Conservative vs. Orthodox Judaism
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Is it correct to suggest that any Jew has the right to choose a Judaism that ‘best suits him or her’? This we answer quite easily, as God instructs man not to add or subtract from the Torah: “This entire matter which I command to you, guard yourselves to observe it: do not add upon it, and do not subtract from it.” (Deut. 13:1) God further states that He will not forgive one who justifies their deviation from the Torah. (Deut. 29:18,19) It is quite clear from God Himself that alteration of Torah violates His will, and such an altered form can no longer be considered “Judaism”.
Today, “Judaism” has many forms. How do we determine which form is authentic Judaism, and which ones are imposters? Certainly, as God prohibited alteration of Torah, many forms of Judaism cannot all lay claim as the “true Judaism”. All must be wrong except for one. By what means might we evaluate these many forms, so as to arrive at God’s true Torah system?
God teaches (above; Deut. 29:18,19) that subjective feelings are no grounds for observing a different Judaism than your fellow man. And this makes sense. For if two people have identical ailments, no doctor will change his prescription or surgery methods for the one of these people, who has a different outlook on life. One’s personal feelings do not affect the nature of one’s ailments. So identical treatments are warranted.
Similarly, all mankind share not only identical physical characteristics, but also, we share identical psychological, intellectual and emotional designs. We all have feelings of love, hate, revenge, sorrow, loneliness, etc. We all feel greater self-pride when we resolve advanced thought questions, as opposed to building sand castles: we know our intellect is the higher feature within us. We all love family naturally, and can love others conditionally. We all miss those with whom we share good times and common values, and we all want answers to questions that intrigue us. And above all, we all want happiness.
For this reason, it makes sense that just as the doctor prescribes the identical drug for the identical ailment, God too prescribes only one religion for all mankind. God never gave a second religion to the world. Such religions are without proof, and are always based on belief, since proof is not found. But reason alone dictates that there cannot be more than one religion, for a single mankind.
When we refer to “Judaism”, we refer to the Written Torah (Five Books of Moses) and the Oral Law (the Mishna). Judaism is then synonymous with the Written and Oral Laws. We call this system “Torah”. On this point, there is no confusion or doubt.
The Torah was given about 3320 years ago. This too is not debated. Just as mass witnesses concerning any event prove Alexander the Great, for example; the masses at Sinai (2.5 million) prove that event too, as well as the Egyptian Plagues, the Red Sea parting, the Manna, and the pillars of fire and cloud. No intelligent person disputes the unanimous transmission of “events” witnessed by masses. But this must not be confused with the transmission of “beliefs” that all other religions hang on to as their defense. However, “belief” is not “proof”, and living without proof is unreasonable, when in fact, proof does exist for Israel’s history of God’s providence, and His one-time giving of a religion.
This original, Orthodox Judaism received by Moses and transmitted throughout the millennia went unchallenged, precisely because of those mass witnesses, and because literally all Rabbis understood Torah as that one, identical system. In fact, the Torah teaches that those who opposed what Moses received – namely Korach and his rebellion – were killed by God when the Earth opened its mouth and swallowed them. Moses was thereby validated as possessing true Judaism. This event also validates all Rabbis who uphold the stringencies of Sabbath observance transmitted by Moses. It is true that observance can be trying at times, but that is no reason for Frankel to have rejected a clear understanding of the lessons of Korach, or the man who carried wood on Sabbath (below). In time, those who earnestly study the Torah will find its observance becomes easier, as our appreciation for the deep ideas strikes us profoundly, and with a feeling of such fortune.
Conservative Judaism loosened the stringencies on Torah observance, as its founder Zechariah Frankel said, “Judaism must adapt to each cultural era”. The teachings of Zacharias Frankel (1801-75) form the foundation of Conservative Judaism. Frankel broke away from the Reform movement in Germany in the 1840s. He opined that Judaism had developed in response to the different conditions of Jewish life in various civilizations. But our quotes from God Himself insist that God created Judaism, and man must not alter this Torah.
The Torah cites a case (Numbers 15:35) where a man gathered wood on the Sabbath, and was killed by God’s command. If Conservative Judaism allows one to drive to Temple on Sabbath, this too violates God outlined Sabbath prohibitions. The Rabbis below unanimously understand this crime of carrying to equate with ignition, which occurs when driving an automobile. Each of these violations is considered 1 of the 39 forms of prohibited Sabbath labor. It is vital that we are clear on what God says, and how Conservative Judaism violates His word.
It must strike an intelligent person, that for 3000 years; all Rabbis supported Judaism in its original form. These include Maimonides, Ramban, hundreds of Talmudic Rabbis, Rabbeinu Nissim, Ritvah, Rashbah, Rashi, Tosfos, Ibn Ezra, Sforno, Malbim, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Radak, Joseph Caro (author of the Shulchan Aruch) Rif, Taz, Shach, Maharsha, the Rash, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and all other Rabbis. It was not until 200 years ago that one individual named Zacharias Frankel argued on thousands of brilliant Rabbis. We say “brilliant”, as Frankel was not on par with any of the great Rabbis, as we see their voluminous, deep writings, and the absence of such in Frankel’s case. No Rabbi ever suggested that Torah should be altered based on any cultural change. Frankel did say this, violating true Judaism.
Additionally, the Torah says that we judge Halachik matters by the majority, which Frankel clearly was not. Frankel himself should have agreed with this rule of determining Jewish Law, but he erred again here.
But the most powerful argument is that Judaism’s original form was Orthodoxy. When something comes into existence, that is its true form. Similarly, actors who mimic great stars, cannot be better than the original. They cannot be the original.
At times, we are faced with an emotional dilemma: “Do I continue following someone for whom I have strong admiration, deep respect, and has done so much for me, but now I see he or she is wrong? Can I truly follow what my mind tells me, if it means admitting that my teacher was wrong? How can I disagree with my teacher, and to his face?” This is obviously difficult, but our adherence must be to what we now see has always been true Judaism. We must not favor smooth relationships with others – even beloved teachers – if it means we deny these truths.
I truly hope the objective reader will allow these arguments I have presented to resonate, and review them until they are clear. One’s path in life must follow truth, not people. I feel the truth supports Orthodox Judaism, and rejects all other forms.