Friday, June 03, 2016

The Rupture Began with Reform

Union for Reform Judiasm president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs (TOI)
I have to take issue with the Reform leader. He was quoted saying the following in a recent AP story (republished at VIN) about the impediments to an agreed upon compromise whereby heterodox movements would be able to have their own space at the Kotel: 
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the delegation told Netanyahu on Wednesday that this is a “very serious issue.”
“There is a deep concern, bordering on disbelief, that this deal may not be implemented,” Jacobs said. He said the group had made clear that if the deal doesn’t go forward “it will signal a rupture” with North American Jewry.
Jacobs said the treatment toward his movement is “very painful.”
“We express our love for the Jewish state every day. The Jewish state doesn’t return that love,” he said. 
There is not a doubt in my mind that the Jewish State loves all of the Jewish people. Regardless of what denomination they are a part of. Even if they are a part of the increasing number of secular Jews that are unaffiliated to the point of not caring enough to self identify as a Jew.

Not only is this true about the government of Israel, it’s true about the entirety of Orthodoxy. Including Charedim. It is not Reform Jews that we reject, God forbid. It is a movement that has made up new rules about Judaism. Rules that made non observance an acceptable part of its theology. One can now ‘belong’  to a denomination and ignore Halacha completely without any guilt. They are free of any burden and believe that this is what God (if they choose to  believe in Him) is OK with in the 21st century.

Back before there were ‘movements’ in Judaism there were plenty of Jews that were not observant. But they all recognized what they were not observing. It was the Judaism of their fathers. The one which is based on Halacha as dictated to Moshe and handed down generationally until the present day. Those laws were orally dictated to Moshe and were eventually codified in the Mishnah, interpreted by the Gemara, commented upon by the Rishonim and eventually re-codified in the Shulchan Aruch which – along with its commentaries we follow today.

How one expresses the uniqueness of being Jewish by ignoring the specific behavior mandated by Halacha - seeing only its ethical value - has in fact caused the many Reform leaders to backpedal a bit. If one cannot tell the difference between a Jew and non Jew - since both behave the same way and share a common sense of ethics - what’s the point of being Jewish? Now Reform leaders say one should voluntarily observe the Mitzvos. But no big deal if they don’t.

What denominational Judaism has done is divide the Jewish people. Instead of being unified by an understanding that the Torah is what makes us Jewish – what makes us unique as a people, Reform Judaism is a new Judaism. One that believes following Halacha is not mandatory. Today, those Jews that are not observant will likely say, they are Reform Jews – if they bother identifying as Jews at all!

This is what Orthodoxy objects to. It is the perversion of what Judaism actually is – and always has been - except for a brief historical period during the second Temple era and a bit beyond when the Sadducees (Tzedukim) and a few other minor sects existed. But they have not survived in any significant manner beyond those days. Since that time and until Abraham Geiger and the advent of Reform in 19th century - Judaism was defined as requiring observance of Halacha by all Jews.

It is really too bad that Reform Judaism has done this to the Jewish people. Once they abandoned Halacha as it has been understood throughout Jewish history, they felt free to create any method they chose to serve God. Which brings us back to the approved legislation in the Kenesset that would give them their own space at the Kotel. They can then practice their own version of public prayer. Which defies Halacha as it is and has been understood and interpreted throughout the millennia. Until the Reform movement was established.

That said I had believed that the compromise reached in the Keneset on this issue was a reasonable one. It was far better than continually exacerbating tensions among the Jewish people. Let them have their space – as long as they leave the status quo alone -  allowing Orthodox Jews to pray there as they choose – which is in the traditional manner.

So, I was a bit disappointed at the sudden change of heart by the Charedi parties who originally seemed to look the other way when this compromised was accepted by the Kenesset. But do not for a minute think that they were not acting on principle. It is the very creation of a movement – separate and apart from their ancestors – that is causing the problem. 

Without that, all Jews would understand that it is observant Jews that follow the traditions of their ancestors that have it right. This is in fact the way many secular Israelis understood it. The joke has always been that the Shul that they do not attend is Orthodox! 

They understood that if they wanted to pray to God properly, they would ask the rabbi – who until Reform was always Orthodox. Thus there would never have been this kind of controversy… and we would all be on the same page about what is and isn’t authentic in Judaism. Whether we were observant or not.