Reform Youth –Cont’d

I just had a look at the full text of the statement of Reform youth leaders, not just the parts that have been widely quoted. It is not only the ready acquiescence in Amnesty International’s and Human Rights Watch’s condemnations of Israel that saddens. It is the way that the “youth leaders” are taught to use Jewish texts.

Certain phrases or statements are taken to stand for the whole of Jewish thought and law on a given subject. Thus the letter begins, “As future leaders of the Reform movement, we heed the call of Rabbi Hillel to be from the students of Aaron and love peace and pursue peace.” I wonder if the earnest signatories of the letter are familiar with another statement of Hillel, or for that matter another Mishna from Avos. I suspect that this quote was simply yanked from context and made part of a catechism, one of whose principal tenets is that war is always bad and peace is always good. The Conservative Movement does the same kind of thing with the prosbul. The more identified members of the movement may never have opened up a Gemara in their lives, but if challenged for the source that halacha is infinitely malleable according to the needs and the spirit of the time will triumphantly brandish the prosbul aloft as decisive proof. Here too one can be sure that little time has been invested in the sugya of prosbul.

Here is another example of the way the letter employs texts: “As we recall from the story of Sodom and Gomorah, G-d agrees to spare the cities if Avraham can find ten innocent civilians.” Ten innocent civilians, however defined, is an interesting translation of tzadikim, righteous men. But that is what comes of using classical texts only as proofs for already determined positions.

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10 Responses

  1. JB says:

    Why waste your breath on the reform? The chritians have been doing the same thing for many more years. ie:pulling one mistranslated verse to support a position.

  2. Gil says:

    You can see similar attitudes from a Reform leader in R. Reinman’s book with Hirsch. Or at least you could, if the book hadn’t been banned.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    Gil, You of all people should know that the book was never banned — only the joint speaking tour.

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    How about another pertinent statement of Chazal:

    Ha ba lehargechah hashkeh, ve hargoh?

  5. Gil says:

    I believe the statement from the Moetzes decried the book itself. According to the Jewish Observer (Dec. 2002, p. 6; Feb. 2003, p. 19), the Moetzes officially “rejected the premise of the book, and therefore the book itself.”

  6. Joel Rich says:

    But that is what comes of “”using classical texts only as proofs for already determined positions.””

    An interesting statement – and aiui according to many commentaries the definition of an asmachta as used by Chazal in the Talmud.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:


    It is more nuanced than that. Their expression of disapproval for the implicit recognition of Ammiel Hirsch as a Rabbi did not mean that any of Rav Reinman’s content was faulty. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover” — but in this case it was the cover that was the problem, rather than what was inside.

  8. Steve Brizel says:

    Joel-Take a look at the Ritva’s definition of asmachta in RH 16b and ask yourself whether your view or that of Rambam can be squared with that of Ritva. It is obvious to anyone who read the R Y Neiman interchange with R r Hirsch should be aware that RJ’s leaders and next generation has less knowledge of critical Jewish texts and commentaries than the average yeshivah student. How many R Jews are familiar with the mitzvos as defined by Chazal and Rishonim such as Shabbos, Kashrus, as well Mitzvas Michiyas Amalek and Mitzvas Yishuv EY as opposed to what they view as “tikun olam”? R J has consistently misappropriate sources for its own POV . This just represents the latest instance of the same.

  9. Joel Rich says:

    I’m very well aware of the Ritva’s approach which is why I wrote “according to many commentaries”. IIRC the Ritva’s approach is not the generally accepted approach and certainly doesn’t explain asmachta’s from Nach. In any event my point was if one disagrees with the Reform one still needs to be careful to articulate the difference and not use arguments which, if not clearly articulated, lead to conclusions such as “well they quote scripture and so do you so I guess it’s a toss up”, or “gee that sounds like what my Rabbi does every week in his drasha.”


  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Joel-I think that what you have alluded to is a Machlokes Rishonim as to the definition of an asmachta between Rambam and Ramban/Ritva. I do agree with your point that there are better ways to disagree with R other than arguments based on Scripture.

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