Wednesday, September 06, 2017

A Just Cause is No Excuse

Rabbi Shlomo Amar at the Kotel (Jerusalem Post)
Reform Jews are my brothers. They are every bit as Jewish as I am. I love them all as I do the rest of Klal Yisroel. What I reject is their version of Judaism. Reform Judaism is in diametric opposition to the word of God as recorded in the Torah. God directed His chosen people (us) to follow all of His directives as interpreted and protected by the sages in the Talmud. Which has all been redacted in the Shulchan Aruch. This is better known as Halacha.

The founding fathers of Reform Judaism abandoned Halacha… relegating it to the ash bin of history. They believed that the enlightened Jew of the modern era no longer requires following Halacha.

In our day the practices (or lack of them ) by Reform Jewry is mostly not their fault. It is not even the fault of their rabbis. This is how they have been indoctrinated for many generations since the days of their founders. Today’s Reform Jews didn’t abandon Halacha. Their founding fathers did and transmitted that ethos to their flock generationally. Today’s Reform Jew never observed Halacha to begin with to now abandon it. 

This has led to some of the conflict we are witnessing today in Israel. A conflict whose battles are being fought at the Kotel. I think it is obvious that for the Reform movement this conflict is about recognition. Their insistence on a egalitarian space at the Kotel is really about recognizing their legitimacy. It surely is not about getting a egalitarian space. They already have one. What they want is to put that space on par with the Orthodox space. And to create an authoritative body  consisting of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. 

There is no Orthodox Rabbi in the world that could possibly be a part of an authoritative body that consists of rabbis that reject the Torah’s  mandate of Halacha. Because by doing so he would be seen as legitimizing non observance as an alternative way of serving God. Which it clearly is not by any Orthodox standard.

I therefore understand the opposition by Orthodox rabbis in Israel to this particular agreement. Had it just been an agreement to expand what they already have and provide easier access, I don’t think there would  be any significant objection. Which is what the Kenesset compromise was originally thought to be. It was passed without protest of the religious parties. The whole thing blew up over legitimization. No one should blame Orthodox rabbis for opposing it.

That said, I can’t really blame the Reform movement for seeking legitimacy. What movement that calls itself Jewish would want recognition from the Jewish state? But there is a bit of deception in their methods as their arguments never mention their real motives. They keep talking about denying rights to a Kotel that belongs to ‘all of the Jewish people - not just the Orthodox’. They keep saying that Orthodox extremists seek to deny Jews from praying in the manner they choose. None of that is true. No one denies them that at all. Not even Christians are denied prayer at the Kotel. An egalitarian space exists and they can pray there in any manner they choose.

It is a shame that there are those on the extreme left of Orthodoxy that seem to side with Reform – against the Orthodox mainstream. I know they wish to be ‘open’ to all Jews - and to give them what they want as a means of reaching out. But the price of recognition is too high. You cannot legitimize nor even appear to legitimize the illegitimate! That undermines your own legitimacy.

That said, I have to take strong issue with some shocking comments made by Rabbi Shlomo Amar, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel (and current Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem). From the Jerusalem Post, here is what he said: 
“Today there was a hearing on the Kotel on the petition of the cursed evil people who do every iniquity in the world against the Torah – they even marry Jews and non-Jews,” said Amar, in comments first reported by the Kikar HaShabbat haredi (ultra-Orthodox) news website.
“They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray. They want to desecrate the holy. They are trying to deceive and say that extremist haredim invented [prayer arrangements at the Western Wall]. 
“It’s like Holocaust deniers, it’s the same thing. They shout, ‘Why are there Holocaust deniers in Iran?’ They deny more than Holocaust deniers. In all of the Mishna and Gemara [of the Talmud], there was a women’s section and a section for men in the Temple. Did we invent this?” 
Cursed?! Evil?! People who do every iniquity?! What a disgusting thing to say about people that believe as they do through no fault of their own.  They are not cursed. They are not evil. And they do not do every iniquity.

Reform Jews in our day are actually encouraged by their rabbis to do Mitzvos on a voluntary basis. Many do. This is not to say that when they do, that they necessarily follow Halacha properly. But that is mostly due to a lack of education. Or an education based on the false doctrines of their founding fathers. Rabbi Amar seems to imply that not only do they violate Halacha, but that that they do with nefarious intent to the point of almost calling his own brothers and sisters, Nazis!

I also take issue with his comparison of the Kotel Plaza to the actual Beis HaMikdash. Yes, there was a separation there. But that only happened after things got crowded. At first, men and women were not divided by any sort of barrier. 

Furthermore, that was only inside the Beis Hamikdash. Not on the outside of it, where the Kotel is located. It was never forbidden for men and women to pray there at the same time. That was actually the way it was done well into th20th century. It is true that attempts had been made to install a barrier between men and women.   But they were thwarted by governing bodies of the era. 

However, the fact that that men and women prayed there together at all testifies to the fact that it is not forbidden by Halacha. Had it been forbidden, the men and women would have come at separate times. That it is forbidden today is because the Kotel Plaza has been established as a synagogue where a barrier between men and women is required. But that is a technicality that has nothing to do with Rabbi Amar’s comparison of the Kotel to the Beis HaMikdash.

I know that he is passionate in his opposition. But that does not excuse the kind of venom coming out of his mouth. Not against Reform Jews. And not even against their rabbis. They are not the founders who fought against observance. These are people who were educated to mistakenly believe that their way of practicing Judaism is one among many legitimate ways to do so. They are wrong. But clearly not evil.

With comments like this Rabbi Amar’s own legitimacy comes into question. No individual that calls himself a leader of the Jewish people should ever characterize innocent Jews in such disgusting terms. Undermining Halachic observance is not their goal. That was the goal of their founding founders. 

I agree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who condemned his remarks. As should any decent Jew.