Friday, December 23, 2022

It's Not About Reform Jews. It's About Reform Judaism

Reform Rabbi Rick Jacobs (URJ)
Reform Rabbi Rick Jacob is angry. Can’t say I blame him. He is upset that the new government will be more influenced by Orthodox Jews than at any other time in its history. Although he doesn’t quite put it that way, that is clearly what upsets him.  I don’t blame him because Orthodox Judaism does indeed reject the legitimacy of his denomination. 

We in fact consider it to be anti Jewish for the simple reason that Judaism is defined by a Torah that requires all Jews to follow its laws. God’s laws. That his denomination considers those laws optional destroys any claim of authenticity.

But as I said he doesn’t put it that way. He simply says that he will reject the new extremist right wing government. Here is how he puts it:

…we’ll fight Israel’s new extremist political agenda with the determination of the Maccabees.

Rabbi Jacobs makes the same mistake many secular Jews make about what the Maccabees were fighting for. It was not for democracy. It was for the freedom to worship as they choose and follow the Mitzvos of the Torah. Something Rabbi Jacobs does not believe is necessary. 

The idea that the Maccabees were fighting for Jews to do as they please is so ridiculous that it is laughable.  A 3rd grader with the slightest bit of Jewish education would know that freedom to be a secular Jew was not what the Maccabees were fighting for. 

In fact the Greek government that ruled over the Jewish people at that time actually wanted Jews to be secular. Their whole purpose was to disabuse them of the requirement to do the Mitzvos of the Torah.. And live the same lifestyle their Greek rulers did. Rabbi Jacobs would have been quite comfortable living that lifestyle. 

He also said the following: 

Authentic Judaism is much more diverse and expansive than the restrictive definitions of the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

And he is not alone. Just about all of heterodoxy has been saying the same thing.  

I actually agree with that comment. There are many streams of observant Judaism that are authentic But it is also clear that authentic Judaism does not include any form of Judaism that dismisses the requirement of all Jews to follow the laws of the Torah. Which is exactly what Reform Judaism does. It dismisses that requirement completely. 

All of this outrage is generated by the fact that the new governing coalition includes a the right wing Religious Zionist Party of Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. 

As I have said many times, I am not a fan of the politics or the policies of these 2 people. I do not favor the creation or expansion of settlements deep into the West Bank. I reject their support of extremist settlers who do that. I reject their constant incitement of Palestinians with angry rhetoric - or by entering Har HaBayis in threatening ways. I reject their defense of right wing extremists (like Hill Top Youth) that have attacked (in what the call price tag raids) innocent Palestinian families - and even their own government when they disagreed with their policies 

Those values are not my values I would have preferred that they not be included in the new government. But as I have also said - as did Secretary of State Blinken - the new government ought to be given a chance to govern and see what develops. All we had till now was a lot of partisan rhetoric and posturing. It is what will happen next that counts. We shall see pretty quickly how that works out. 

But I believe that Rabbi Jacobs is far more upset that his movement is rejected by the religious parties than he is about their politics.. No matter how he puts it.

Rabbi Jacobs makes another accusation. Not sure if it is on purpose or if he really believes it. But what he says is absolutely false: 

Loud voices within the new Israeli government are distinguished by their hatred for those who are not like them: non-Orthodox Jews (...among others). 

The truth is that I do not believe for a moment that even Jews as right wing as Ben Gvir, hates non-Orthodox Jews. He may have put it that way – which is unfortunate. But what he probably really hates is the movement to which those Jews belong. A movement that has led many Jews astray ever since its founding in the 19th century: Rabbi Jacobs’ Reform Movement. 

True,  Rabbi Jacobs is not totally at fault. His education about Judaism was warped by the Reform Rabbis and teachers that educated him. Nonetheless, his campaign to legitimize his movement in Israel must be vigorously opposed. On that level I agree with Smotrich and Ben Givr. (Although not with their tactics.)

To be absolutely clear, it’s not that I think Israel should force all of it secular Jews to be observant. Quite the contrary. I still believe in the status quo balance between religious and secular Jews. I am opposed to anyone who tires to change that in either direction. But at the same time I am vigorously opposed to telling secular Jews that Judaism considers non observance of the Mitzvos perfectly fine.

What about the fallout of this approach? Will it not harm American support if Israel’s new government is seen as rejecting the 90% of American Jewry?

Well… that just it.  Israel should in no way reject them.  They need to be embraced with open arms. And not told how to live their lives. However, they must also know that authentic Judaism does not accept any form of Judaism that rejects even tiniest Mitzvah in the Torah. If we are silent... if we don’t make that absolutely clear we fail in our mission of spreading Emes to our own people.