally qualified candidates are competing for a student pulpit and one of them needs to be hosted because he won't drive, who do you think will get the job?
Bad enough that the paper policy is not enforced - although it is not (I personally know of several cases in the past few years, including at least one where the student in question stated that he justified his behavior under the "heter"). The real rot is that JTS actually *facilitates* these placements.
"To the best of my knowledge, UJ represents the less halachically-minded stream of Conservative Judaism..."

I'm sure you meant to say: The UJ is more liberal than JTS. To say that they are not halakhically-minded would be incorrect.

I am not a student/graduate/affiliate of the UJ, but I do know many of the current students and recent graduates, and they are quite halakhically-minded. While I believe this is true, I'm sure there are exceptions to this generalization.
I am not a student/graduate/affiliate of the UJ, but I do know many of the current students and recent graduates, and they are quite halakhically-minded. While I believe this is true, I'm sure there are exceptions to this generalization.

I meant exactly what I said. I was making a statement about an impression of general views on Jewish law, not on politics. As is very apparent now, the left of the Conservative movement is more inclined to see halacha as nonbinding. Maybe it's guilt by association. That view, by the way, is by no means unique to UJ; The whole Conservative Movement is divided. To the best of my knowledge, though, JTS is a lot more divided.
Perhaps we have a different understanding of "halakhically-minded."

Halakhah is certainly viewed as binding amongst UJ students (that I know and come into contact with). While some may follow an interpretation of halakhah which is more lenient (thus my 'liberal' comment), it is no less halakhic.

(This is not a comment on people who affiliate with CJ institutions. Many are not Conservative in dogma, seeing halakha as trumped by personal autonomy.)
I have never heard of a person using an Eruv who thinks it is ok to carry money. Occasionally, it is possible someone might forget that there is such a thing as Eruv and carry keys where there is no Eruv.
In my opinion....

These responsas are reckless. They have broken the entire fabric of Jewish life for their constituents. Just look at what has become of Conservative Judaism as a result of THIS specific ruling.

The majority of Conservative Jews drive on Shabbat ... and most NOT to synagogue.

The majority of Conservative Jews don't live in "Jewish" communities any more.

The majority of Conservative Jews are not wearing Tefillin daily

The majority of Conservative Jews are no performing most of Halachah.

The majority of Conservative Jews don't attend synagogue regularly.

The majority of Conservative Jews are marrying non-Jews.

The fabric of Jewish life has been destroyed by this singular responsa.

The devastating reality is that we have a generation of Jews in 2013 that are starving for spiritual connection and the movement that has failed them once, will fail them again if they do not expose their congregants and members to real Jewish values and make the commitment to more observance. We can do it. Let's bring back Shabbat, Kosher and Tefillin.

No need to be ashamed. Make it real.
I reckon I agree with the assessment that the teshuva (in and of itself) had little influence over the decay of observance among Conservative Jews. What I'm wondering is, how did the anonymous rabbi misjudge his constituency so profoundly? If he was right about their "spiritual alertness and interest" the program to strengthen Shabbos observance would have succeeded. Neither would we see the devastating levels of apathy in the Conservative Jewish world today.



Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said nullifying the subsidies would cause "massive damage to our health care system" and that the administration would have no way to fix it.
kế toán
dịch vụ kế toán, dịch vụ kế toán thuế, dịch vụ kế toán trọn gói tại hà nội, công ty dịch vụ kế toán, công ty dịch vụ kế toán tại hà nội, dịch vụ kế toán tại hà nội, cong ty dich vu ke toan, dịch vụ kế toán trọn gói, dịch vụ báo cáo tài chính, dịch vụ báo cáo thuế, dịch vụ kê khai thuế, dịch vụ dọn dẹp sổ sách, dịch vụ quyết toán thuế, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại bắc ninh, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại bắc giang, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại phú thọ, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại quảng ninh, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại hưng yên, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại vĩnh phúc, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại hải phòng, dịch vụ kế toán thuế trọn gói tại hải dương, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 1, , Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 2, , Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 3, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 4, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 5, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 6, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 7, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 8, Dịch vụ kế toán tại Quận 9,




كاميرات مراقبة
شركة الحورس هي افضل شركة خدمات منزليه وصيانه منزليه بالمملكه العربيه السعوديه ,حيث لدينا الادوات والاجهزه التي من الصعب ايجادها الا معنا , والعماله التي تدربت علي ايد خبراء في هذا المجال
شركه نقل اثاث وعفش بالطائف
افضل شركه تنظيف بالطائف
شركه مكافحة حشرات بالطائف
شركه كشف تسربات المياه بالطائف
حيث شركتنا تتميز باداء الخدمه علي افضل وجهه حيث نعد شركه رش مبيدات بالطائف
شركه تنظيف خزانات بالطائف

Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link