In a public discussion yesterday evening at Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reformsynagogue in Park Slope, former World Jewish Congress president Edgar M. Bronfman called contemporary Judaism‘s denominations outdated, and predicted that when and if the Modern Orthodox movement becomes gender egalitarian the denominational movements that currently divide non-ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Modern Orthodox) will have outlived their usefulness. Bronfman praised North America’s 80 or so independent minyanim such as Kehilat Hadar on the Upper West Side and Altshulin Park Slope as well as the smaller minyanim that meet in members’ homes in neighborhoods such as Williamsburgh and Bushwick where no non-ultra-Orthodox congregations exist.
Bronfman’s conversation partner, Beth Elohim’s Rabbi Andy Bachman pointed out that Altshul is one of four or five minyanim that meet on the premises of his congregation on a typical Shabbat morning, and that smaller more intimate prayer groups are becoming the norm. If Bronfman and Bachman are correct that indicates that American Judaism is moving in exactly the opposite devotional direction of Evangelical Christianity’s mega-churches.
In yesterday evening’s discussion Bronfman also said that he does not believe in the God of the TANAKH (the Hebrew Bilble) though he is willing to consider the existence of a universal power. He credited the support of the Clinton administration for the success of his negotiations with Swiss Banks which had previously refused to allow surviving family members to with draw funds from the accounts of holocaust victims. Bronfman, however, cautioned against dwelling on past suffering pointing out that younger Jewish Americans seek positive points of identification. Bronfman and Bachman’s third discussion partner Beth Zasloff agreed. Zasloff, an alumna of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships and co-author with Bronfman of “Hope, Not Fear: A Path To Jewish Renaissance,” mentioned Kehilat Hadar,Nextbook (the Jewish literary website), and Jdub Records as her points of Jewish identification.
Bronfman’s remarks about Jewish denominations came on the same day that the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and The Forward reported that the presidents of a dozen of the country’s largest Conservative congregations threatened to leave the movement if major reforms are not enacted in 90 days. In recent years formerly Conservative NYC synagoguesCongregation Bnei Jeshurun on the Upper West Side and Congregation Mount Sinai have severed their affiliation with the movement and become independent. NYC’s independent Jewish congregations also include Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) in Chelsea and Greenwich Village which serves the city’s gay community and Kolot Chayeinu in Park Slope. In the 1990s CBST members voted to reject a proposal to affiliate with the Reform movement, and in recent years a proposal to affiliate with the Reconstructionist movement was defeated in a vote of Kolot Chayeinu members.