Dialogue, Shmialogue

Yaakov M responds to a (Reform) reader:

Oh, and as for your statement: �Sometimes I think we really should engage in dialogue with the OU or whatever� � hear hear! You�re not the first to notice that Reform Temples are faster to dialogue with liberal Christians than with Orthodox Jews. Can you make that happen?

Seriously, now, Yaakov. I think you’re responding to a post from a reader who has many unfortunate misconceptions about “Orthodox” Jews – including the idea that we somehow believe him to be different from us in some matter relating to Jewish status.

Fine, let’s try to clear up those misconceptions.

But, are you actually contending that the “Orthodox” are breathlessly waiting for “dialogue” with Reform institutions? Not in my experience. We aren’t; nor should we be.

The differences between the faiths we embrace are enormous and real – and, ultimately, we aren’t really interested in dialogue (c’mon – not me, not you, not us – I can’t speak for them). We are persuaded that we are correct and are interested in sharing what we have with our brothers and sisters because we feel a powerful bond and affinity (yes – regardless of surface friction, I think we feel a sense of immediate and total identity and connectedness at a core level – I don’t know how universal that is – perhaps it’s something Jews experience in direct proportion to their personal passion for their own identity as Jews, I just know how powerful it is for me and for others with whom I’ve discussed it), and a sense of responsibilty.

People may find that reality warm and reassuring and connecting or manipulative and condescending and a barrier (that’s a function of (a) how open and honest we are and (b) their own insecurities and prejudices or lack thereof), but it is I think more accurate than the implication that we’re interested in an open and frank exchange of doctrinal ideas but we’re being stymied by Reform institutions. (“Can you make it happen?” – seriously, now, Yaakov). I don’t think they’re seriously interested in dialogue either, but that’s not what’s holding us back.

Now, if your point was to counter the suggestion of the reader, which is that Reform are open-minded, but “Orthodox” are not – then we agree. That’s one of those silly liberal conceits and it is worth addressing head-on.

In fact, the only “prejudice” I can think of that we have about Reform as a group is our belief that they don’t think we think they’re Jewish. Thing is, I think that’s true – they don’t think we think they’re Jewish and that frustrates the beyoshke out of us!

Anyway, I apologize if I misinterpreted what you meant to say, or if that really is how you see it – the way it landed on me was more clever polemic than accurate description.

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5 Responses

  1. Elitzur says:

    One last comment on this Reform thing… How many Reform Jews are really Jewish according to Orthodox accounting? Let’s figure this out… About 1980 Reform adopted ‘patrilineal’ descent, intermarriage amongst Reform Jews is at least 50% (undoubtably more, but this is an easy number to work with). From that alone, of the Reform Jews currently of marriageable age at least 25% are not Jewish according to the Orthodox. This does not include converts. Certainly then, what the Orthodox would classify as non-Jews make a large percentage of Reform. So why can the Orthodox assume that Reform are Jewish? Can they count them in a quorum or marry without checking out lineage? Seems to me like they cannot…

  2. “We are persuaded that we are correct…”

    We may well be, but I think we’d project a much nicer image (or even be actually nicer people) if we stopped pretending that our persuasion is wholly objective in nature, and recognize at least that there is a measure of subjectivity conditioning our beliefs. If I can attempt to quote R’ Eliezer Berkovits: “My belief may be that the Torah is from heaven, but that belief itself is not Heaven-sent.”

    – Moishe Potemkin

  3. Sholom Simon says:

    Smacks of False Self-Righteousness

    Oh! Pity us poor Orthodox Jews! The Reform attack us by saying that we don’t think of Reform Jews as “real” Jews! The nerve of that slander!

    Disclaimer: I used to be Reform before I was observant.

    A few quick comments:

    1. When some guy tries to insult another guy, he might say, “you’re not a real man.” News flash: he is not speaking in strictly biological terms. When we answer a Reform Jews complaint that the Orthodox do not regard Reform as “real” Jews by citing halacha that we do indeed consider them Jews, we are (deliberately?) missing the point. Every Orthodox Jew who is capable of hearing and who has ever heard Reform Jews come up in a discussion knows exactly what I mean. So let’s cut to the chase and deal with the real issue: whether we Orthodox truly value every Jew, and whether we pay more than lip service to Pirke Avos when it answers, “who is wise” with “he who learns from every man.”

    2. The suggestion to sic the ADL on a NFTY program, beause the NFTY program dares state the obvious, that we Orthodox Jews look down on Reform because they are less religious, is absurd. That is precisely what we think. And, to repeat my above point, yes, we think of them “less Jewish” the same way that we would regard a man who is wimpy as “less of a man.”

    3. As a former Reform Jew, I can tell you that many Jews have a chip on their shoulder, because they are subjected to a barrage of evidence that the Orthodox don’t think them as legitimate. The way to counter that is with: (a) meeting them face-to-face (many R Jews have _never_ had a conversation with an Orthodox Jew) — yes: that means taking dialogue seriously, not making fun of it; and (b) an outpouring of compassion. Do we really care about every Jew? Do we really believe that kol yisroel areivim zeh l’zeh? Then let’s start acting like it, instead of thinking of the ADL when reading that the Reform think that we think the Reform are “less Jewish”. Let’s start asking ourselves why we think that. The answer to sinas chinam is ahavas chinam; the answer to darkness is more light.

  4. Gil Student says:

    Regardless of the percentage of Reform Jews who are halakhically Jewish, according to R. Moshe Feinstein one is allowed to teach Torah to a mixed crowd if one’s intended audience is the Jews.

    From our perspective, the reason for dialogue with Reform is to gain exposure for our ideas. Most Reform Jews have no clue about Orthodox Judaism and believe it to be some sort of medieval paganism. Merely getting them to see an eloquent and intelligent spokesperson for Orthodoxy will unquestionably kindle some flames of interest. And if not, it will at least gain respect for traditional Torah Judaism. That alone is a tremendous Kiddush Hashem.

    The very real question of legitimation was once relevant but no longer. No one makes mistakes about such matters, as is clear from the many people who think we do not consider adherents of Reform to be Jewish. Is there even a chance that they think we consider their rabbis to be legitimate?

  5. Elitzur says:

    I’m aware of R’ Moshe Feinstein’s opinion. But that doesn’t mean Orthodox Jews count them as part of a quorom right? So when do we hear the Orthodox rabbinate say outright that their constituents can no longer marry a Reform Jew unless there is an extensive family check to insure they are Jewish according to the Orthodox?

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