Conservative Judaism/Religious Texts


Rabbi -

I'm an agnostic Kohen (I know this sounds crazy) who's going through some rough times.  I was raised conservative/reform, but am not really sure where I fit in.  I have some beliefs from each sect of Judaism.  I've been to Israel 6 times, and am considering Aliya, hoping that the jobs market is better there than here.  At night, I pray...for Israel, for my parents health, for my health - both physical and psychological, for a job (I'm 29, and have never had a job).

A few years ago, I ordered a Stone Edition Tanach, Chumash, and Siddur.  What is the difference between the Tanach and Chumash?

Are there any passages I can read to help me try to believe again?

Thank-you in advance,

Marc Eichler

Dear Marc,

Thanks for writing.

An agnostic Jew is not an uncommon expression. Everyone has doubts at one time or another, particularly when then world seems not to reflect our ideals of fairness, justice, encouragement for the good and discouragement for those who hurt other, etc.

Being born a Kohen, a Jew whose traditional designation can be consistently legitimate or not, carries with it in fact no assurances of belief. It is a "status" carrying with it obligations or preference in terms of religious life - e.g. worship, funeral matters.

I'm sorry to hear that these have been difficult times. Frankly, with family living in Israel, I am not certain that - in general - you will change your job circumstances. A great deal depends upon your occupational training, degrees and work experience, PLUS your ability to work in Hebrew, possible military service, and the workplace conditions for your chosen field. Jobs today are hard for everyone everywhere. I do want to wish you luck but neither offer encouragement or discouragement for aliyah - just not base it all on hopes for a job in Israel.

In terms of religious "fitting in" again you are in a very common circumstance. I would urge you to seek out a religious community - perhaps trying various aspects of different congregations - Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc. - in which you ultimately feel more at home.

One of the challenges today for Jews is that they are literally "unprepared" to fit into a worship community with an inadequate or even without any Jewish education. I am speaking of a familiarity with Hebrew and worship texts, worship customs, rules and "manners" to feel comfortable.  

When I teach someone for conversion, I require that they agree to learn sufficient that when they choose a Jewish identity it is done on the basis of knowledge, skills and theological comfort - NOT on the "lowest" common denominator of minimal knowledge and skills.

I suggest that you seek out a Rabbi in your community who is sufficiently pluralistic that s/he can guide you to find a comfortable Jewish fit. And, you may ultimately make a change to another congregation in the future after a period months of experiences and expectations.

Above all, be careful with online resources as anyone can post anything and claim to be anything with any credentials!! There are Rabbis and teachers who have lost their professional credentials still writing, teaching, posting and charging goodly amounts for their "services."
To be fair, I am a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative Rabbis and a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America and in good standing. Be very careful!

Lastly, the Stone products - which I have in my library - are Orthodox texts and in use by Orthodox Rabbis and congregations. I don't personally use them for my own study or worship because in my opinion they represent traditional/medieval sources and interpretations rather than current modern and scientific resources and translations.  One of the educational techniques I use with my students is to compare the texts from various resources - from the range of Orthodox to Reconstructionist - and distinguish one translation and interpretation from the other(s) - whether Torah, TaNaKH, or siddur.

The main difference between the Stone Tanach and TaNaKH (new JPS translation) is that the latter was done - and is constantly still being updated - by a large committee of modern Bible scholars based on the most current scientific and academic resources. One example should suffice: in the JPS TaNaKH one frequently finds as a footnote "meaning of Hebrew uncertain" indicating that the finest scholarship today admits that the Biblical word or phrase is translated as best possible, not a final and definitive translation. Not so with the Stone Tanach. The reasons for uncertainly require some extensive reading, OR your willingness to take the word for the a work based on your own confidence or faith.

I wish you good fortune in your future. Should you also need emotional support, check with the local Jewish Family service, your own physician or a hospital out-patient clinic for professional support and guidance.

Rabbi Dov  

Conservative Judaism

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Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner


Write to me with questions about Jewish customs and law, history, philosophy and tradition for answers from a Conservative perspective or conversion. I am a graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary and a member of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Having served in congregational pulpits since 1970, I now am President of the Foundation For Family Education, Inc. a non-profit educational endeavor. I established it to create new formats of hands-on programs and provide free educational downloads at In addition to general informational questions I welcome your questions about programs for social action, outreach to dual-faith families, inter-faith clergy projects, healing services, education for conversion, adult education for the congregation and the community. If you have questions about Informal and Formal Education I am ready to share my extensive experience with Youth Activities, Camping and Religious School/Hebrew High School on a congregational, community and national/international level.


I have served on the National Youth Commission for more than 25 years and serve on the Boards of the Conservative Zionist movement MERCAZ and the World Council of Synagogues. I have always dual-families and taught candidates for conversion with a great sense of fulfillment. I am very proud of 25 years on the Jewish camping staff of Camps Ramah. My greatest source of pride is my family! Ask me about them, please!:-)

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