Piece Plan

The title of Reform Rabbi David Forman’s column in the Jerusalem Post was certainly intriguing. “Let’s Declare Ourselves a Separate Religion,” it read.

Israel, of course, grants a large measure of independence to a variety of religious groups represented among its citizenry. Eastern Orthodox Christian religious leaders are empowered to oversee religious rites and determine personal status issues in their community and they receive funds from the government; the same privileges are afforded the Roman Catholic community, the Muslim, the Bahai and others. Rabbi Forman seemed to be dangling a novel way for non-Orthodox Jewish groups to qualify for their own rights and benefits, to claim their own, so to speak, piece of the action.

Most of the article was a venting of Reform and Conservative ire over the fact that traditional Jewish religious law, or halacha, applied through the auspices of official Israeli rabbinate, governs Jewish status issues like conversion and marriage in the Jewish State. That policy, which has been in place since Israel’s birth more than sixty years ago, the writer contended, constitutes a “thrust[ing of] religious medievalism down the throats of a secular citizenry.” And as a result, he charged, Israel “is slipping into a theocracy.”

The columnist went on to claim that the “Orthodox establishment” is “undermining the cause of peace” – presumably for taking groups like Hamas at their words – and represents “the cohabitation of a chauvinistic theology with a religious ego.” The Orthodox, moreover, he wrote, are ensuring “that Israel fits neatly into the Middle East panoply of extremist states.”

Then there was more, later in the piece, about the “profane ruminations” and “blasphemous perorations” of some Orthodox rabbis. But you get the idea.

The article, however, contained less heated, more sensible words too. Following the fulminations, the writer offered his honest admission that “the Reform and Conservative movements” are in fact “a separate religion.” And so, he continued, the most honest and straightforward way for those movements to attain clerical privileges of their own is for them to admit as much – to declare themselves, as per the piece’s title, “a separate religion from Orthodoxy.”

A subtle dissembling, though, hides in that last word. For “Orthodoxy” is simply the name that the Reform and Conservative movements gave to what “Judaism” meant for millennia prior – to what those movements sought to supplant when they birthed themselves.

Over scores of generations until relatively recently, the Jewish religion was synonymous with the belief that the Torah – whose Written and Oral components are reflected and amplified in the corpus of halacha – is divinely decreed, unchangeable and incumbent on all Jews. Movements that chose to put aside that belief, in whole or in part (as by considering contemporary mores to trump the Torah’s), separated themselves not from some mere “branch” of Judaism. They severed themselves conclusively from the trunk of the tree; they departed from what constituted the Jewish faith since Sinai. To be sure, their Jewish-born followers remain Jews in every way; a Jew is a Jew, whatever his or her congregational affiliation. But the belief systems that those movements – qua movements – embrace are at irreconcilable odds with the Judaism of the ages – which is based on affirmation of the Torah’s timelessness and halacha’s sacrosanctity.

So when Rabbi Forman, after offering his admirable admission, goes on to imagine that a Reform and Conservative self-declaration as a new religion will reduce Orthodoxy to “merely one of three branches of Judaism,” he is attempting to have his new faith and delete it too. If he wishes the “non-Orthodoxies” to be considered a different religion, the theological justification is manifestly there; but let the move be honest, clear and decisive.

If it will be, then the new religion will have legitimate claim to the very same rights, privileges and determinations as are enjoyed by other independent and discrete faiths in Israel today.

Rabbi Forman is confident that, in the wake of the announcement of a new religion for Jews, “Reform and Conservative conversion classes would soar,” the halacha-respecting rabbinate’s “religious and social influence” would wane, “Orthodoxy’s stranglehold on the political system” would be “mercifully loosened” and “vibrancy, inclusiveness and progressiveness” would result.

Perhaps; and maybe birds will sing, too, and peace reign throughout the land. But Israeli polls have shown that, despite determined efforts by the non-Orthodox movements over decades to promote themselves, a clear majority of Israelis – even if they are not personally halacha-observant – still consider traditional Jewish beliefs and law to define Judaism. It is hard to imagine that declaring non-Orthodox movements a new religion will create a flood of applicants clamoring to join.

But whether it will or it won’t – or, for that matter, whether or not Rabbi Forman’s suggestion is taken up in earnest – by acknowledging the essential disparity between the Judaism of time immemorial and contemporary divergences from it, the rabbi has performed a Jewish public service.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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31 Responses

  1. Ori says:

    The reason for the growing strength of Orthodoxy in Israel is not the marriage and conversion laws. It is, quite simply, demographics. IIRC Charedim are 10% of the Israeli population, but 25% of first graders. In twelve years, those first graders are going to vote. Orthodoxy’s political power in Israel is not going to go away.

    Rabbi David Forman is allowed to not like it. I know plenty of other Israelis who don’t like it either. And I’m sure that many of the residents of the old Yishuv didn’t like the infusion of secular Olim in the early years of the Zionist movement.

  2. Moishe Potemkin says:

    But Israeli polls have shown that, despite determined efforts by the non-Orthodox movements over decades to promote themselves, a clear majority of Israelis – even if they are not personally halacha-observant – still consider traditional Jewish beliefs and law to define Judaism.

    This polling would be a wonderful thing if our goal was only some sort of popularity contest among various religious streams. It’s quite a disaster if the goal is to actually broaden adherence to “traditional Jewish beliefs and law”.

  3. David N. Friedman says:

    I must express some disagreement with Rabbi Shafran. A significant percentage of today’s Orthodox world, myself included, has roots in the heterodox movements. The links between Jews will widen artificially and this will only prove positive for the egos of Reform ‘Rabbis’ who despise the Orthodox and the Orthodox who dislike the Reform.

    I would like to be the first to propose to shoot this idea down quickly, even if it is a farce that Jewish unity can exist–we must act as if it can exist. We must see the Jewish people as one even if a portion is tied to the mitzvot and the higher ideals of our faith and a portion tied with barely a thread hanging but authentic Jews nonetheless. More than merely “authentic” they all have the potential to change their level of observance and for me, only God knows if they are better Jews than myself. The suggestion that liberal Jews need to be another, separate religion must be resisted at all costs. One can even get the sense that opposing Jews fear the greatest cost is that such an effort might actually make Jews bond together more strongly.

    Rabbi Forman hates that Jewish law rules life cycle events in Israel. He needs to be convinced to change his mind and we need to help him.

    Rabbi Shafran applauds the honest assessment that Jews are fractured today in a way we have not been throughout our history. But if I am estranged from my brother, would Rabbi Shafran suggest that I break from him? If it is my children and my cousins that do not agree, should we cite “irreconcilable differences” and move on? I am sorry–we are stuck with each other and we need to take every opportunity to find common ground.

  4. Nathan says:

    “[Reform] Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Boulder, Colorado, told a stunned audience here that she has a Christmas tree in her home each December…”

    “[she said:] … to do it any other way would be less than

    SOURCE: The Jewish Week, November 17, 2000, page 36,
    article: “Frank Talk On Intermarriage” by Stewart Ain.

  5. Nathan says:

    The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Loeb ben Yechiel Michael, born 1809, died 1879)was recognized as a Talmudic genius while still a child.
    In 1858 he became Chief Rabbi of Romania.

    In 1864 he was imprisoned because of false accusations of disloyalty launched against him by the local Reform Judaism movement, which he actively opposed. His Bible commentary was completed in 1876.
    SOURCE: Encyclopedia Judaica

  6. Raymond says:

    I feel weird being the first one to make a comment here, but the title of this article is what caught my attention.

    As I have said in other places on this website, I am not a religious man. However, I would like to think that I am also not a dishonest man. And it has long struck me that any of the non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism is fradulent, in the sense that they claim to represent valid forms of Judaism, when by definition, they do not.

    The greatest Jewish philosopher who ever lived, Maimonidies, simplified this matter for us, by writing down Judaism’s Thirteen Principles of Faith. I am no Torah scholar, but it is my understanding that one of those principles is that the tradition of Judaism that can literally be traced from Abraham down to the present day, is sacrosanct. That is, whatever are the components of Judaism, particularly its law, must be in line with that multi-generational tradition of Rabbinical leaders. This is seen as a continuation of the relevation that all of us Jews had at the foot of Mount Sinai, upon experiencing G-d’s Revelation of the Torah.

    My point is not to suddenly sound so religious myself, but rather to state the most fundamental Jewish beliefs, without which there is no meaningful Judaism. As much as I might enjoy aspects of popular Jewish culture such as gefilte fish, chulent, the incomparably beautiful music of the late great Israeli singer Ofra Haza, and the literary works of Isaac Singer and Samuel Agnon, none of those things represent the strictest definitions of Judaism the way legalistic, Rabbinically-based Judaism does.

    And as for Torah-true Judaism having a stranglehold on Jewish law in Israel, that claim has to be some kind of joke. All I ever hear about is how the Jewish courts in Israel consistently decide law in a way that thumbs its collective nose at Torah law. If anything, I have long maintained that one of the biggest problems in Israeli society, is that the courts are run by secular leftists rather than controlled by the Beit Din. I also happen to think that in order to be Prime Minister of Israel, one should at least have the deceny to keep kosher, but maybe my standards are not realistic.

  7. Karen says:

    Not to be confused with the Orthodox Rabbi David FOHRMAN, please….

  8. Ori says:

    Nathan: In 1864 he was imprisoned because of false accusations of disloyalty launched against him by the local Reform Judaism movement, which he actively opposed.

    Ori: May I respectfully point out that everybody involved in this is dead, and that none of the leaders of Reform Judaism today have even been students of anybody guilty of this? Do you also still bear a grudge against the Italians for destroying the Second Temple, or the Iraqis for the First?

  9. Ori says:

    Raymond: And as for Torah-true Judaism having a stranglehold on Jewish law in Israel, that claim has to be some kind of joke. All I ever hear about is how the Jewish courts in Israel consistently decide law in a way that thumbs its collective nose at Torah law.

    Ori: Two different things.

    Israel has a secular court system for most matters: criminal law, civil law, etc. That system rules in accordance with Israeli law, passed by the Knesset, with little or no reference to Halacha – just as US courts function without any reference to religious law.

    Marital issues, however, are given the religious courts under Israeli law. This means that there is a system of Beit Din-s that determines marriages and divorces. In some cases it tells secular Israelis that they may not get married because of Halacha, which causes a lot of resentment. In other cases they leave women Agunot because the husband refuses to sign a divorce document – again, causing resentment. That is the system Reform Rabbi David Forman attacks.

  10. Raymond says:

    I feel I need to clarify what I wrote in my previous entry here. The best way I can think of doing this, is to recall the following joke:

    Q: What is the difference between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews?
    A: Going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, the Orthodox Jew drives there, but parks several blocks away, turning red in embarrassment if anybody catches him. The conservative congregant drives and parks in the shul parking lot without any sense of guilt. And in the Reform Temple, the Rabbi him (or her!)self drives right up to the entrance of the shul.

    Okay, so I am not a great joke teller, but the point is, that it is one thing to violate Jewish law, and quite another thing to act as if one is committing some kind of holy act by violating that same Jewish law.

    But that is what the non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are all about. It seems to me that one should have enough personal integrity to simply admit that one is not religious, rather than create a whole so-called religious movement around it, and then pretend it has equal legitimacy to the form of Judaism that has so far lasted approximately 3,319 years.

  11. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I don’t see why the recognition of heterodox Judaism as a separate religion should prevent kiruv. There are plenty of Christians who have converted to Judaism and plenty of adherents of non-Jewish religions who have discovered Jewish roots and returned to them. We are ready to receive such people if they are serious, and if not, not. RSR Hirsch did the same in Germany. Most secular Israelis will tell you that the shul that they don’t go to is Orthodox. Most non-practicing or non-orthodox Israelis are traditional and whenever they feel like some Yiddishkeit, it’s usually some brand of orthodoxy, whether hareidi, hasidic, religious kibbutz or Merkaz HaRav with a big knitted kippa. It is very seldom Conservative or Reform, and when it is, it is usually in a fit of pique against the Orthodox. From time to time an anti-religious party such as Meretz or Shinui allies itself with the heterodox movements, but only to stick it to O. Demography will win out in the not too distant future. But we will have to be prepared to govern when that happens. Passing the buck is not an option when you are the majority.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Rabbi Forman’s article struck me as quite ironic. RJ was probably the heterodox movement that basically maintained a hostility to Zionism and the concept of a Jewish state in the writings of its founders and earliest theological roots in Germany . Post WW2 RJ buried that fact somewhat conveniently as a consequence of the Holocaust. One cannot compare this hostility to those elements of the Charedi world that rejected having anything to do with the State of Israel. Unlike RJ, those segments of the Charedi world obviously believed in a Mitzvah of Yishuv EY-they vociferously disagreed with the tactics of secular Zionism. OTOH, RJ proudly maintained that Berlin was their Jerusalem.

    Having failed to convince a substantial number of Israelis in the rightness of its mission and having failed to transplant any significant numbers of American olim, one detects a strong sense of sour grapes in this article. Like it or not, the facts on the ground in Israel are that there are far more Orthodox Jews, Charedi and RZ who study, live, raise families and contribute to the economic and social welfare of Israel than both of the heterodox movements that have been rejected by the majority of the not yet Orthodox public as American transplants. Having failed to create facts on the ground, R Forman’s solution is an attempt to change the rules that is ala taking one’s bat, ball and glove home rather than abide by the rules of the game.

  13. Chaim Fisher says:

    Avi Shafran brings home the neat news again. Thank you!

    The truth is the Israeli secular public always sneered at Reform and Conservative. The joke was that they said, “That’s not the Jewish religion that I don’t practice!”

  14. Jewish Observer says:

    “Reform Rabbi David Forman’s …”

    – I studied with David at Ner Israel, and though his ideas are innovative I think it’ a stretch to call him Reform

  15. Simcha Younger says:

    As much as I agree with the basic point of the article, I think that the status of Orthodoxy in Israel would do much better without the official Israeli rabbinate. Institutionalized religion, and especially forcing itself on people who do not want it, creates many enemies and few freinds.

    The Rabbinate is also subject to alot of pressure from secular sources, and they cannot freely implement the Halacha correctly. I am not even sure why the Rabbinate is a kosher Beit Din, since they only have power from an irreligious governemnt, and not by public acceptance, see Choshen Mishpat 3:4 .

    Orthodoxy would serve itself best, and greatly increase repect for religion among the entire Israeli society, if they would not control personal status, and few people would care at all about the alternatives offerred by Reform and Conservative which today have little appeal beyond the legal aspects.

  16. fyi says:

    david forman

    founder of Rabbis for Human Rights

    David Forman David Forman is the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights. He served as RHR’s chairperson between 1988 and 1992 and between 2002 and 2003…

    Rabbi Forman holds a Doctor of Divinity degree from Hebrew Union College (1997). He received his rabbinic ordination (1972) and MA degree (1970) from Hebrew Union College and a Bachelor’s of Arts from Franklin College (1968)…

  17. Leah says:

    Raymond on comment #10:
    I am inclined to agree with you here. I remember speaking with a lovely lady who is married to a reform rabbi and I said something about my own or my family ‘s or something or other about Shabbos observance and she , although politely, said that she is jewish, too and that she celebrates Shabbos in the way that she wants to and this is fine. (She mentioned that she likes to garden) and therefore THIS is Shabbos observance because it brings pleasure to her etc…..
    I felt so sad because I wanted to keep the relationship open, non-judgemental and peaceful and therefore I did not “correct” anything about her comment(opinion) and also I definately felt a million miles away from being able to really relate to her jewishly.
    I do think that what non-observant jews miss is something so obvious:
    Hashem gave the laws and did not divide us to individual groups that are “allowed” to observe” and into those groups that are not allowed or do not have to.
    It seems that “until end of days” has been dismissed for “because technology has advanced and therefore we do not have to or do not feel like it.” has been placed in Hashem’s place instead.

  18. Raymond says:

    Concerning the issue of the interaction between Zionism and and the different religious movements within Judaism that has just been brought up, my feeling about this is that there is a vast difference between Reform Jews in Germany of the past who called Berlin their new Jerusalem, and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups who oppose the State of Israel.

    Part of my religious background includes attending private, Orthodox Jewish schools from the time I was five years old, until I graduated high school twelve years later. I have also studied in various yeshivot in Israel, have attended endless Torah lectures here in Los Angeles, and have literally read hundreds of Torah books in my home. But there was a point in my life when I had gone away from all this, exploring other ideologies, which I will not go in to now since it is not relevant to what I want to say here.

    At one point, though, when I started returning to Judaism, I decided to pick up the best translation of the Torah I know, and simply read it, without commentaries, just read the actual Torah from beginning to end. So I read through Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s Living Torah, and have read it many times since then. Somehow, what kind of caught me off guard the most about the book, is how much the Torah is geared toward the Land of Israel, so much so that the book almost seems like the ultimate Zionist propaganda book. It is as if G-d Himself is the Ultimate Zionist. Previous to that, I had associated Zionism with organizations I had been involved with as a child, such as Bnai Akiva.

    I say this to put in context how the nature of the opposition to Israel differs between non-Orthodox Jews, and ultra-Orthodox Jews. When non-Orthodox Jews oppose Israel, they are doing so because they oppose the binding nature of the Torah, period. Too many of such Jews, end up being some of our worst enemies, such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ehud Olmert’s wife and daughter, George Soros, and any of our people who helped get Jimmy Carter and barack Hussein obama into power.

    In contrast, when ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose Israel, it is the secular nature of its government that it opposes. I personally do not happen to agree with their stance on the mixing of the genders, yet on a certain level, I can at least understand where they are coming from, that they wish to maintain the purity of Jewish law and the proper Jewish way of life. You can be sure that even the most anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Jew, still prays three times a day for the coming of the real Messiah in our day, and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

    I remember years ago hearing what I thought was a fascinating story about the Satmer Rebbe. He had a reputation for being anti-Israel. Well, one day some reporter or somebody similar to that, caught the Satmer Rebbe praying at the Western Wall! Shocked, the reporter asked him how he could do that, when he is against the State of Israel. I am paraphrasing, but essentially the Satmer Rebbe said, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw the Jews worshiping the golden calf, he threw down in anger the Tablets carrying the Ten Commandments. Yet when he was alone with G-d, he prayed to G-d for the salvation of his Jewish people.”

    I sure do love those Jewish stories.

  19. Sol says:

    Jewish Observer – you are confusing 2 very different David Formans. One name; 2 completely separate persons.

    Ori – while the people mentioned by Nathan are certainly no longer alive, they are all part of the same ideological movement, namely, one which seeks to uproot the Torah from the Jews. The comparison to Italy etc. is a non-sequitor as Italy is a geographic location, not an ideological movement and no one would say that today’s Italians are an extension of the Roman Empire. (I personally think Europe descended from Catholocism descended from the Holy Roman Empire is an extension of the Roman Empire and quite frankly, yes, they still hate Jews to this very day, would re-burn the temple, and only a fool would trust them)

    When Reform had the power and felt the need, they used despicable means to achieve their goals which in and of themselves are despicable, namely the overthrowing of the Torah as the guiding light of Jewry, cholila. The only difference btwn now and then is that non-Orthodoxy is already the dominant force in Jewry and that battle is over. They achieved their goals and put those weapons down. Many of them have now simply turned to completely leaving the Jewish people for good. But they still fight very hard wherever they can to to do their best to see to it that Orthodoxy does not make any comeback, god forbid. The current state of things does not provide a stage for the kinds of tricks they used in the past, just differnt tricks more suited to the times.

    The silver lining in the cloud of assimilation is that like the idol worshippers of the first temple, the sadducees of the second and the karaites of medieval Europe, Reform etc. will cease to be an historic force in Jewry over the next half a century. It is my prayer that the transitional stage of the Jewish people’s return to being a nation guided by the Torah be a succesful one. May it include a % of Jews much higher than the 20% of the Jews who left Egypt and more than the remnant of the tribe of Judah the Chorosh and Masger – a fraction of that one-twelfth of the nation to survive Sancherriv.

  20. L.Oberstein says:

    Religion is the cause of so much disention. There is no question that Reform Judaism is based on prinicples far removed from orthodoxy. With so much intermarriage, what really unites the orthodox with the Reform? Is there a shared fate, a shared destiny, a common heritage, a tribal relationship? I am not sure,but I don’t want to chase them away, most don’t know enough to be non believers, they could still become returnees to observance.
    The problem I have with articles of this kind is that there is so much wrong with orthodoxy in Israel that it is hard to champion anything the rabbinate stands for. The mixture of religion and state has been very unhealthy for any real religion being connected to the establishment of religion. It is hard to see true Jewish values in much that passes for orfficial Judaism in Israel. There are pockets of light however.

  21. Alvin Temperland says:

    Steve – Many, many, many chareidi leaders do not believe that there is currently a mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz.

  22. Yitz Turner says:

    re: 14
    The David Forman you know is not the same as the one in the artical.
    I assume that is what post #16 was trying to tell you.
    PS the REAL RABBI Forman has an excellent lecture series where he answers the questions and problems of Bill Mohyer on PBS (?sp)

  23. Nathan says:

    Rabbi David B. Hollander said:

    The Church does not target Orthodox Jews,
    knowing they have a religion…

    They [Reform and Conservative] are Jews without Judaism,
    and the Church is aware of this.

    The Church, therefore, seeing that many Jewish leaders
    are disregarding their Jewish religious obligations,
    want to save their souls by offering them Christianity
    as a better alternative to no religion at all.

    SOURCE: 2008 February 29, The Jewish Press, page 65

  24. barry says:

    A personal quibble with your ‘joke’:
    While there may be Jews who drive to the Orthodox synagogue they regularly attend, they would probbaly be the first to admit that they are not, personally, Orthodox as their father/grandfather would have defined the term. Even as we admire them for their synagogue choice, we deplore their means of getting there, but we continue to hope that the message they hear in the synangogue will encourage them to find an alternative means of transport to that synagogue.

  25. Bob Miller says:

    Various Jews at various times have unfortunately fallen for other religions, including communism and ayn-randism. None of this negates the fact that they were halachically Jewish despite it all, and, thus, potential targets for kiruv, etc.

    However, many if not most Reform adherents are now halachically non-Jews, which makes their situation a whole new thing.

  26. Raymond says:

    To Leah, I only saw your message for the first time just moments ago. Thank you for your comments, and of course I agree with what you said.

    To Barry, jokes definitely have their limitations. I did NOT mean to imply that most Orthodox Jews hypocritically drive to shul on Shabbat while pretending to do otherwise. I suspect only a very, very tiny percentage do. The point of the joke as it relates to Orthodox Jews, is that when they do something against Jewish law, at least they are embarrassed about it, rather than create a whole philosophy around it as if it is the right thing to do. They do not attempt to pretend that a transgression is a mitzvah.

    As for the question of Religion and State as it relates to Israel, that may be a topic way over my head. While I am open to hearing alternative views, what I sense would be the most constructive arrangement, is for official Israeli law to not require any positive Torah commandments, but not to prohibit them either; and as for negative Torah commandments, only have as established Israeli law those that involve direct, physical injury to a person’s body or property.

    In America, my belief is that a person should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as they do not directly physically hurt another human being or their property. So, I support the same idea in Israeli society, except that in Israel, such laws should somehow follow the details of Torah law more closely.

    When it comes to the majority of religious practice, that really should be between the individual and his or her G-d, and not up to the state to enforce. Those who know me for years may be surprised by my suddenly sounding so liberal, but the truth is, I have only become more conservative over the years, because American society has veered way too far to the Left in recent decades. But a society where every Torah law would be strictly enforced by the Israeli government, would too much resemble the horribly intolerant, islamofascist societies that surround Israel. And if given a choice, I regard the sometimes crazy ways of liberal Los Angeles far more preferable to a harsh, cruel, overly self-righteous society such as Saudi Arabia.

  27. David N. Friedman says:

    A few responses.
    Nathan: To indicate that Reform and Conservative Jews have “no religion at all” is a gross inaccuracy. In truth, Reform and Conservative rabbis by and large believe things which stretch the boundaries of Judaism. Some Conservative Rabbis and a solid 10-45% of their congregants are very close to halachic practice– walking to shul, fully kosher homes, day school kids, keep the holidays in good faith, visit and send money to Israel and the overwhelming majority of Conservative Jews are Jews by the strictest definition of our law.
    Bob Miller says that most Reform Jews are “now halachically non-Jews.” But I don’t believe this is yet demonstrated by the facts. Truly, in a few generations, it will be very tough to warrant that almost any Reform Jew has a Jewish mother and grandmother but right now–the numbers are not at all that bad. While the Conservative movement has some pretense of support for halacha (yes, that support is selective and waning)–there is very little pretense in Reform or Reconstructionist Jewry and it is interesting to view it up close and personal every once in awhile as I have personally.

    And this ties into Rabbi Shafran’s point perfectly. How can we best understand a woman I met, for example, who does not have a Jewish mother or a Jewish husband–who wears a kippah and shops for at least some of her food at the kosher grocery store where she can proudly wear her kippah, who reads Jewish books and expresses pride in her “Judaism?” I think we can agree that perhaps, taking this example as a model–this is not Judaism and could easily be a separate religion. She is very close to a “messianic Jew”–with some of the trappings of Judaism but she is not, emphatically, Jewish and this is oftentimes despite the person’s self-identification of their own Jewishness. This is a problem that needs to be addressed openly and honestly so that Jews can be in agreement concerning the line between Jew and non-Jew.

    My point of contention is that the Reform or Conservative Jew who is halachically Jewish, with a Jewish mother and grandmother (oftentimes father and grandfather as well) with little commitment or real interest in Judaism is not to be disparaged. These are Jews who have the potential to be fully observant at any point and they lack nothing in terms of their Jewishness–only in terms of their beliefs and practices. These Jews are the ones we need to care deeply about and offer reasons to expand their learning and practice. They are as much as part of the Jewish nation as any other Jew–they simply lack reasons to be practicing Jews.

  28. Ori says:

    David N. Friedman: This is a problem that needs to be addressed openly and honestly so that Jews can be in agreement concerning the line between Jew and non-Jew.

    Ori: Unless and until Heterodox Judaism dies out(1), we will not have an agreement concerning the line between Jew and non-Jew. Heterodox Rabbis will never accept that they cannot do conversions, and Orthodox Jews will never accept those conversions.

    It will be good to acknowledge that the definitions are different. But that is the most we can do.

    (1) Or Orthodox Judaism does, but that is less likely.

  29. L.Oberstein says:

    `I don’t usually comment on comments about other people’s comments,but here goes. Raymond’s joke is dated by at least one generation,maybe two.
    Nowadays, many Jews are so far removed from “guilt”,”embarresment”. or even sensitivity to violating tradition that they wouldn’t even get the joke. I remember going to a Bat Mitzvah in a Conservative shul of a close relative.OnShabbos, people would be telling me how frum their bubby was, how they walked to shul with her,etc. Then on Sunday morning at the brunch, these same people were eating bacon in front of me with no shame. I was invited to a party and told to eat first as nothing would be kosher, and so it was. My point is not that they ate treif, but that they didn’t feel the slightest bit embarresed that they ate treif. Nowadays, most Jews don’t thinjk that these restrictions apply to them. If they know about shabbos or kashrus at all, they think that those who keep it are the ones who are unusual, not them. No one parks a block away from shul any more. Now, they take videos of the bar mitzvah in shul on shabbos.

  30. Bob Miller says:

    David N. Friedman (comment 27),

    Please re-read my comment 25. It said “However, many if not most Reform adherents are now halachically non-Jews…”

    So I didn’t say flatly that most were that way, since that is not provable now. You’d have a hard time arguing that many are not that way now.

  31. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Sol: The only difference btwn now and then is that non-Orthodoxy is already the dominant force in Jewry and that battle is over. They achieved their goals and put those weapons down. Many of them have now simply turned to completely leaving the Jewish people for good. But they still fight very hard wherever they can to to do their best to see to it that Orthodoxy does not make any comeback, god forbid.

    Ori: Orthodoxy is clearly making a comeback(1). If I see Reform Judaism fighting against Orthodoxy again using such underhanded tricks, I’ll believe you. Until such a time, I’m going to give modern Reform Rabbis the benefit of the doubt.

    (1) Your demographics are obviously much stronger, and they would be even if the Heterodox movements did not practice intermarriage.

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