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The best kind of debate
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The best kind of debate

Conservative movement leaders were not happy with a headline on a recent JTA story: “USY drops ban on interdating.” (See related story) In essence, the headline was accurate: Student leaders attending the Conservative youth group’s international convention adopted new language that turned a negative injunction — that board members should “refrain from relationships that can be construed as interdating” — into a positive affirmation “recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community.” If the prior language wasn’t a “ban,” it was certainly interpreted as such by the students who voted on the change.

But no headline could capture the subtleties of the discussion led by the student leaders, who drew on deep reserves of Jewish experience, identity, and learning in conveying the primacy of traditional Jewish positions on observance and relationships. At the same convention they upheld a prior clause requiring student leaders to observe Shabbat. But they also recognized, perhaps in ways that eluded some of their adult critics, the reality of Jewish life in a free and open society. They know plenty of involved Jewish youth who themselves come from interfaith homes. They saw that kids living outside of dense Jewish populations might not have the same opportunities as kids living in New York or central New Jersey. And they recognized, in the spirit of Conservative Judaism, that observance is a ladder, and that the goal of outreach is to encourage people to reach ever higher in leading an engaged Jewish life.

The students listened to all sides in the debate, including to those who say that standing on principle sometimes entails sacrifice and discomfort. They took into account the traditions of their movement and of USY itself. And ultimately they came up with language that honored those traditions as kindly and gently as they could. 

A lay leader of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism told us their office was inundated with concerns that USY was teaching the “wrong values.” But this lay leader reminded them that the students, in conducting a serious, subtle, and sensitive debate, were modeling exactly the right Jewish values.

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