On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

CJ Blog

Continuing the Conversation: Learning

/ 26 Sivan 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

The sting of Jordan’s post is keenly felt by me and most Jewish educators I know. He reminds me that I am speaking to a relatively small number of Jews. The great majority are untouched by Torah, unable to appreciate Jewish learning, uninterested in challenging themselves to move closer—and couldn’t care less about this community or its conversation. They can’t be persuaded by pieces they don’t read.
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Joining the Conversation of Torah

/ 19 Sivan, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

The basic requirements of Conservative Jewish learning—regardless of venue, level, or age-group—follow directly from the Movement’s distinctive vision, outlined in the previous postings:

Conservative Judaism speaks forcefully, honestly, and authentically to contemporary dilemmas, in the conviction that the Torah, properly interpreted for changed conditions, offers the wisdom needed to guide us through present-day complexities.

Our Movement maintains that the diversity of voices sounding forth from the sacred texts of our tradition, and the variety of ways Jews in the past have applied the Torah’s teachings to new circumstances, are essential to the Jewish future.

Conservative Judaism believes that proper interpretation and practice of the Torah emerges from the rich encounter between learned and observant Jewish communities and the larger societies and cultures in which Jews participate.
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Learning Theory

/ 12 Sivan, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

The questions facing every Jew and every generation of Jews are these: What role will we play in fulfilling the age-old covenant linking Jews to one another, to God, and to the world? What word will we say in the conversation begun at Sinai? What chapter will we write in the story that goes back to Abraham and Sarah?

One cannot answer these questions responsibly without serious Jewish learning. Our knowledge of how Jews have lived and taught Torah until now must be broad and deep enough to be adequate to the challenge of teaching and living Torah now and in the future. That challenge includes the momentous questions posed by every serious human being: How shall I use my time on earth well? How can I be a good person? How can I make sure I leave the world better than I found it? How should I think about and serve God? Jewish human beings want answers to these questions as well as the others I have named. We need the answers. That is what drives Jewish learning.
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Continuing the Conversation

/5 Sivan, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

I’m gratified and energized by the responses—long and short, favorable and critical—to my posts thus far. Conservative Judaism needs this kind of debate and discussion. JTS will continue to facilitate it by means of this blog and in other forums, live and virtual.
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Jewish Peoplehood and Israel

/ 27 Iyyar, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

Conservative Judaism was founded because of a unique commitment to Jewish peoplehood and it retains that commitment today. In 1845, when Rabbi Zacharias Frankel called for a set of changes meant to conserve Jewish tradition in the new conditions of modernity, he insisted that synagogue worship should continue to be conducted largely in Hebrew and that traditional prayers for the messianic return to Zion should be retained. Frankel believed that the work of covenant to which Jews are called requires a people—spanning the generations and the continents—that knows itself to be different from all others; in his view this was all the more true in the modern period as Jews began to take full advantage of greater engagement with the societies and cultures of which we were a part. The language of the Jewish people and the collective hope of the Jewish people were crucial to finding the right balance between being a part of—and apart from—the nations among whom Jews dwelled. Both were essential to the “positive-historical Judaism” that Frankel envisioned and have remained so.
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Community

/20 Iyyar, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

Covenant requires community: vital, caring face-to-face communities that are the building blocks of the global community linking Jews across the generations and around the world. The task of building, maintaining, and transforming local communities remains one of the greatest challenges confronting Conservative (and every other form of) Judaism today. Fortunately, it is also one of our greatest blessings. What I most love about Conservative Judaism, I think, is the quality of the face-to-face communities in which it has enabled me to participate: the joy and depth of the relationships it has afforded my family and me as we walk the path of Torah.
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Covenant

/15 Iyyar, 5771

Chancellor Arnold Eisen

What does Conservative Judaism stand for?

To me, that question is better phrased, “Where do we stand, and with whom?” The answer, to Conservative Judaism, has been clear. We are the heirs to the Jewish story that began, according to Torah, with Abraham and Sarah. We stand at Sinai, with every previous generation of the children of Israel, and reaffirm the promises made there to God, to one another, and to the world. I believe—humbly but firmly—that the Sinai Covenant continues in 2011/5771 through us. Participation in the set of relationships set forth in Covenant adds immeasurably to the meaning and purpose of our lives. The fact that the Covenant at Sinai established a people simultaneously with a relationship to the Holy One stands at the heart of Conservative Judaism today and in the future.
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