To Invigorate the Synagogue, Bring the Pastor
From the Religion News Service: PASTOR RICK WARREN TO MAKE FIRST-EVER APPEARANCE IN A SYNAGOGUE — Saddleback Church founder and best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life invited to Sinai Temple, following ground-breaking meeting with Synagogue 3000.
Synagogue 3000, formerly known as Synagogue 2000 (I’m not making this up), is bringing in a Pastor to help make the synagogue a more exciting and spiritual place (I’m not making this up, either).
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will be the special guest at Friday Night Live Shabbat services on Friday evening, June 16, 2006 at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. This exciting event will be the first time that Rick Warren has been a featured speaker in a synagogue. The visit comes exactly one year after Pastor Warren’s historic 2005 meeting with the Synagogue 3000 (S3K) Leadership Network, a transdenominational group of visionary clergy and artists working to revitalize synagogue life across the country…
Friday Night Live is a unique monthly Shabbat service designed for ages 25-40 that combines live music with spirituality and insightful commentary, with the spiritual leadership of Rabbi David Wolpe and the music of Craig Taubman. FNL attracts over 1500 Jews from the Los Angeles area and beyond. Following services, Sinai Temple is transformed into a Friday night hot spot with opportunities to meet new people, engage in stimulating discussion with a featured speaker, dance, groove to a live band or just schmooze with other young professionals.
And to get more people interested in environmental activism, have them dump garbage in the woods!
“Following services, Sinai Temple is transformed into a Friday night hot spot…”
Alright, admit it. Who else read this and wished their shul could have wifi access?
This story doesn’t strike me as particularly strange. My father used to run interfaith programs in his Conservative synagogue all the time. He also used to be a guest preacher at some of the local churches. I’m convinced he had a much better time preaching to the Baptist church than he ever did to his own congreagation. The choruses of “yeah!” and “Amen, brother!” every other sentence was something that he never experienced in his own shuls, that’s for sure.
Whew, pastor of “Saddleback” Church — I read too fast, for an awful moment I thought you said “Brokeback”…..
At the corner of 86th and West End Avenue in Manhattan, a progressive Conservative synagogue hold its prayer meetings in the basement of a church.
Really, it makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. Jews who don’t care much about traditional Judaim have a lot in common with non-Jews who don’t care much about traditional Christianity.
This brings back memories. The ‘main sanctuary’ faces West (as opposed to East) so that the sun will shine through the stain-glass windows during Kol Nidre, and you can hear the hum of the motor drawing open roof-high doors of the ‘Ark’ as the organ plays the opening to ‘vayahi binsoa’. Quite an effect. It’s been over 25 years and I still remember it well.
In the Reform synagogue where I grew up, the lecturn on the bima had a bunch of lights and buttons for various things including one that said “silence”. My mom used to say that if you pressed that button an old Jew with a beard and yarmulke would pop out, point a finger and say “zoll zein shah”.
So there’s this synagogue in west Los Angeles that has this service/evening that attracts about 1,000 young Jews (mostly 25-40) to a kabbalat Shabbat service followed by different kinds of social programs, all of which reinforce the idea that it’s great to be part of the Jewish people and the Jewish community.
Services and programs like these reach out to disconnected individualists and invite them to reconnect with and recommit to Am Yisrael. And we need more of them.
Sure, it’s a Conservative synagogue, but as (orthodox) Rabbi Eliyahu Stern wrote in April on Beliefnet.com, “To be honest, I dread the day that a DJ overtakes the cantor and a cheerleader becomes the rabbi, but I am even more scared of the day that no one even shows up to synagogue.” Or, as (orthodox) Rabbi Asher Lopatin wrote in the Forward a few years ago, “It was a revelation for me that people from all levels of observance or familiarity with Shabbat could be coaxed into spending the evening in shul, lost in the Sabbath and Judaism and Jews. That was a model I felt I had to bring back to my shul, one that transcended denomination or affiliation: It was a model of Jews imbibing Shabbat out of joy and desire, in the middle of the flashiest part of the flashiest city in the world. For these hip, young singles, the dream of Shabbat could trump anything the world outside had to offer.”
The synagogue is Sinai Temple and the service is Friday Night Live. I’m not making this up.
I’m sure Shawn isn’t making this up, but it says more about Asher Lopatin’s understanding of Jewish tradition than about Friday Night Live. He’s one of those pushing for “change” in Orthodoxy, e.g. women leading Kabbalat Shabbat, etc. Women’s Tefilah Groups have never established themselves among Jewishly well-educated young women, and there’s good reason for that. I have no idea what Eliyahu Stern said in context, but synagogues where they actually do pure, unadulterated Judaism on Friday night are exploding. The DJ adds nothing, and subtracts all of the holiness and spirituality from an authentic Shabbat experience. To imagine that a DJ will save Judaism is a theory reserved for the clueless (concerning Jewish demographics) and the irrational (concerning the exceedingly dim history of social events as contributors to Jewish continuity).
The answer to the continuity crisis will not be found in dumbing down Judaism with Friday night live bands. This is the same sort of attitude which leads to Hillel touting its “success” in bringing young Jews to pizza night on campus. The fact that the young Jews feel entirely comfortable bringing along a non-Jewish date is rarely mentioned.
As for Rabbi Wolpe, he believes the entire heritage of the Jews is a myth — he announced from the pulpit that the Exodus never happened. I don’t know about you, but I have no desire to perpetuate a myth, and most intelligent, college-educated Jews feel likewise. If our entire heritage is bogus, why on earth would I want to inflict that upon my children?
Friday Night Live may be high on glitz, but I would be exceedingly interested in an historical study of the increased commitment to Jewish life and observance of past attendees. If any.
I’m incredibly surprised that this is an event at a Conservative temple. In my mind, live bands and a club-like atmosphere was something I always associated with Reform Judaism. I don’t know why it continues to surprise me each time I hear bout Conservative doing something that they never would have 15 years ago, but it still does.
I should clarify that I intended my comment as a remark on the Cohen-Wertheimer post, but R’ Yaakov moved it. That’s fine, but then there are two things that need to be added:
#1: Full disclosure: I work for Synagogue 3000. However, S3K _did_ not invite Rick to Friday Night Live — Sinai Temple did, with S3K’s enthusiastic support. That should be made clear.
#2: S3K does not promote glitz. As I posted in response to Rabbi Stern’s blogpost, S3K’s statement of purpose includes the following:
“…We seek to make synagogues compelling moral and spiritual centers – sacred communities – for the twenty-first century.
…Sacred communities are those where relationships with God and with each other define everything the synagogue does; where ritual is engaging; where Torah suffuses all we do; where social justice is a moral imperative; and where membership is about welcoming and engaging both the committed and the unaffiliated.
…We stand for spirituality beyond ethnicity, Judaism as a life-long journey beyond the pediatric and the geriatric; community beyond corporation; and commitment beyond consumerism. Success for us is when synagogues develop deeper relationships with their members rather than simply offering more programs.”
#3: To R’ Yaakov’s comment that “to imagine that a DJ will save Judaism is a theory reserved for the clueless (concerning Jewish demographics) and the irrational (concerning the exceedingly dim history of social events as contributors to Jewish continuity),” I would suggest that he read Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman’s research report on the effectiveness of just that — Jewish events (not necessarily _religious_ Jewish events) in non-Jewish settings, Cohen and Kelman acknowledge that this approach is _less_ effective than others, but insist that it should be added to the mix because there are populations that clearly will respond to little else. Llike Rabbi Stern, I am of the opinion that something is at least better than nothing.
#4: Yes, R’ Yaakov is correct that “young Jews feel entirely comfortable bringing along a non-Jewish date” to such events. That is _exactly_ the point. If said Jew is uncomfortable – it’s not that s/he won’t bring a non-Jewish date — s/he won’t come at all.
The hope and prediction is that the same young Jew, having brought a non-Jewish date the first time, will come the next time with a Jewish date. Or – put in broader communal terms – whether the same young Jew, having attended FNL (or an event with a DJ) with a non-Jewish spouse, will make the decision to raise his/her children as Jews and maybe even encourage the non-Jewish spouse to convert to Judaism.
Debates like these — and pointless critiques of progressive Judaism that do nothing except make the critic feel good about him/herself — will do nothing to address the peoplehood crisis that Cohen and Wertheimer have addressed. In fact, the vitriol and sarcasm I see here indeed may serve only to alienate on-the-fence Jews even further from our people and faith.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken: This is the same sort of attitude which leads to Hillel touting its “success” in bringing young Jews to pizza night on campus. The fact that the young Jews feel entirely comfortable bringing along a non-Jewish date is rarely mentioned.
Ori: Is Hillel such a big deal in college that if they made interdating Jews feel uncomfortable, they’d drop the gentile rather than Hillel participation? Or would other students, not currently dating, not interdate because they’d then lose out on Hillel activites?
Do you think that by expelling people who interdate/intermarry you’ll make the remainder see Judaism as more valuable and therefore less likely to follow in their footsteps?
I don’t think the point is to expel or exclude anyone, and indeed insularity has been a problem in Orthodoxy. But it is self-deceiving to think that social events such as these help perpetuate the Jewish people, when in fact, in the long run, they do very much the opposite. True, such events pick up the straying here and there, but the underlying message- that Judaism is anything you want it to be, (as long as it conforms with the values of the society around and doesn’t believe in Jesus) – , serves only to devalue the substance of our faith. As was said above, nobody wants to perpetuate myths to their children, or identify with a religion that defines itself by what it’s not.
Regarding debates like these, I would hardly characterize them as pointless. On the contrary, this discussion hits on what is probably the most fundamental question in Judaism today– how to perpetuate ourselves to the next generation–, and I believe there is basis to say that the Sinai Temple approach causes more harm to our people than it can possibly gain- i.e., that for every 3 strayers they manage to coax into their synagogue for a Friday night bash, there will be 10 others who either seek meaning elsewhere or just assume that there is no meaning to be found.
I speak from personal experience, having grown up at Sinai Temple, chanted Friday night and Saturday morning services at Sinai Temple, not to mention having had my Bar Mitzvah at Sinai Temple, Hebrew school, Camp Ramah, essentially the whole works — with all its fun and enjoyment! — yet by the time I turned 15, as much as I liked the social aspects, devoid of authenticity, the system was bankrupt of any true meaning, so I left it, (and Judaism) for years, until eventually I was coaxed back by an Orthodox Rabbi who I felt had something Jewishly meaningful to say.
Granted there are individuals and families that thrive on Sinai’s social scene, (and I assume they find meaning in it), but they’re a drop in the bucket compared to the myriad for whom the Bar Mitzvah serves as nothing less or more than an exit off-ramp.
Orthodoxy has its problems, indeed, but it’s also a vibrant bustling dynamic community, with shuls and yeshivas popping up everywhere; camps, schools, charities, restaurants, playgrounds, weddings, and a skilled professional core, growing, learning and thriving in America and abroad by thousands and thousands more. Can the same be said about Reform and Conservative??
There are two issues here:
1. Social events (Pizza parties at Hillel, etc.) vs. religious events (Torah classes, etc.). I agree that social events by themselves don’t mean much, and that they only produce value by drawing in Jews who will then go to the religious activities.
2. Having drawn the non observant Jews in, what to do with those who bring a gentile date/spouse. Would making them feel uncomfortable help or hinder Jewish continuity. Let’s assume that those who are interdating/intermarried are a lost cause. Would the other non observant Jews who see their friends excluded by more likely to avoid interdating/intermarriage, or to avoid the kiruv activities?
I’m pretty sure that it’s the second, at least for “early stage” kiruv.
“Women’s Tefilah Groups have never established themselves among Jewishly well-educated young women, and there’s good reason for that.”
I beg to differ. The women I know involved in such groups are among the most Jewishly well-educated I know. Argue on merits, but facts are facts.
David, there’s quite a difference between West Coast and East Coast Conservatism, although BJ in New York is more of the former. I suppose it’s also a matter of young vs. old.
“Friday Night Live” is advertised as: a “unique monthly Shabbat service”…”combines live music with spirituality…”.
Unless I’m misunderstanding you, to call this program a “social” vs “religious” event seems awfully absurd. Furthermore, even granting that there is room for watered-down social-only events, what I said above still applies- when Jewish identity is defined as anything you want it to be (as long as it conforms to the society and doesn’t include Jesus), most people are going to walk.., and if they don’t, their kids will!
The second issue- mixed couples- I didn’t even mention in my already lengthy comment above because, as I see it, once a religious institution has abandoned the basic tenets of its faith, there is no reason for it to distinguish between Jew and non-Jew. On the contrary, it should welcome as many people as it can into its fold,– (or it will fold!).
However, – and this is my point-, those involved in leading and organizing events for institutions of this kind are deceiving themselves if they believe that the benefit of such activities extends beyond the short-term interest of the particular organization they are serving. In my opinion, they would be doing themselves and the Jewish people greater good were they to spend time instead seeking to build a healthy Jewish relationship with G-d, by seeking teachers who respect our Oral Tradition and know how to convey it properly.
Michoel, I think I didn’t explain myself clearly. I was replying to Rabbi Yaakon Menken’s comment about Pizza parties at the Hillel. Let me see if I can express myself better.
1. There are Jewish activities, including activities taken by Orthodox kiruv organizations, which are targeted at non-observant Jews.
2. A non-observant Jewish audience is likely to include people who are intermarried / interdating.
Those two are statements of fact. You can say that #2 is very bad (you probably would say that in your reply), but that won’t make it go away. It’s as much a fact of Jewish life today as trying to regrow foreskins during Hellenistic times or sacrifices outside the temple during the reign of king Ahaz (II Kings 16).
Here’s the question I was trying to address: “How should organizations doing Jewish activities to draw in non-observant Jews respond when Jews who are intermarried / interdating arrive with their significant others”.
With your inside knowledge of Synagogue 3000, can you give us some insight as to how the Halacha committee has addressed some of the complex Shabbat questions that are no doubt raised by these Friday night productions?
ah, can i tell you something?
one tiime i had a really meaningful/mystical experience listening to craig taubman at FNL. an experience i am grateful for. and yet, i stopped going to the event after i was shocked to hear craig include “salam aleikum” in the singing of “shalom aliechem”. when i asked him about it he said that he considers the arabs his brothers etc. even though i told him that at friday night services, uh, this is not a good time to do that.
i really like craig’s soft music. but that moment with “salam aleikum” still makes me uneasy, and that was a couple years ago.
rabbi wolpe is a bit of a mystery. he’s obviously a brilliant minded man; however, his statements questioning the veracity of the exodus point to an unsettling image. how is it that such a keen and bright mind could go there? my only thought is that in his background maybe he wasn’t given the training/experience of real spiritual/mystical surrender? only a person who’s soul yearns for but hasn’t tasted what all the hasidic rebbes tell stories and sing about…
i hope and pray that rabbi wolpe will come to the deeper understanding and experience he longs for and consequently become a passionate advocate for the exodus as expressed in the Torah. and, i also hope that craig taubman will realize that there is an important and necessary difference between lyrics during sacred moments at shul and sacred songs (shalom aleichem) whose integrity should in no way be manipulated.
we must daven for big help if the featured speaker at a huge friday night service is a christian pastor. OY, ribbona shel olam!!!!
To JZ, with my apologies for the delayed reply. The question you raised properly is in the bailiwick of Sinai Temple, which invited Pastor Warren. S3K did sponsor a Shabbat dinner prior to the service, but other than that the arrangements were made entirely between Sinai and Pastor Warren.
Sinai Temple dpes have a long-standing tradition of including instrumental music, both acoustic and amplified, in Shabbat worship. Beyond that, it would not be appropriate for me to speak for them.
If I may, I would suggest to “jewish person” that whether or not you agree with the sentiment Craig expressed, the dispersed nature of community in our time and place makes Friday night one of the only places that such ideas can be expressed in a community. If your objection was to a deviation from the Hebrew (of any kind), certainly I understand the problem; but if your objection was to the language chosen, then I have to say I’m (deliberately) mystified. When, if not in an environment of Shabbat peace (and Shabbat was created _before_ there were any divisions among human beings), should we express the desire for brotherhood among nations?
Now it sounds like you (on behalf of S3K) are trying to dodge responsibility for what transpires “with Synagogue 3000’s enthusiastic support.” It was S3K that issued the press release touting Pastor Warren’s visit to Sinai, and Craig Taubman’s reciprocal visit to Warren’s Saddleback Church.
Whether or not Craig Taubman’s production company, Sinai Temple, or David Wolpe feels these activities are Jewishly beneficial and/or Halachically permissible, it is entirely reasonable to ask how S3K dealt with these questions before endorsing the activities.
Personally I find Taubman’s visit to Saddleback at least as problematic as Warren’s trip to Sinai. Since we’re all one big happy family, what’s wrong with Taubman’s son marrying Warren’s daughter?
I’m just back from Saddleback, where I was quite frankly proud to see Craig Taubman presenting – and representing – Judaism, through song, to thousands of people (by tonight totalling 5,000 people in each of 4 services) who otherwise might never choose such an encounter. There was no compromise on his part.
I’m not trying to dodge responsibility. Yes, S3K supported the visits. That said, the invitaiton to Rick Warren was made by Rabbi Wolpe and Craig Taubman; the invitation to Craig Taubman was made by Rick Warren. No one asked for S3K’s permission.
But halachic considerations are not S3K’s to make. S3K is not a religious organization; it is an independent congregational research & leadership organization. Moreover, S3K does not affiliate with any particlar denomination or denominations (there are Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and, yes, orthodox rabbis in the S3K leadership network). It is up to the people who find S3K’s work valuable to decide whether and how to use it in their own congregations. That’s not a dodge; that’s how S3K works.
S3K believes that Rick Warren has something interesting and relevant to teach conregational leaders. I would prefer to quote from Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman’s comments currently (6/25) posted on the S3K homepage:
That doesn’t mean S3K monolithically endorses Rick Warren or any other conversation partner. It means that there is a conversation to be had.
There is an interview with Craig Taubman on Synablog, if you would like to see his responses to some of the harder questions about the why he accepted the invitation to Saddleback.