Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Is Calling Someone a Reform Jew an Insult?

Adina Bar Shalom (Wikipedia)
One of my heroes (actually - heroines) is Adina Bar Shalom. She is my kind of feminist. She is also the daughter of perhaps the greatest Sepahrdi Chief Rabbi Israel ever had, Rav Ovadia Yosef ZTL – a true Gadol. I would venture to guess that the apple did not fall far form the tree. For those that do not recognize the name, Here is a brief bio from Wikipedia:
Adina Bar Shalom is an Israeli educator, columnist, and social activist. She is the founder of the first college for Haredi students in Jerusalem, and has spent years working to overcome gender discrimination in the Orthodox Jewish community. She was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and special contribution to society in 2014. 
It should be obvious from the bio that Bar Shalom is a Gadol in her own right (Please don’t get gender sensitive here. I use the male term Gadol loosely - since the female term Gedolah does not have the same connotation. But I digress.)

A few weeks ago one of the things that make her a hero was challenged by Rabbi David Benizri, a prominent supporter of the Shas in one of the more disgusting attacks I have ever heard about someone that ought to be seen as a role model for all of us. From JTA: 
Naming the late Yosef, Benizri wrote in a letter to followers: “I pity his Reform daughter, the accursed wicked woman, who came here and spoke in the name of the Rabbinate and for the so-called Women’s Council of Beit Shemesh. Bitter will be her day of judgment, bitter will be her day of reproach.” 
He soon apologized realizing that he went too far claiming among other things that he was sleep deprived at the time. (Shades of  Rossane Barr!) His apology was not accepted. Bar Shalom said she is preparing a lawsuit to the tune of $80,000.  Rightfully so in my view. Apologies like his don’t really mean much. His true feelings were let out at a moment where his internal defenses were down. Thus allowing the truth to come out. That kind of libel deserves to be denounced and adjudicated where it hurts – right in Rabbi Benizri’s wallet!

The reason for Benizri’s outburst should be obvious. Bar Shalom promoted the idea that women have the right - if they so choose – to leave the confines of the kitchen and serve the public welfare. They not only have that right and ability to do that - same as men. Even an obligation to do it in cases where their credentials warrant it. What matters most is what they bring to the table. Not what sex they are. Bar Shalom was speaking on behalf of women’s rights during the campaign for mayor of Bet Shemesh. Of which a woman, Aliza Bloch, was running. (She eventually won as most people that follow Israeli politics already know.)

What appears to be Bar Shalom’s biggest problem is that she was called a Reform Jew. Which raises an interesting question. Should being called a Reform Jew be considered an insult? 

Well, that depends. If you are actually a Reform Jew it would simply be an identity. Or even a compliment. But to an Orthodox Jew it is an insult. This says nothing about the value of a Reform Jew or their actual status as a Jew. A human being born if a Jewish mother is every bit the same Jew as the greatest Gadol. No matter which denomination they identify as. As is every single convert that has undergone a Halachic conversion.

But for an Orthodox Jew to be called Reform is an insult of gigantic proportion. Not because  Reform Jews are inherently bad. But because of what Reform Judaism represents. The complete abandonment of Halachic observance required by the Torah. To an Orthodox Jew, Reform Judaism is the antithesis of a being a religious Jew. 

Reform Judaism was founded on the principle that all Torah requirements are not requirements at all. They were just the means given to a primitive people so they could lead ethical lives. Now – in our day – when we know what is and isn’t ethical behavior, we can discard all the Mizvos of the Torah as long as we know the ethics behind those Mitzvos. 

Although in the past they practically forbade all ritual, they now encourage it. But only as a means to enhance one’s identity as a Jew. Not as a requirement. The Ten Commandments have become the Ten Suggestions – as is all Halacha. 

So if you want to build a Sukkah on Sukkos for example, you are encouraged to do so. But if you don’t want to, that’s just fine too. According to Reform Judaism, God doesn’t really care if you eat in a Sukkah on Sukkos anyway. It’s a nice thing to do. But it is only a suggestion. Not a requirement.

Reform Judaism has been fought by Orthodoxy from its very beginnings. The founders are considered heretics… formerly religious and knowledgeable Jews whose primary goal was to destroy any vestige of Jewish practice - even as they believed they were saving Judaism by doing that. 

Early Reform leaders were not satisfied with just splitting off from Orthodoxy and doing their own thing. They tried mightily to tear down Orthodox practice as an unworthy ancient relic that would keep us forever in the ghetto. They colluded with Czarist Russia - getting them to force a secular curriculum upon Yeshivos as a means of eventually weaning them away from an observant lifestyle altogether. The great Yeshiva of Volozhin closed down before allowing them to do that.

It should be more than obvious then – why Bar Shalom, or any Jew would be insulted at being called a Reform Jew.

One may ask, what about Reform Jews? How will they take the idea that being labeled a Reform Jew in Israel is considered a libelous insult worth taking to court?

My guess is that they will not take kindly to it. To say the least. But as unfortunate as that is, Orthodox Jews cannot be swayed by what the leaders of a movement might take from a lawsuit that considers their denominational label an insult. 

Reform Judaism is what it is - a movement that still rejects the Torah’s requirement to fulfill its directives. And for any serious Orthodox Jew being called Reform is the same as being called irreligious. Which is big insult to an observant Jew.