Letter to the editor: keep the focus on Jewish substance

Rabbi Yaakov Menken. Credit: Facebook.

To the editor,

Rabbi Steven Wernick’s response (“Rebranding helps USCJ envision its future in a rapidly changing Jewish world”) to my op-ed, “Conservative Jews deserve more than PR,” is very interesting—yet saddening. Rabbi Pesach Lerner and I wrote about Jewish substance, and he differentiated between PR and branding. Regardless of that narrow distinction, neither can save a company selling a product of little interest to consumers.  

His quote from Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is apt indeed: “We will win Jewish (and universal) allegiance if Judaism is robust, if Judaism augments human life” (my emphasis added). It’s not about PR or branding, it’s about Judaism. 

In that vein, Rabbi Wernick points out that “those impacted by Conservative Jewish communities” are “more likely” to be Jewishly educated and involved. More likely than whom—those who connect with no Jewish community at all? He makes a tremendous leap, making the bold assertion that these Jews are “highly engaged.” All the evidence at hand refutes that claim entirely.

He similarly states that we “denigrate” what he describes as a “diversity of Jewish wisdom and practice.” Yet we spoke of the beliefs, standards, and educational opportunities that the Conservative movement itself once considered mandatory. Diversity in Jewish practice is found in flourishing Jewish communities of North African, Iranian, Yemenite, German, Lithuanian, and Hungarian origin—often within blocks of each other, or side by side at the holy Western Wall. 

Laxity vs. involvement is a poor-man’s diversity, and neither PR nor branding offers a rich solution.

—Rabbi Yaakov Menken, director of Project Genesis - Torah.org and co-editor of Cross-Currents.com

Posted on February 22, 2016 .