Sore Point IV

A reader commented that there are plenty of statements by prominent Orthodox authorities to the effect that we believe that Reform Jews are not really Jewish. He illustrates this with the following quote:

Do a quick google search and you will lots and lots of Orthodox statements that prove the Reform perspective.
Below is a recent quote from Rabbi M.D. Tendler as reported in the official paer of YU.

�Expressing his angst at the problem that the Conservative and Reform movements pose for Torah Judaism, Tendler expressed his belief that these liberal movements are �no longer part of the stock; no longer part of the tree of Judaism� in light of their �aggressive� attitude in claiming that Orthodox Jews are outcasts and that they now represent �true Judaism.� According to Tendler, Reform Judaism is �no longer a Jewish faith,� and Conservative Jews �don�t know who they are� by denying the halakhic process. Tendler went on to caution that it is inappropriate for Torah Jews to participate in Conservative prayer services, fearing that it might lead to legitimization of their dogma.�

But this quote proves nothing of the sort. It is a statement about the legitimacy of competing faith-systems, promulgated in the first instance by Jews, calling themselves “X (fill in the adjective) Judaism” and not conforming to basic Judaic tenets. It most emphatically is not a statement that a Jew who adheres to the Reform faith is any less Jewish than a Jew who adheres to Orthodoxy. From our perspective, a Jew can embrace Jainism, Islam, Santaria, whatever – he remains 100% Jewish, regardless of his thoughts. Nothing in this statement contradicts that basic precept.

As for its charge that the Reform faith is not compatible with Judaism. I mean, it is impossible not to recognize that “Reform Judaism” differs from “Orthodox Judaism” in fundamental matters of creed. So it is no insult to say they are different faiths. Reform, as its name implies, is an innovation – we believe a departure – whereas the criticism of Orthodoxy from the Reform is that it is too unchanging. So, if there was such a thing as Judaism and some people continue to practice it while others have created something new and different – they are Jews (under the unchanged definition) but their system isn’t Judaism.

The quote simply restates what is obviously true: the system now calling itself “Reform Judaism” is not consistent with normative Judaism which actually has certain core tenets not found in Reform.

Reform’s adherents include both Jews and non-Jews – but affiliating with Reform Judaism does nothing to impact one’s status as a Jew one way or the other. What all segments of Orthodoxy agree on as a matter of imutable doctrine is that normative Judaism has no doctrinal litmus tests – meaning that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, regardless of what he or she does or doesn’t believe or do.

Interestingly, it can be argued that Reform does have an ideological litmus test. If a Jew does not conform to their basic tenets, they will cut him off and consider him no longer Jewish. If a Jew professes, for example, to believe that Jesus was the messiah or accepts Mohammed as a prophet, the Reform say he is not a Jew. We say that his beliefs may be completely inconsistent with Judaism – but he remains a Jew.

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9 Responses

  1. baalabus says:

    “We say that his beliefs may be completely inconsistent with Judaism – but he remains a Jew.”

    There are some opinions that a meshumad – e.g., one who’s professes belief in Jesus and the rites of Christinanity in earnest – will require geirus (conversion) to become Jewish again. So it’s not as simple as you make it.

  2. Michoel says:

    It seems that part of the disconnect here is a cultural difference in processing information. Orthodox Jews are trained to ask “what does this actually say”. Whithout, chas v’shalom comprimising a clear and accurate Torah view, when we communicate with our non-Orthodox bretheren, we have to be very carefull to speak in terms that they will hear the right way.

  3. Elitzur says:

    I think the problem is a rather simple one (but difficult to solve).
    The Reform movement at one point redefined Judaism as a religion NOT a nation. Thus, like Christianity, Reform defines Judaism as whether or not one performs their religous duties. Therefore, when Reform looks at Orthodoxy – to Reform – Orthodox Jews don’t consider Reform Jewish since Orthodoxy doesn’t believe in the validity of Reform religous expression.

    Orthodox Judaism believes that Jews are both a religous group and a nation. Thus, it is possible to remove oneself from the religous group and still be Jewish. Since Judaism is a nation one can’t become not-Jewish anymore than an Italian can change the place of his birth. So in some sense the Reform Jew is correct. According to their understanding of Judaism Orthodoxy cannot consider them part of the religous community. But Orthodox Jews still see Reform as Jewish since they are still part of the Jewish Nation.

  4. Barry D Bayer says:

    Is THAT all you were saying: “If born of a Jewish Mother you remain a Jew no matter what you believe.” OK! If you wish to believe, for example, that someone who has publicly and privately renounced Judaism of any sort and has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior remains a Jew, fine. But…so what?!

    As a Jew affiliated with the Reform movement — I won’t pretend to speak for others — I can only say that ir you denigrate my religious practices and call them “not Jewish” then you denigrate me, also. And the basic premise of what you claim from the Reform Movement comments is true.

    I first experienced this nonsense in the late 50s, coming into a second hour Hebrew High School class, together with Reform and Conservative colleagues, eating an ice cream bar picked up, on break, from the local grocery store. The teacher, an Orthodox Jew and obviously more than a little hungry, went ballistic when she saw us eating on Tannis Esther, launching a five minute tirade culminating in “You Reform Jews are Goyim!” (The injustice: of the 9 of us walking into the class eating, only two were Reform. The others were there mostly because they wanted to go to Camp Ramah that summer.)

    I have since encountered more such negative comments from Orthodox Jews than from the occasional personal antisemetic comment from non-Jews.

    You are correct: most of these comments refer to my mode of belief and practice, not to me personally. (Although my son did get a lot of crap from the Rabbinut while obtaining a license to marry an Israeli a few years back.)

    What I suspect are your beliefs aren’t “normative” in the United States nor in Israel. I won’t hold your non-normastive approach to affirming your Judaism against you. Particularly if you, although thinking that I am wrong, don’t hold my (closer to normative) approach against me.

    As you may know, the Reform movement is commencing a Jewish / Christian (see, for example, www. My congregation will be “paired with a local church affiliated with the pcusa — lots to talk about there.) Sometimes I think we really should engage in dialoge with the OU or whatever.

  5. Michoel says:

    I have to tell you in all sincerity, that I am shocked that your experience with Orthodox Jews has been so negative. My wife and I scupulously teach our children to love all Jews and we certainly try to set a good example. I don’t know anyone that does differently. If you say it’s been that bad, I believe you but I am telling you truthfully that, from this side of the debate, I just don’t see it at all.

  6. Michoel says:

    You have a nice lumdishe pshat but I don’t think it really works that way. The official view of the Reform Movement may well be to view Jews as a “worship group” but the average Reform Jew, I think, views himself as part of the Jewish People.

  7. Elitzur says:

    Michoel – Barry’s comment just proves my point. He says that since Orthodox don’t sanction his religous practices he also feels disenfranchised. So, comments like Tendler’s to him can probably be translated as you’re not Jewish.

    Barry – I agree with your suggestion. I have no idea why Orthodox and Reform pretend to be practicing the same religion when any objective study shows they are worlds apart. Your Reform Temple should be set up with an Orthodox Synagogue to build understanding between the two faiths.

    And, no, I’m not being sarcastic here. I’ll be happy if someone can explain to me why Reform and Orthodoxy are any closer the liberal streams of Christianity with Reform and the conservatice streams with Orthodoxy. Just take Jesus out of the picture and the worldviews match up much better the way I’ve grouped them…

  8. Michoel says:

    I just don’t think their feelings of rejection are coming (generally) from any kind of analysis. It’s more of a general “you think I’m a goy!”.

  9. Kevin says:

    Respectfully: the Reform Movement is composed of Jews and B’nai Noach.

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