November 16, 2006
Reform, Conservative, Orthodox leaders tell all
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Which is why, Joel told The Journal, YU recently started sending students on programs like the American Jewish World Service trip to Honduras and brought 55 YU students to this GA, up from 30 at the previous one. It's in keeping with YU's motto of "Torah U'Mada" ("Torah and Science,"), which means living as a Torah Jew and being able to engage in the outside world.
Cohen said he hopes the dialogue will continue: "I don't think we have a luxury in a lack of conversation. I think in the world in which we live and the challenges, we just have to keep talking."
Joel said he makes these appearances infrequently, because his main job is not to dialogue but to strengthen his university. But Monday's appearance was important because it sent a message.
"There were a few thousand people in that room who said, 'Boy, we can be a Jewish people,'" he said.
Still some observers have argued that while on the surface the denominations seem to get along, "or at least do not come into conflict as much as they used to," in reality, relations between the three denominations have worsened.
"As one who feared the consequences of religious polarization for the unity of the Jewish people in America, I should rejoice over the spirit of cooperation," writes professor Jack Wertheimer, JTS provost, in "All Quiet on the Religious Front? Jewish Unity, Denominationalism and Postdenominationalism in the United States," an essay that appeared in the American Jewish Committee series on American Life in 2005.
"Beneath the facade of calm, the issues continue to fester, matters of personal status remain unresolved, and questions of religious principles are marginalized. A people famous for its disputive nature has convinced itself that consensus has been reached, when, in reality, healthy debate has been silenced -- for now."
In the end, though, all three agreed that the main challenges they face aren't between the denominations or even communities calling themselves post-denominational but in engaging all Jews of the next generation.
"I think the common goals are that the overwhelming enemy of the Jewish people is ignorance," Joel said.
Even when he doesn't agree with the methods of the Reform and Conservative moments, he said he's happy those Jews are getting some Jewish education.
"We are better served by having a generation that's in play Jewishly than people who just disappear. I think we all share that," he said.
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