John Roberts vs. the Conservative Rabbis

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\ When a conservative Catholic Supreme Court justice meets up with bunch of Conservative rabbis, that’s when.\

\ According to the original press release for Religion and the Public Square, a Feb. 10-14 meeting of some 400 rabbis representing the leadership of the nation’s Conservative movement, Chief Justice John Roberts was slated to receive an award tonight.\

\ Called the Truth and Justice Award, it was to have been presented by the Rabbinical Assembly in the Presidential Ballroom of the Capitol Hilton downtown. That was as of mid-January. No sooner had the announcement been made, than folks began to murmur. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency captured well the ambivalence some folks felt about giving the justice an award when so many of them disagree with him several things, such as abortion. jwohlberg.jpg\

\ I was told by people connected with the conference that rumbling was going on but that the award was going not so much to the man as to his office.\

\ “He is the highest official of the highest court in the land and he represents to the American community the various principles that are basic to our religious tradition, such as justice and concern for the poor,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg of Adas Israel Congregation in the District. “We are not awarding an individual, we are awarding the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.”\ \

Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg. (Photo courtesy of Adas Israel)


\ Well, that was then.\ \ \ Midway through the conference, which ends Thursday, I got another e-mail from one of the folks handling PR for the gathering. The award had been downgraded to a book.\ \ \ “The situation is that we will be handing John Roberts a Tanach … the Hebrew Bible (5 books of Moses, Prophets and the various other holy writings), and that we are honoring him for his office, not endorsing or commenting in any way on his public record,” it said. “We hope he will read thru the Tanach and be guided by its teachings.”\ \ \ Not that I know Justice Roberts personally, but I am sure he already has some familiarity with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.\

\ I talked with Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation, who drafted the Rabbinical Assembly’s 2007 resolution on reproductive freedom and health care, which says Judaism believes that personhood and human rights begin at birth, not conception. Roman Catholics believe life begins at conception. Major difference there. \

\ “We are thrilled that Supreme Court justice wants to come speak to us even though we are pro-choice and for women’s rights,” she said from the Capitol building where she was lobbying for the passing of the Freedom of Choice Act. “We’re not pro-abortion, but we believe there is not a place for the government to interfere where there is not unanimity in the public square.”\

\ Well, chances are that Justice Roberts will be none the wiser for receiving the award-that-was-not-an-award.\

\ One more note from Wohlberg, 66, the incoming president of the Rabbinical Assembly. He told me he’d like to ramp up the numbers of Conservative American Jews, currently at about 1 million. \

\ Whereas the Orthodox branch of American Judaism has seen a resurgence, as have Reformed Jews, “There is this popular perception that implies that Conservative Judaism has changed dramatically,” he said. I assume he meant changed for the worse. \

\ “But,” he insisted, “we are the strong middle.”\

\ Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times

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