The Emerging Synagogue?
Apparently Christians aren't the only ones feeling the urge to emerge.

While following a relatively uninteresting trail of research recently (which I won't retrace here), I happened upon Synagogue 3000 (S3K). This consortium of rabbis and other Jewish leaders is committed to offering "challenging and promising alternatives to traditional synagogue structures." They call themselves "Jewish Emergents," and their understanding of their mission is, in some ways, very similar to that of the Christian Emergent movement.

They are concerned, for example, with communicating authentic faith in a postmodern idiom, which has compelled them to move worship beyond the synagogue. So, they are meeting in homes, bars, and coffee houses, among other places. They are resurrecting some ancient practices, such as worshiping in Hebrew, while ignoring others. And they are reconsidering the qualifications for participation and leadership.

There are also significant differences between Jewish Emergents and Christian Emergents, of course. Along with Synagogue 3000, Jewish Emergents seem more concerned with updating the style and format of Jewish observation and worship than with questioning or reformulating orthodox Jewish theology. Also, while the Jewish Emergents are eager to reconcile younger non-practicing Jews to the faith, they are not concerned with proselytizing.

These differences (and others) highlight the single greatest difference between the groups (not counting the difference in religion): the Jewish Emergent movement is an institutional effort, not an anti-institutional rebellion. In that way, it may be more akin to the Anglican-sponsored emergent movement in the United Kingdom.

Not only are there superficial similarities between Christian and Jewish Emergents, the two groups are formally in conversation (as formally as emergents do anything). Synagogue 3000 invited Emergent spokesmen Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Dwight Friesen, and Dieter Zander to attend their 2006 meeting as advisors. You can watch a brief video of that meeting below.

The presence of "Emergents" in two major world religions, and the cooperation of the two groups together, elicits a few questions in my mind:

1. For the critics of the Emergent movement: does the development of the Jewish Emergent movement indicate that the Christian Emergents are on to something? That is, does an analogous response from adherents of another religion validate the emergent impulse? If the emergent movement is not a strictly religious phenomenon, but is a cultural one with religious implications, what can traditional churches do to keep up with the times?

2. For proponents of the Emergent movement: what is implied by the fact that Emergent conversation leaders seem more willing to work cooperatively with "emergent" adherents of other religions than traditionalist or "Reformed" Christians? Is the emergent label of greater concern to them than the Christian one?

3. If Jewish Emergents can operate within the institution, why can't Christian Emergents? Can institutional churches and emergent ones benefit from a collegial relationship with one another?

Watch the video. Visit the websites. Tell us what you think.

May 09, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 13 comments


May 15, 2008  1:33am

1. Well, it would seem that there is an overly naive impression that this is a serious movement within Judaism, it isn't. If you want to take note of something, check out the neo-Orthodox movement, or the JewSchool phenomena. To be honest Judaism was emerging in the 60s... It's ability to survive is more-rooted in its sense of Orthodoxy not its ability to adapt. Sorry to burst the bubble. 2. This is nothing new for reformed Judaism, or other very liberal branches of the Jewish faith, I honestly wouldn't get too excited. 3. Again, there is a very naive assumption here. Jewish Emergents are about as kosher as a ham-sandwich. It isn't fair to comment on a culture and faith that you are only viewing through biased lenses of your own movement.

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Kip Keith

May 13, 2008  12:22pm

". . . a better comparison would be one hospital meeting with another hospital talking about how they can better work together to help people heal and recover." Beautiful sentiment, Jesse A. - touching, actually - except that only one hospital is capable of providing what people really need. Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but through Him, and the Jewish faith doesn't accept that. This truth caused Paul much angst - to the point that he would wish himself accursed from Christ for their sake, if that were possible. But it doesn't cause us angst. We want to "dialogue" with them, and "celebrate our differences." The Jewish people are a wonderful people who deserve to be told the truth - even if they choose to reject it.

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Jesse A.

May 12, 2008  9:52pm

Question/Comment #2 (that emergents are more concerned with the "emergent label" than with Christianity) seems a bit unfair. In my experience, people associated with emergent village are eager to converse and meet with anyone, especially other Christians. More often it seems to be other Christians who are wary of associating with or conversing with emergents. I also don't think too much should be read into this meeting. Christians and Jews have been meeting together, discussing similarities and differences, and learning from each other for years. The "Coke and Pepsi" comment (Kip Keith) is not appropriate - a better comparison would be one hospital meeting with another hospital talking about how they can better work together to help people heal and recover.

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May 12, 2008  1:39pm

First off, I don't see how these Jewish emergents are operating any more or less independently than emergent Christians. These Jews seek to "move worship beyond the synagogue. So, they are meeting in homes, bars, and coffee houses, among other places." Secondly, I think calling the Christian Emergent movement an "anti-institutional rebellion" is too uncharitable. Many emergent leaders make great pains to dialog with the larger American church, to partner with them. This is not always true, unfortunately, but it is unfair to listen only to the most shrill voices. I don't think emergents as a whole partner more with other religious groups than they do with Christian churches. Certainly, I view the Acts 29 network as part of the emerging church, and they are explicitly "Reformed" in their theology. Finally, I think trying to characterize the Emergent movement theologically is problematic, because emergent churches have more in common in their ecclesiology (how they DO church) than in their theology. That sounds a lot like what these Jewish Emergents are doing as well.

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Peter Carino

May 12, 2008  12:25pm

I was in a class taught by Ryan Bolger a couple of years back. He mentioned this event and went on to say that there is also an emergent movement among American Muslims as well.

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Shawn Landres

May 11, 2008  4:03pm

Our publishing and discussion around Jewish Emergent goes back at least to 2006, and much of it is online. See, for example, Shawn Landres, "The Emerging Spiritual Paradigm" (Sh'ma, June 2006); J. Shawn Landres & Ryan K. Bolger, "Emerging Patterns of Interreligious Conversations: A Christian-Jewish Experiment" (The Annals of the AAPSS, July 2007); Landres, "Breaking the Code of Ritual Observance" (The Forward, December 2007); Landres, "Recentering the Kehilah: Gender and Sexual Identity in Jewish Emergent Communities" (Sh'ma, January 2008); and Joshua Avedon & Shawn Landres, "The Urge to Emerge: New Communities Blossom" (PresenTense, Issue 4 2008). Also check out Synablog's emergent-related posts as well as the collection of posts around the S3K/Mechon Hadar study of Jewish emergent communities.

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Kip Keith

May 10, 2008  6:21pm

"Why would professing christians want to help any other religion, i.e. any religion that fails to see Christ as the one and only sufficient savior, become better at reaching others?" BINGO, Chris. Well said. That'd be like Pepsi advising the Coke people on how to sell more product. Maybe our emerging leaders were advising them on how to remove that veil that blinds them so they can see Jesus as their Messiah. I doubt it. The video indicates they were "celebrating" their differences. I'm glad that wasn't Paul's approach. In the book of Acts, his preaching caused the Jews to stone him and leave him for dead. So much for building that bridge of conciliation.

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Michelle Van Loon

May 10, 2008  9:04am

Without a temple, Judaism has always been a "portable" religion - first, the tabernacle; next, in exile; and since 70 AD, in a very decentralized manner, in synagogues and homes - and in far more desperate, oppressive places, like concentration camps. The Jewish emergent movement is growing out of this long, rich tradition of adaptation in order to survive in exile. You'd asked if Jewish emergents can operate within the institution, why can't Christian emergents? There is no singular, monolithic institution in Judaism. Though some would argue that the fragmented, denominationlized Protestant world is anything but monolithic, there is a completely different institutional personality, as well as an organic calling and destiny, to the church.

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May 10, 2008  2:32am

3. My guess is that there are seeds of discontent with many involved in Emergent among those who come from conservative (or reformed) backgrounds with strong emphasis on orthodoxy and right belief. These environments can in some senses stifle the iconoclastic questioner's spirit that runs through Emergent (in my vision of it, anyway) and perhaps alienate those within. My guess is that there are far fewer leaving from "Mainline" backgrounds simply because these traditions have always been fairly open to questioning (at least as far as I can see it in my naive view). I think McLaren implored readers in the opening of Generous Orthodoxy to forgive him for the strength of his criticism toward conservative (even fundamentalist) movements and his much more easygoing attitude towards those of other traditions that he was not raised in, sort of like how we can so easily fight with our families but get on perfectly well with our friends for the most part. Anyway, I never really had the sense that we were supposed to leave the churches we were raised in, but some find it difficult to have a good fit with the more conservative traditions (and I suspect on my part there goes along with this more than a little bitterness and uncharitable reaction) and will buck these for a time in order to explore the greater Christendom (or as some will say leave church to save faith).

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May 09, 2008  5:01pm

1. Yes. Yes. Adopt the emergent mindset. 2. That epistemology is as important as theology. No, or else they would drop the Christian label all together. 3. Fundamental difference between the Jewish institution and the Christian institution. Yes, but the institutional churches don't seem to really want that relationship.

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