Saturday, September 11, 2010

Reform vs Conservative

Warning: This post is brief, mostly because I just got home at 2 AM.

I attended conservative Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat services today, having previously attended each in reform. Each has advantages and disadvantages:
  • Guitar/instruments: Present in reform. A positive experience for me. The conservative practice that music should not be played since the destruction of the temple is silly in my opinion. Why are we still mourning? Let's be active and lively and rebuild a bit, no? Let's bring back the instruments and show those persecutors that we survived until today, and we're gonna dance and sing and play about it.
  • English: Reform services - There's still Hebrew prayers, so it's not too bad, but there is a lot more English. I like that a lot because, for the first time in some cases, I can really hear what we're praying about, and understand it. At the same time, it feels less Jewish, as though we're at church or something. Praying in Hebrew connects all Jews around the world. I'm not ready to give that up.
  • Length: Conservative services are a bit too long. Reform, a bit too short. Don't rush, people, but don't drag it out - can we compromise?
  • Mourners' Kaddish: Conservatives alienate the people mourning by making them stand and recite. I always hated that. I want to stand up with them and show that I'm there to support them. In reform services, everyone stands and recites together. The downside: You don't know to respect anyone who is actually mourning. Consensus?  None.
  • Overall: Reform has more people and more music, but conservative has just as much enthusiasm and singing. Conservatives discuss the Torah portion, not so much in reform. But the reform services read haftorah in English - so we actually heard the story, not some melodic nonsense. But melodic nonsense sounds pretty. Hmm.
So what's my plan going forward?

Bounce back and forth, of course. =)


  1. Nicely put, Brian!

    My own observations...
    Length: Agreed...less organized praying, more time for schmoozing with friends and family!

    Mourners' Kaddish: It is important to note that the Mourners' Kaddish does not mention death at all, but instead praises God.

    While it is custom as to who stands, it is common only mourners say Kaddish. In many Reform synagogues, the tradition of standing seems to include the entire congregation as they are also reciting Kaddish for those who perished in the Shoah and all past generations. In Conservative synagogues and in the custom of my parents and grandparents, while we all mourn the loss of those who came before, the Kaddish is said for a parent, child, spouse, or sibling. Since, at this time in my life, this does not pertain to me, I leave the sanctuary during the Yiskor service on Yom Kippur as well as refrain from saying kaddish during services.

    A final thought on this one particular topic...
    Always observing and learning, I was in shul one day and happened to see our former rabbi, Rabbi Landis, standing for Kaddish. As you yourself made mention, it is not to embarrass, but to inform the congregation of a loss that only those in mourning stand. This is similar to calling on those who say a prayer for the sick, during the torah reading... to inform the congregation - sort of community news. I walked up to Rabbi Landis to offer condolences on his loss... but he corrected me. He was not in mourning. He continued... he believes it is not proper to stand alone when reciting the Kaddish. So, if he notices someone standing, and seemingly alone (no other mourners nearby) he will stand so they do not feel so alone. I happen to like this tradition, and try to remember it when I am with others.

    Overall: In the Conservative shuls I have attended on a more regular basis, the introductions to both Torah and Haftorah are given in English... I like that. Also, the books we utilize consist of Hebrew, to follow along with the chanting and, if I don't understand the Hebrew well, there is English translation and commentary (as well as in the Prayer books)... also nice.

    L'Shanah Tovah
    !שנה טובה ומתוקה

    Love you,

  2. Hey - why not check out Chabad and compare all 3 of them?
    Look for Dalia Norry - active there from our area.A Jr.
    Love your blog as usual - I am a groupie!
    ♥ MOM


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