Jun 21, 1997 - 19:55 -
I have a question:
Thanks for your question, Bill. The ritual handwashing beforehand, and the Birkat HaMazon (Blessing for Sustenance) after, are appropriate whenever a repast includes bread, even if the kashrut of the meal is questionable or not kosher at all. I don't think there is any difference between traditional Judaism and Conservative theology on this point. Of course, both theologies also require kashrut observance, but this is not a pre-condition for saying Birkat HaMazon. Each mitzvah is another opportunity to experience your holiness, engage in divine service, and elevate the quality of Creation.
As far as driving on the Sabbath goes, operating a car with an internal combustion engine is clearly a violation of an explicit Biblical commandment not to ignite any fire (as well as several other commandments). Since the commandments of congregational prayer and of public Torah Reading are only rabbinic laws, it is clearly better to stay at home and pray alone than to drive a car. Nevertheless, the Conservative movement (in America) permits driving a car to the geographically closest minyan, for the purpose of participating in the mitzvah of congregational prayer (and to return directly home) if the distance to that minyan is too great to walk. No other automobile use on the Sabbath has ever been officially sanctioned by the Conservative movement. The authority of the movement's Committee on Law and Standards to place a rabbinic law over a Torah law is one of the practical differences between the traditional and the Conservative application of halacha (Jewish Law) to contemporary conditions.
Halfway *is* better than none. In general, it is best to do whatever you can, and to aspire to growth in learning and in mitzvot. I try to take a "not yet" attitude toward traditions that are not (yet) being maintained (or appreciated or understood) whether because of desire, knowledge, or strength. Halfway *is* better than none --- each individual occurance of each individual mitzvah effects a positive transformation (especially if fulfilled with the intent to draw near to God by making divine will your will). "Every mitzvah is 'plus one'." (New opportunities are always presenting themselves. Even a mitzvah done mechanically is better than if left undone. Each is something to feel good about and has its own reward. So don't dwell on opportunities missed. "Every mitzvah is 'plus one'.")
Disclaimer: I am not a rabbi, nor an official representative of any particular group of Jews. Any significant practical application of halacha affecting your lifestyle should be undertaken with the assistance of competant rabbinic authority.