World News

Conservatives reverse on e-readers

July 19, 2013
Movement pulls the plug on Shabbat experiment.
By David Holzel
Senior Writer

Conservative men can leave their e-readers at home. The movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has reversed its position on the use of tablets at Shabbat services during its international convention, which begins July 24.

As we reported, the group’s executive director, Rabbi Charles Simon, had invited attendees to bring e-readers, download the Torah portion before Shabbat, and read using their electronic devices at services.

In his letter, he noted a majority ruling by the movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which said that while electronic devices do not themselves break Shabbat, someone using one on Shabbat might be tempted to download from the Web, which is a form of writing prohibited by Jewish law. Use of tablets could also breach of the spirit and distinctiveness of the day, the ruling stated.

Simon also pointed to a dissenting opinion by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, who argued that the use of e-readers could enhance the joy of Shabbat.

Simon wants the movement to begin incorporating technology into Jewish worship so that younger Jews will feel at home in synagogue. “What’s going to happen when our children and grandchildren go into synagogue in 10 years?” he told WJW. “They use e-readers.”

This week, the heads of major Conservative institutions criticized Simon for his decision to buck the majority opinion. In two letters obtained by WJW, movement leaders argued that while congregational rabbis may adopt the practice in individual synagogues, that autonomy doesn’t extend to rabbinic leaders of movement organizations, such as FJMC.

“We have concluded that such a claim of authority — in the face of a CJLS ruling to the contrary — is misplaced and contrary to the best interests of our Movement,” wrote Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University; Marc Gary, COO, Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president, Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Steven C. Wernick CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in a letter dated July 15.

“We therefore urge you at your convention to follow the rulings of the CJLS [to not use e-readers]. By this letter, we oppose any decision to do otherwise,” they concluded.

The letter, and another undated letter by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, chairman of the Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards, said that Simon could not fall back on Spitz’s dissenting opinion, because Spitz did not present it as “open to a vote of the CJLS… . [H]ad he attained the minimum number of votes necessary to validate his stance, that would be a different story, but he instead chose simply to file it as a dissenting opinion … which … means that his ruling is not an official stance of the CJLS,” Dorff wrote.

Following the issuing of the two letters, Simon said he removed the page from the FJMC website on which he invited members to bring their e-readers.

“We had a good conversation,” Simon said on Friday, referring to the signatories of the letters. “It’s not time for the movement. The discussions will go on.”

But come next Shabbat, the e-readers will not.

dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com Twitter: @davidholzel

 

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