Monday, August 06, 2007

Conservative and Orthodox Jewish Communities In Conflict Over Temple Bnai Moshe

Temple Bnai Moshe, at 1854 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton, has long been a Conservative jewish place of worship, where many of the congregants are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Lately, though, it has been an unlikely battleground between two different Jewish sects in Brighton -- leading to a recent court case.

Leaders of the Temple voted in December 2006 to provide Sabbath space for Orthodox Jewish minyan Beis Binah. Sounds like a fine gesture, but the result appears to have been a sharp conflict beteween the two Jewish communities.

Accounts vary -- and are a bit murky and confusing for this Gentile -- but seem to indicate that the Orthodox members tried to expand their influence substantially over the temple, both its property and its religious association. Orthodox congregants unsuccessfully put forth proposals at temple board meetings to "transform the congregation into an Orthodox place of worship," according to The Jewish Advocate. Joshua Katzen, a board member supporting at least some of the Orthodox proposals, said they were "simply seeking to use the synagogue’s 'hardly used' small chapel located downstairs from the main sanctuary."

As events unfolded, several Orthodox Jews were named to the Temple's board. And an election for new board members and officers was held on April 29. This election was disputed, which formed the basis for the lawsuit by the Orthodox congregants against the Conservative ones. Alanna Cline, a co-defendant as well as a lawyer for the Conservative Jewish defendants in the lawsuit, said, “What is indisputable is that this guest sued the host to steal the host’s home.”

On July 16, a judge in the Suffolk Superior Court handed down a ruling in favor of the defendants -- the Conservative congregants. They proceeded to give the Orthodox congregants a few days to move out.

The story is well-reported by The Jewish Advocate, Boston's paper of record for the Jewish community. A few letters-to-the-editor indicate how the communities are picking up the pieces -- or not. Alanna Cline, one of the Conservative Jewish defendants, wrote:
Hoping litigation is behind us, we happily return to being a shul with a full temple life. Most certainly, it will be a L’Shana Tova for Temple Bnai Moshe as preparations begin for our upcoming jubilee year... To our recent Hasidic guests, we invited a parting with mutual respect and peace. We now reiterate that with “Shalom.”
Conservative Cantor Theodore Schneider of Temple Bnai Moshe was much more direct in his criticism of the Orthodox group, particularly pointing out some of the religious differences between the denominations which appear to make co-celebration incompatible:
Temple Bnai Moshe has been, and has pursued Conservative Judaism, both since its original worship services in 1933 and then, again, with the dedication of our lovely edifice in 1954. The structure was expressly built to ensure that without exception, parents and children, husbands and wives, and men and women would all sit immediately together in worship, on and off the Bima, to ensure Conservative worship and promote its values.

Last year, we welcomed Beis Binah for up to six months of hospitality... My congregation and I now suffer and defend efforts at a hostile take-over of our Conservative shul by [Rabbi Moshe Lieberman's] Hasidic group...

This is not the manner in which Jews should treat one another... On their part, I ask they keep faithful to the Tenth Commandment.
Another letter, by Orthodox Jew Yosef Glassman, argues that the Orthodox community was actually resuscitating a withering congregation -- and indicates a more complicated history for Temple Bnai Moshe:
...My great-grandfather, William (Ze’ev) Mezikofsky, was one of the original founding members when it was established as an Orthodox synagogue upon its inception, prior to its move to Commonwealth Ave. Additionally, I have watched the Beis Binah minyan breathe new life into Bnai Moshe, which was until recently a shell of a synagogue, providing rented space to various groups to survive... In the Conservative chapel, there is not even a quorum of men and women on most holiday and Shabbat services... What appears to the Bnai Moshe associates as a “hostile takeover” results from a lack of understanding and, frankly, cognitive dissonance regarding the true nature of the shul at this juncture, whose only religious activity is the Beis Binah minyan.
I can only offer, as an outsider, the hope that these two communities can figure out some way to bridge the widening chasm between them.

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