Korngold, who calls herself The Adventure Rabbi, and Field, leader of Judaism Your Way, share a similar philosophy: Judaism, as a way of thinking and living, can adapt to the complex demands of modern American life, to the divergent outlooks of today’s Jews, even to the interests and needs of non-Jews, without becoming a baloney sandwich, on white bread, with mayo.
Korngold is the more unconventional of the two. She holds services on ski slopes — Shabbat on Snow — and celebrates major holidays in the wild — Passover at Moab (Utah, i.e.). But, she insists, she’s a traditionalist who just happens to prefer schuss to shul: We teach age-old Jewish concepts like taking some time off each week and stop trying to be perfect, but we teach them in a modern context (leaving enticingly ambiguous whether stopping trying to be perfect or trying to be perfect is the age-old Jewish concept).
Though Field usually gathers his flock within the more conventional four walls, the purpose is inclusive, not exclusive: Meeting people where they are goes back to Abraham and Sarah … They made openings on all four sides of their tent, so travelers could enter in the direction from which they were coming. Wherever you are on your Jewish journey, we’ll meet you there.
Here in Colorado, where the many paths to enlightenment are open all hours, Korngold and Field are a part of the normal landscape. So, too, across a very wide chasm, is the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher movement’s Chabad House, with its emphasis on study of the sacred texts, and strict, on-time observance of every religious obligation.
One can only begin to imagine the apoplexy each side causes the other:
— So, when you profane the Sabbath by driving to the ski slope, allowing men next to women (God forbid the women should shave their heads as pious practice demands), do you at least avoid mixing meat and milk by drinking your coffee black when you have your ham sandwich? Bah!
— So, have you considered that Moses met God on a mountain? And what does hair, or its lack, have to do with piety? Is a bearded man a better man? And what’s the point of a woman’s shaving her head only to replace it with someone else’s hair? Bah!
Montagues and Capulets; Hatfields and McCoys; Cripps and Bloods; Democrats and Republicans.
But, as far apart as they may seem, the Yurveyitchers probably need the Lubavitchers, and vice versa. If Korngold’s and Field’s variations on a theme are to make any rational sense, there has to be a theme, a core of accepted belief and practice, to make variations on. And, if their teachings are to have any spiritual/emotional meaning — this is, after all, religion and not calculus — they need a basis that resonates, whether as myth or historic truth.
From the other side of the chasm, the case for mutual dependence is a little harder. Orthodoxy can say that 5,774 years and counting gives them a bit of an edge. Still, without the challenge of change, senile complacency is always a risk. There’s nothing like the jolt of a skiing rabbi — a WOMAN at that — to send the scholar back to his books to prove why THAT CANNOT BE RIGHT.