PREFACE TO PART TWO
The material following, at first and superficial glance, will appear to be polemical. To take it that way, however, would be a total misunderstanding. It is intended simply and exclusively to state facts which will explain some of the premises and statements in Part One. Facts may be unpleasant, but they can not be ignored.
The issue of WHO IS A JEW pits two philosophies of Judaism against one another. I make no apologies in stating that I am clearly committed to one of them. Acceptance of any one of these, ipso facto, implies rejection of the other. This rejection, however, is not one of simple disagreement or an attempt at self-justification.
Part Two is trying to explain WHY traditional Judaism cannot accept, or grant legitimacy to, ritual actions undertaken by the spiritual leaders of the reform and conservative movements. This part too, then, serves the purpose of information and communication, to help us understand one another.
The reader is asked to listen to the argument, to the premises, and then to draw his/her own conclusions. Look at what is being said, and not at who says it. Look at what is being said, and do now allow the implications which may affect you negatively to distort an open-minded understanding of the issues.
Truth must be accepted regardless of its source or its possible implications. Judgment must be based on nothing but the evidence presented. Whether you will agree or disagree with our position, that is all we ask for.
1. THE PRECEDING PRESENTATION SEEMS RATHER ONE-SIDED AND PERHAPS POLEMICAL. WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR THE ALLEGATIONS ABOUT THE PRACTICES OF 'REFORM JUDAISM'?
All and any references to the practices of the 'reform' movement and its leaders, are based on their own statements and publications:
i) First and foremost among the official documents relating to 'reform' practices is the "1972 Lenn Report." The Lenn Report was commissioned by the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis; the ‘rabbinical arm’ of the 'reform' movement) to study the background and attitudes of "Reform rabbis, their wives, their congregants, their youth groups and Reform seminary students."1
According to the Lenn Report, 41% of the CCAR 'pulpit rabbis' officiate at intermarriages, and another 30% refer inquirers to 'rabbis who do officiate at intermarriages' because they themselves do not. Thus over 70% of the‘reform rabbinate’ is involved with intermarriage. If we take into account (a) the non-pulpit (retired etc.) reform rabbis, and (b) present circumstances (the Lenn Report was completed in 1971), then that percentage will increase significantly!
Note on the next page the heading of a list from the 'Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling ', offering close to 200 members of the CCAR who advertise openly that they will officiate at intermarriages. There is another list, "restricted to circulation among 'fellow-rabbis' only," which has nearly twice that number of members of the CCAR. The list available to this author at the time of writing is already outdated, as it is from the year 1982. Judging by the earlier lists, there is a steady increase from year to year in the CCAR members performing intermarriages.2
What is the "official" position of the CCAR? On June 19, 1973, the CCAR adopted the following resolution by a vote of 321 to 196:
"The CCAR, recalling its stand adopted in 1909 that, mixed marriage is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged,' now declares its opposition to participation by its members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.
The CCAR recognizes that historically its members have held and continue to hold divergent interpretations of Jewish tradition..."
Even this resolution is accompanied by the proviso that "Resolutions of the CCAR are advisory and therefore, rabbis continue to officiate at mixed marriages."
When this resolution was adopted, another resolution had
been proposed by the CCAR Committee on Mixed Marriages, calling on its members:
"1. to refrain from officiating at a mixed marriage unless the couple agrees to undertake, prior to marriage, a course of study of Judaism equivalent to that required for conversion;
2. to refrain from officiating at a mixed marriage for a member of a congregation served by a Conference member unless there has been prior consultation with the rabbi;
3. to refrain from co-officiating or sharing with non-Jewish clergy in the solemnization of a mixed marriage;
4. to refrain from officiating at a mixed marriage on Shabbat or Yom Tov."
This proposed resolution was defeated!3
We have here the anomaly of the CCAR officially declaring that mixed marriage is contrary to Jewish tradition, and simultaneously allowing its members to perform these nonetheless!
ii) The same standard of "no standard" applies to conversions. Again, see the Lenn Report, and the official policy of the CCAR that all or any requirements "vary depending upon the rabbi of the community under whose auspices the program is sponsored."4
iii) In 1983, the CCAR decided to recognize as 'fully Jewish' children of non-Jewish mothers who are married to Jewish men. This new breach with Jewish law and tradition was roundly condemned not only by the 'orthodox,' but also by the 'conservative'! That unilateral action by the CCAR must result in the tragedy of splitting the Jewish people, within decades at most, into "mutually divided, hostile groups unwilling and unable to marry each other."5
In June 1985, at the annual convention of the CCAR in Minneapolis, Alexander M. Shapiro, then president of the Rabbinical Assembly (the 'rabbinical arm' of the conservative movement) was invited to address the reform group. He begged them to reverse themselves and to return to the traditional standard that says Jewish lineage can be traced through the mother only. The New York Times of Tuesday, July 2 1985, p. All, reports:
"Rabbi Shapiro's Reform audience here was polite but not overly receptive to the proposal. 'It would be better for Rabbi Shapiro to lead his movement into the future than ours into the past,' said Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the UAHC, the association of Reform synagogues.
Rabbi Schindler, a chief sponsor of the 1983 adoption of the liberalized standard on lineage, predicted that Conservative Judaism would follow the Reform lead in another decade. 'It usually takes them about 10 years like on the woman's issue,' he said.
Rabbi Schindler was referring to a decision by the Conservative rabbinate earlier this year to accept women as rabbis. The Reform Movement began ordaining women in 1972. The Orthodox continue to ordain only men.
Rabbi Schindler questioned the usefulness of dialogue on theological differences, saying it was more beneficial to discuss issues that united the Jewish community, such as support for Israel, Soviet jewry, economical justice and improved Christian-Jewish relations.
'On theological problems,' he said, 'either you accept halacha or you are outside halacha. We have chosen to be outside.'...
Rabbi Schindler, the Reform leader, said he was not concerned about divisions that could result from the split over lineage standards..."
All this raises the question: Who is creating divisiveness?
Who is insensitive to Jewish unity?
2. IS 'REFORM JUDAISM' NOT ENTITLED TO ITS OWN INTERPRETATION OF JEWISH LAW AND TRADITION, JUST LIKE THE 'ORTHODOX' AND THE 'CONSERVATIVE'? IS NOT THE WHOLE DIFFERENCE ONE OF THEOLOGICAL POLICY?
The only theological principle, policy, or doctrine recognized and affirmed by 'reform Judaism' is that "there is no such thing as a Jewish theological principle, policy, or doctrine." Let some of their most prominent leaders speak for themselves:6
W. Gunther Plaut is a former president of the CCAR, a leading historian, scholar and representative of the 'reform movement.' He is generally regarded to belong to the very moderate, right-of-center (if not rightist altogether) reformers.
According to Plaut, "the average Reform Jew, like the average Reform rabbi, considers any mention of halacha or its equivalent as the expression of Orthodoxy or Conservatism."7
Plaut argues consistently that the 'reform movement' should have some guidelines, some form of 'code' of practices incorporating selected mitzvot, customs and rituals. But he qualifies immediately that any such 'code' or 'guide' must
"most important of all, accept the fundamental principle of Liberalism: that the individual will approach this body of mitzvot and minhagim in the spirit of freedom and choice. Traditionally Israel started with harut, the commandment engraved upon the Tablets, which then became freedom. The Reform Jew starts with herut, the freedom to decide what will be harut - engraved upon the personal Tablets of his life.8
Plaut recognizes that this liberal anarchy of 'reform' means that traditional Jews "and the membership of Reform congregations no longer speak the same language."9 This does not seem to worry him. His major concern, it would appear, is with self-preservation, the survival of 'reform':
"One cannot escape the concomitant conviction that Reform Judaism in its present non- or even antihalachic form does not possess the key to the total Jewish future. If the movement does not now turn decisively away from its post-classical, radical phase, then indeed, its critics will probably be right: it will have no future...
Without a recovery of the sense of halacha, Reform Judaism will dissolve into a shallow post-Einhornian ethicism. We may not go as far as Einhorn's son-in-law Emil
G. Hirsch and remove the Sifrei Torah from the ark, but we will be assisting at the final surgery which removes the marrow from Jewish existence."10
But even as moderate a thinker as Plaut is not prepared to return to the roots of Judaism, to the three concepts of God, Torah and Israel, which have forever been the foundation of the Jewish faith and the force that bound all Jews together:
"The traditional trilogy of 'God, Israel, and Torah' is no longer operative as a Liberal consensus.
As for Torah, the early Liberals excluded from it the oral law, and the latter-day Liberals, because of eclecticism abetted by biblical criticism, reduced Torah to a symbolic accouterment of the service and little else.
As for God, Reform Jews continue to render lip service to His existence but generally deny Him any compelling force when it comes to moral or practical commandments. These latter have been further reduced by relativism and by the general inability of our movement to translate 'the demand of God' into more than a philosopher's concept.In addition, it is probably safe to say that an increasing number of Reform Jews do not believe in God at all; many of them will not deny the possibility of His existence, but they simply will refuse to take Him seriously as a force influencing or compelling their own existence. I have no statistics to bear me out, but I would not be surprised to find that more than fifty percent of all Reform Jews may be classified as deists, if not as outright agnostics or even atheists. For this reason, much as I regret it, it becomes essential to devise a basis for halacha which includes this important segment of Jewry..."11
(Incidentally, Plaut's suspicion about the large numbers ofatheists and agnostics have been born out by many surveys.
According to the '1972 Lenn Report', this popularity of atheism and agnosticism is not restricted to the laity but applies to the 'reform rabbinate' as well.)
Plaut's search for a new 'halacha' that can accommodate the "faithless" majority of the ‘reform movement' concludeswith the categorical imperative that "neither God nor Torah can be considered as universally commanding sources for Reform halacha!" 12 The traditional trilogy 'God, Israel, and Torah'
"'must be supplanted by a spectrum that ranges from Israel to man to self... where all who count themselves as part of this fellowship agree that, through Israel, individual as well as human uniqueness is validated in a special way and that whatever Judaism has to say must speak to and of and through this uniqueness."13
With this new "God-less and Torah-less Judaism," Plaut and 'reform' have come f full circle to what he calls the "transmutation of non-halachic Judaism into ethical culture," flourishing as a
"Jewishly inspired Unitarianism, spread as a broad and pleasant middle-class establishmentarianism, with American or Canadian banners gaily affixed to it,"albeit by adding or restoring some moorings in Jewish history. 14
"But whatever Reform halacha will be, it will not be law in the old sense... With the demise of the operational quality of Torah law in our liberal world, halacha as law has become a skeletal term. "15
Another scholar of the 'reform movement,' at least as moderate and right-of-center as Plaut, is Jakob Petuchowski, senior professor of Rabbinic and Jewish Theology at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He, too, is disturbed by the chaos and anarchy governing 'reform' beliefs and practices. He anticipated most of the weaknesses in Plaut's approach and confronts them in a frank and honest way:
"The endeavor to foster Jewish observance by a ‘sales appeal', in imitation of the marketing of cigarettes and soap ('Five hundred congregations from coast to coast can't be wrong!') is merely further proof of the fact that, judging only by the official statements of Reform doctrine, there can be no halacha for reform Judaism! Where individual rabbis encoura e ceremonies,' they do so either because they have Reconstructionist leanings and treasure 'folkways,' or because modern educational theories have opened their eyes to the necessity of audiovisual aids, or again; because they feel the need to lend a certain warmth and emotional appeal to an otherwise 'cold' worship service. All these reasons and motivations are good for an ad hoc 'ritualism.'But it will be conceded that we are dealing with 'religious pageantry' - not with halacha"16
Petuchowski is one of the first 'reformers' to recognize and admit the striking similarity, nay - the equivalence, between the theology of unbridled 'reform unversalism' and Christian theology. The Columbus Platform of 1937, still the standard 'reform revelation' to this day, defined God as the One in Whom "all existence has its creative source and mankind its ideal of conduct." Revelation is defined as "a continuing process, confined to no one group and to no one age. " Petuchowksi cogently notes:
"It may well be that many Reform Jews view with favor this (backward) progress (sic) from Sinai to the elementary morality of the 'Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah,' whereas traditional Judaism knows of progress in the opposite direction. Paul, too, was fired by the thought of the pre-Sinaitic Patriarchs who were 'saved' without the law, and, in this sense, the new dispensation he preached was a return to pristine simplicity. There is, therefore, no need for halacha in circles where Sinai is either deplored or rejected, and where Torah simply means respectability and goodwill. " 17
As Plaut rightly observed, traditional Jews and the membership of Reform congregations no longer speak the same language. He does not, however, spell out the cause and implication of this terrible tragedy namely that 'reform' has moved away from Jewish roots, and, therefore, has lost every moral, legal and historical right to speak in the name of Judaism or Jewish tradition. For as admitted by Petuchowksi:
"Historically speaking, halacha was the norm of Jewish life either found in the Scriptures or deduced from them by a universally accepted system of hermeneutics. Where, as in the case of the Karaites, the hermeneutics or the authority of the interpreters was rejected, an attempt was made to base Jewish practice on the literal meaning of the Bible. But both Rabbanite and Karaite Jews submitted to their respective versions of Jewish law, because they believed that in observing it they were fulfilling the will of God, and that this will was expressed directly or indirectly -in the pages of the Hebrew BiIble."18
Plaut and other 'reform' moderates want to deal with the problem of standards, to devise some system of 'reform halacha', though with the sine qua non condition that it be apart and devoid of any concept of Divine revelation. They fail to realize, as Petuchowski does, that
11 where this is done with logical consistency, it leads - as it does in Reconstructionism - to an affirmation of the content of halacha, and at the same time, to a transmutation of halacha into 'folkways.' This enables the humanist to observe the dietary laws with a clear conscience, but it also involves a frank and honest breach with the halachic tradition in judaism."19
Petuchowski, a thinker more logical and consistent than most of his colleagues, notes:
"Eloke Yisrael, the concept of the God whom Israel encountered in history, and who, in coram publicam, revealed His Torah to Israel, is the conditio sine qua non of any continuity within Judaism.
Whether American Reform Judaism is capable of undergoing such a revolution in theological thinking, whether it will be prepared to progress from the 'Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah' to the foot of Sinai is, of course, a question that many people will answer in the negative. It is one thing to pass expedient resolutions in favor of ceremonies. It is quite another to reinstate the God of Israel as the 'Giver of Torah,' when the very raison d'etre of Reform, as a denomination, is represented as the emancipation from this belief.
Here is the crux of the whole problem. Recent statements by men claiming to speak in the name of Reform Judaism have clearly shown that the process of denial goes beyond the denial of revelation. Once revelation is denied, the denial of God's existence is now seen by some as the next logical step. On the other hand, Reform Jews who are unwilling to give up their faith in God may find that, in final analysis, their 'God talk' is religiously meaningful only to the extent to which God and His Torah are interrelated. If one takes God seriously, one must take revelation seriously, and vice versa."20
What a pity, though, that even Petuchowski has not found a satisfying solution to reconcile and resolve the struggle between his mind and his heart, between his sound logic and his 'reform-commitment.'The above is not an 'orthodox' evaluation of 'reform Judaism,' nor an unrepresentative sampling of their radicals. These are the thoughts and statements of prominent and moderate leaders, teachers and spokesmen of the 'reform' movement.
By their own admission, by their own policies and practices, these actions and behavior are clearly seen not to be representative of the Jewish faith and tradition in any way whatsoever. They may reflect the vox populi of numerous Jews, but not the vox Dei, the voice of the God of Israel, the voice of the Torah of Israel, the voice of historical Israel, for which our ancestors were prepared (and did) sacrifice their lives ever since Abraham, the first Jew, to this very day
3.WHAT ABOUT 'CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM'? DOES NOT THE 'CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT' FOLLOW HALACHAH?
Here, too, let the 'conservative' leaders speak for them-
selves.21 The 'conservative movement' was indeed founded to conserve, preserve and safeguard Halachah and Jewish tradition.
"The Conservative movement has tacitly recognized that even in an age which desires democracy in its institutions, the concept of democracy must be refined. Vertical democracy is a recognition that it is not only the present generation which has a voice in ongoing institutions. The past and the future must be allowed an equal vote."22
"Reform has asserted the right of interpretation, but it has rejected the authority of the legal tradition. Orthodoxy has clung fast to the principle of authority, but has in our own and recent generations rejected the right to any but minor interpretations. The Conservative view is that both are necessary for a living Judaism. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds itself bound by the legal tradition, but asserts the right of its rabbinical body, acting as a whole, to interpret and to apply Jewish law. While this principle has, for the most of the life of the Conservative movement, been honored more in theory than in practice, it remains a fundamental outlook..."23
Orthodoxy is accused of having "distorted the formula ('God, Torah and Israel are one') in its own way. God and the Torah remained primary in its equation. The Torah, indeed, was accepted in all its jots and tittles as it had been developed in interpretation through the years and as it was formulated in the 16th century code of Joseph Karo and in the 16th century commentary of Moses Isserles. The Jewish people, however, received shorter shrift... The real distortion, however, appeared in the refusal to recognize the needs, the history and the sociological condition of the Jewish people as a factor to be reckoned with. Orthodoxy upheld the claims of the Torah irrespective of the needs of 'Catholic Israel."'24
The 'conservative movement' is said to have restored the balance in the equation:
"It eagerly accepts God and Torah as the fundamentals of Judaism. But it asserts that the national sentiment which is part of Judaism must be acknowledged... It equally asserts that the needs and the state of the Jewish people must be taken into account and so it has been concerned to face the current facts in Jewish life."25
There is a claim of 'adherence to the authority of the rabbinical leadership' in all matters of interpretation. Yet at the same time there is an admission of 'controlled experimentation':
"The bent for interpretation of Jewish law and practice has also manifested itself in another way. Certain practices have grown up in Conservative congregations which are not the product of formal decisions, but rather the outgrowth of practice... These are all products of the philosophy that within tacitly recognized, but undefined limits, Conservative congregations may experiment in finding more effective forms for presenting Judaism. Some of these experiments have succeeded and have been generally adopted. Others have been attempted and abandoned."26
As for the alleged authority vested in the Rabbinical Assembly,
"...the Assembly has conceded that is consists of three different groups: a left, represented by the Reconstructionist group, which is relatively small but articulate and active; a right, which is smaller still; and a center group to which the overwhelming majority of the members of the Rabbinical Assembly adhere.... The left actually commands more support than its formal numbers would lead one to suppose... The majority of the center is in many ways a standing army waiting for a direction in which to march, and so, on many issues it can be mustered to support a program of the left group. Furthermore, it is doubtful that there is really an effective right group... (they) have no power to initiate or control the course of action in the Assembly. Thus a picture emerges in which the left, after goading to action for a long time, finally sees action undertaken by the center, has it modified slightly by right-wing thinking, and finally sees it emerge as considerably less than it wants, but as somewhat more than the quiescent center would have been prepared to initiate itself. "27
In other words, the Rabbinical Assembly is a body where the 'overwhelming majority' is a 'quiescent center' waiting, and allowing, to have itself 'goaded and directed' by a radical left, and where the 'traditionalist right' has no say but is condescendingly tolerated. Thus we have the birth of a new denomination:
"In the view of its founders, Conservative Judaism was a tendency which was designed to offer an acceptable alternative to Reform Judaism. It was hoped that it would give renewed vitality to traditional Judaism and ultimately capture the American Jewish public. For years its leaders denied that it was a party or denomination within Judaism and sought to avoid becoming one. However, the very development of an increasingly complex organizational structure, the debates on ideology, and the increasing projection of a Conservative viewpoint, have converted Conservative Judaism from a tendency into a movement. It is not only referred to as a movement, but it thinks and acts as a movement. Thus the Rabbinical Assembly is now prepared to take independent action in the field of law..."28
These words speak for themselves. Self-admittedly, the 'conservative movement' has moved away from its original intents and purposes, to become a separate, new denomination as opposed to a continuation of historical Judaism, and undertaking independent action in matters of Jewish law and tradition.
The Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly "which consists of representatives of the three groups, Right, Center and Left, has managed to avoid getting itself into a state of deadlock, and has succeeded in achieving consensus on some very important questions. That is due to two provisions: 1) that both majority and minority rulings be reported, leaving it to the members of the Assembly to follow whichever ruling they choose..."29
It is readily seen that the road to 'conservatism' was paved with good intentions, but somewhere along the way there was a radical detour. Even as in 'reform,' the vox populi took over. Logically speaking there is no philosophic difference between 'conservative' and 'reform.' There are no absolute criteria. The ultimate standard of self-determination is the same for both.
To be sure, the 'conservative' are not as radical as the 'reform.' They are much more nostalgic and 'conservative' about the past. They do want to preserve some sense of continuation, of tradition. Some still do pay lip-service to fundamental halachic premises, and will protest breaches of historical values and principles.
For example, at the 1986 convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, this 'rabbinical arm' of the 'conservative movement' put itself officially on record as opposed to the so-called 'patrilineal descent' policy of the 'reform movement.' A resolution was adopted which stated that "ascription of Jewish lineage through a legal instrument or ceremonial act on the basis of anything other than matrilineal descent," or through a conversion omitting tevilah (ritual immersion) for women, and tevilah and brit milah (ritual circumcision) for men, "shall continue to be regarded as a violation of the halacha of Conservative Judaism." It further stated that such actions will be regarded from now on as "violations of a standard of rabbinic practice inconsistent with membership in the Rabbinical Assembly."
The resolution upholding matrilintal descent, which, it stated, "has been authoritative in normative Judaism for many centuries as the sole determinant of Jewish lineage," passed by a vote of 235 to 32. In effect, then, the 'conservative' movement refuses to recognize the 'reform' criteria for jewishness as well as their standard forms of conversion.
One cannot fail to wonder, though, why a vote was necessary to determine the halachic position of the Rabbinical Assembly. The principle of Halachah, and the principle of
democratic votes about halachic procedures, are mutually exclusive.30 Moreover, this vote is clearly but a temporary measure. Alexander Schindler's astute observation that in another few years the 'conservative' will follow the ‘reform' initiative, is supported not only by past practices of the ‘conservative' movement, but by the very principle of voting on it. There is nothing to prevent the minority group of 32 to grow into a majority. The actions of precedents speak louder than the pious affirmations of the present.
This criticism of 'conservative' ideology is corroborated by statements of its leading teachers and spiritual leaders:
The crux of our problem, as already recognized by Petuchowski, is the attitude to Torah and revelation, to the halachic tradition of Judaism: is it binding and relevant? Some years ago, the editors of Commentary took a survey of leaders in 'orthodox' Judaism and the 'reform' and 'conservative' movements. The very first question was: "In what sense do you believe the Torah to be divine revelation? Are all 613 commandments equally binding on the believing Jew? If not, how is he to decide which to observ-el?"31
Seymour Siegel, a senior professor at the 'conservative' Jewish Theological Seminary, replied:
"...the Bible is not infallible... Both the divine and the human are bound up inexorably in the Torah and cannot be separated or distinguished by means of some formula... The process of reevaluating the mitzvot through interpretation goes on in the living community of the people of Israel... (The mitzvot) are the demands of God upon the community of Israel, which lives in time, and they are therefore subject to change, growth, and (all too frequently) decay. The community reinterprets and changes its structure of obligations in the light of their ability to express our faith and by their power to evoke faith. Some commandments are legislated out of existence... others fall by the wayside through neglect... The individual... is guided in the Law by those whom he accepts as its interpreters. He is also guided by his ability to observe the Law, and this is dependent upon his education and his spiritual preparedness. So long as he is serious about his responsibility and concerned about his Jewishness, he is doing the right thing in the sight of the Lord..."32
We have here the strange paradox of Siegel advocating for Judaism the very premises that the apostle Paul offered for Christianity: acceptance and observance of the Law depends on the personally perceived or imagined ability to do so. If it seems that a law cannot be observed, it is abolished. What matters is faith and sincerity. Not by actions, but by faith will you be saved. The very same argument used by Paul and the New Testament to renounce the Torah and Halachak, is the foundation for Siegel's perception of Judaism!
This policy of laissez faire appears also in the statements of other 'conservative' spokesmen. Max J. Routtnbeg replied:
'Ritual observance will be judged in terms of both their present worth and their powers of evoking historic associations. (The modernist) will want to retain those rituals which induce a sensitivity to the ethical dimensions of human life, a deep mood of reverence for life, and a sense of the mystery of the created universe. He will find meaning in those religious rites which provide him with a sense of oneness with Jews of all times and of all places; which link him to great events and great personalities in history, to their sacrifices and to their aspirations.
On the other hand, he will reject, or permit to fall into obsolescence, those commandment in which he cannot discern any divine purpose, or which have become totally irrelevant to his religious quest. God no longer speaks to him through these commandments and he cannot respond. He may well replace them with new rites and rituals which are in harmony with his spiritual needs."33
Hershel J. Matt's reply:
"In boldly asserting the right of... private judgment, I
ought of course, to give much attention and weight to the wisdom, experience, and piety of the talmudic and posttalmudic sages (including those of the present age as well), but since I am the 'you' who is being commanded,
mine is the ultimate human responsibility to decide what it is that I am being commanded. "34
Harold M. Schulweis' reply:
"The origin of Torah lies not in an extra-mundane source which has cast down absolute truths upon a receiving people, nor is it the arbitrary projection of human inventiveness flung upward. Torah is rooted in the matrix of a living organism, in a people which discovers out of its experience with failure and fortune the powers of godliness residing within it and its total environment. Torah as revelation is the product of Israel's creative transaction with history...
Should the ritual lose its symbolic power... or should it run counter to our contemporary moral judgment..., then the convinced religious leadership should allow the commandment to be abandoned. Unless the rabbinate exercises moral sensitivity and anticipatory wisdom in cases of moral obsolescence or irrelevance, the end will only be disrespect for all religious I*aw. The acceptance of religious pluralism, which is a fact of Jewish religious life, and the encouragement of responsible group decisions as to ritual observance are the only valid alternatives to the extremes both of authoritarianism and anarchy."35
There is a consistently singular thread in all these responses, which indicates a sense of agreement in the 'conservative' philosophy of, and approach to, Torah and Halachah. With full regard for their sincerity and good will, none of these leaders, unfortunately, provides us with any criteria for their much used terminology of 'worth','sensitivity','ethical dimensions', 'reverence', 'wisdom', 'irrelevance', 'ability', 'responsible groups', 'moral obsolescence', and so forth. They - all preach a religious relativism, a situational ethics, in which there is no other standard but that each individual is the measure for all things pertaining to himself. The 'here and now' is the only thing that matters.
There is then no Halachah for the 'conservative', nor can there be, any more than for the 'reform.' The supreme ideal of Judaism "To do what which is right and good in the eyes of God" (Deuteronomy 6:18; also Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 12:28 and 13:19) is replaced by "Every man does that which seems right in his own eyes" (judges 17:6 and 21:25), the very antithesis of Torah and Judaism (Deuteronomy 12:8)!
The leaders and members of the 'conservative movement,' just as in the 'reform movement,' are free to determine their own philosophy of life. They are free to express their religious sensibilities any which way they choose. Those among them that were born Jewish are and remain Jewish in spite of everything. Nonetheless, this does not mean that ‘conservative rabbis' have the right, or are qualified, to undertake religious or ritual actions which affect all Jews. Insofar that neither their convictions nor their conduct conform to the dictates of Torah (Halachah), their ritual decisions and actions may be regarded authoritative by their own movement, but are not acceptable to the Jewish people as a whole.
P.S.: The heterodox views and practices of the 'conservative rabbinate' have become ever more pronounced in the last few years. This has now led to an open split within the Rabbinical Assembly and the 'conservative' movement. A 'rightist' group has broken ranks to form a new movement, Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism. Members of the UTCJ have spoken out publicly to condemn the policies of their 'conservative' colleagues. They have declared that they do not recognize decisions and actions that ignore or violate halachic requisites, whether these stem from' reform rabbis' or their own colleagues in the 'conservative' movement!
Spokesmen for the UTCJ have declared, for example, that they do not recognize the ordination of women by the (conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary:
"Rabbi David Novak called (the decision to ordain women) 'contrary to Jewish law,' and warned that it would divide the Conservative movement:
'There is going to be a situation where the rabbinical acts of some members will not be acceptable to others, he said. For example, if a woman is part of a three-member conversion tribunal, Rabbi Novak said, he would not accept the conversion as valid.
Rabbi Novak also criticized the method under which women were admitted by the Rabbinical Assembly. 'The procedure was a total subterfuge, ‘he said. 'Had this been done at the convention, the resolution would have been defeated.'...
Supporters of ordination for women said that the constitutional amendment procedure was used to avoid a fight over the issue at the annual convention..."36
There is no need for further comments on all this.
4. WHAT ABOUT THE 'ORTHODOX' RABBIS: IS IT NOT TRUE THAT SOME OF THEM HOLD VIEWS SIMILAR TO THOSE OF THE 'CONSERVATIVE' RABBIS (re BIBLE CRITICISM; CHANGE AND ADAPTATION OF HALACHAH TO SUIT MODERN 'REALITIES'; ETC.)?
This suggestion is a contradiction in terms. If they are 'orthodox,' this means that they feel bound to abide by the rulings and dictates of the Shulchan Aruch. If they do not feel bound by these, they are not 'orthodox.'
One cannot be a Jew affirming 'orthodoxy,' let alone a rabbi, if one does not affirm and accept the fundamental principles of the Jewish faith as defined by Maimonides. These include the principles that all the words of the prophets are true; that Moses was the supreme prophet, and his prophecy (the Five Books of Moses), therefore, is the ultimate standard for all and any prophetic truth; that the Torah given to us by Moses originated from God in toto; and that this Torah is immutable, that nothing can be added or subtracted from either the Written Torah or the Oral Torah.37
5. IS IT NOT PRESUMPTUOUS FOR ANYONE TO SIT IN JUDGMENT OVER WHO IS A 'KOSHER' RABBI, AND WHO IS NOT? THIS SMACKS OF A 'HOLIER THAN THOU' ATTITUDE AND HAS OVERTONES OF A 'JEWISH INQUISITION'!
This is a totally erroneous perception of the situation. The Torah, the Divine Law, sits in judgment, and not man. In given situations there is place for legitimate differences of opinion on the exact requirements of the law or how the law is to be applied, albeit within the perimeter of Halachah. The Shulchan Aruch and the codifiers of Halachah sometimes offer several views on certain issues. In such a case, generally speaking, one may opt for one of those rulings rather than another. No one has the right to sit in judgment over another's legitimate choice. Nor can one impose non-obligatory rulings on anyone else. You may not like it, disapprove of it, and what have you, but for as long as a rabbi can show that his approach and ruling is consistent with Halachah, he cannot be condemned.
Here lies the crux of the whole matter: evidence that an approach or ruling is consistent with Halachah. This is not a matter of an individual qua individual sitting in judgment over another. There is only one judge and jury to determine what is kosher or non-kosher (be it in matters of food, ritual, ideology, or practise), namely the traditional Halachah as stated and defined by the code of Jewish law and the authorities following that code.
You may not like this authoritarian, theocratic view. But,then, religion, by definition, is not democratic.38 God, andHe alone, initiates and defines religion and revelation. God, and He alone, says what is acceptable to Him and what is not. Only God Himself can state and define what conforms to His will.
The foundation of Judaism is that the Torah is God's revelation of His will and of His demands from His people. Torah, therefore, is the exclusive form of Jewish religious ideology and practise.
6. IF 'REFORM' AND 'CONSERVATIVE' IDEOLOGIES ARE NON-KOSHER, AND IN CONFLICT OR DEFIANCE OF HALACHAH, DOES THAT NOT MEAN THAT NEITHER THEIR RABBIS NOR THEIR FOLLOWERS ARE REALLY JEWS?
Absolutely no! We cannot and must not confuse people and their ideas or practices.
Anyone born of a Jewish mother is a legitimate Jew. And so is anyone who has converted to Judaism according to the requirements of the universal Halachah. There is a fundamental principle that a Jew, even if he is a sinner, remains a Jew (Sanhedrin 44a)!
ll those born Jewish - though they may be members of a 'reform temple' or 'conservative congregation,' or their spiritual leaders, or unaffiliated, self -professed agnostics, atheists, or secularists - are and remain Jews.
The only ones outside this status of jewishness are those who did not convert or underwent a non-halachic conversion. Their affiliation and membership in whatever congregation or organization is irrelevant, and so is their sincere commitment to Jewish values and causes.
These illegitimate 'converts' may think, feel, and act Jewish to the very core of their being, in every conceivable way. They may be (and often are) the finest, most sincere people, with genuine religious sensibilities. That will still not change the fact that they remain non-Jews for as long as they fail to undergo a conversion conforming to the dictates of Halachah.
As stated earlier: to join the Jewish people, to acquire Jewish 'citizenship,' is an act that involves two parties, i.e., the would-be member and the existing membership. The existing membership can accept new members only in conformance with the organizational constitution, i.e., the Torah.To repeat once again: Religion in general, and Judaism in particular, is not a democratic organization where the majority rules. The Almighty Himself, and only He, makes the final decision. The Almighty's Will is expressed in the halachic tradition, and It alone has the power to approve or veto any actions involving the faith-community that would stand in a relationship with God. That Divine approval or veto is expressed in the Divine revelation, in the Torah (the Written Torah and the Oral Torah).
We are a people, a nation, a faith-community, only because of the Torah. Torah is the exclusive standard that can and does bind all Jews together. And Torah has set down the rules for what can be called a legitimate Jew and legitimate conversion.
7. HOW, THEN, IS ONE TO RELATE TO THE 'NON-ORTHODOX'?
This question is like asking how one is to relate to a son or daughter, a brother or sister, who have chosen a non-normative way of life. Try as you like, you cannot renounce your relationship! They remain your son and daughter, brother or sister, your very own flesh and blood, regardless what they do or say!
The Torah decrees that we remain bound to love them, bound to help and assist them materially and spiritually. With very few specific exceptions, this relates to all sinners as to saints. The Talmud puts it ever so succinctly: When you hold a knife and cut yourself, you do not avenge yourself by cutting off the hand which held the offending knife. 'Let sins be consumed, and not sinners!'
Let it be stated loud and clear and unequivocally: There are no such things or people as 'Orthodox Jews,' 'Reform Jews, ' 'Conservative Jews,' or 'Secular Jews'! All are simply JEWS, unqualified in any sense! Either you are Jewish, or you are not. There is no middle ground.
One can distinguish between more and less observant Jews. But all are, and remain Jews. "Even the emptiest among you are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate," (Berachot 57a) and are beloved unto God "like Jacob and his sons" ( Rashi, Song of Songs 4:1).As horrible, outrageous and distasteful, as the analogy may be, nonetheless, just as there was no distinction in Jewish identity between different types of Jews for the Crusaders, the Inquisition, and the Nazi gas-chambers, so there is none in the reality of Halachah and Jewish life.
To be sure, we must condemn wrong and misleading ideologies and practices. But simultaneously we must be of the disciples of Aaron the High Priest: "Loving peace and pursuing peace, loving our fellow-creature sand bringing them near to the Torah"! 39
For those interested in pursuing and studying the issue of
WHO IS A JEW, in terms of
a) the traditional sources of the Halachah on conversion
and Jewish identity;
b) the Halachic discussions and rulings on conversion and Jewish identity in the codes, commentaries and responsa-literature throughout the ages to our very own days; and
c) the historical and legal implications of the WHO IS A JEW issue in the State of Israel and how it affects all of world-jewry;
We offer the following bibliographical notes for all relevant materials:
I. Major Halachic sources about conversion:
1. The basic conditions, sine qua non, are (a) acceptance of the totality of the teachings and obligations of the Torah; (b) circumcision (for males); and (c) immersion in a mikveh:
Talmud, Bechorot 30b; Keritot 9a; Yevamot 46a-b; Maimonides, Issurei Bi'ah 12:17 and ch. 13-14; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, ch. 268.
2. Conversion requires a Bet Din (Rabbinic tribunal) ofthree men competent and fit to act as dayanim (judges):
Yevamot 46b-47b; Kidushin 62b; Maimonides, Issurei Bi'ah
14:6; Shulchan Aruch, Yorch De'ah 268:3-4.3. Order of procedure in conversion:
Yevamot 47a-b; Maimonides, Issurei Bi'ah ch. 14; Shulchan
Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, ch. 268.
4. Matrilineal lineage exclusively, and not patrilineal lineage, determines the religious status of offspring:
Yevamot 17a and 23a; (Rashi on Deuteronomy 7:4); Maimonides, Issurei Bi'ah 12:7, and ibid., 15:3-4 and 6; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 4:5 and 19.
.5. Competence and fitness to serve on a tribunal for conversion, and those who are disqualified:
Nidah 49b; Maimonides, Sanhedrin 2:7, and Edut ch. 10-12; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 7:8, and ibid. ch. 8 and 34.
Cf. also Torah Shebe'al Peh -XIII (Proceedings of the 13th annual symposium), Mossad Harav Kuk: Jerusalem 1971 (annotated transcripts of lectures on most general and modern issues relating to conversion in Jewish law); and also Torah Shebe'al Peh - XX, Jerusalem 1979 (lectures on authority and legitimacy of dayanim (rabbinical judges) and batei din (religious courts)).
II. English material dealing with the Halachic sources and rulings on,most questions relating to conversion (including modern issues and questions):
1. J. David Bleich, "The Conversion Crisis: A Halakhic Analysis," Tradition, Spring 1971.
2. Idem., Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 1, Ktav: New York 1977, ch. XIII; and vol. II, Ktav: New York 1983, pp. 103-107.
3. Aaron Lubling, "Conversion in Jewish Law," Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, no. IX, Spring 1985.
III. Many of the sources cited in the references given above, and a comprehensive analysis of the issue of WHO IS A JEW, are to be found in:
1. Avner H. Shaki, Mihu Yehudi Bedinei Medinat Yisrael, 2 volumes, Publications of the Faculty of Law, University of Tel Aviv, no. 16; Machon Lecheker Hamishpachah: Tel Aviv '1977. (This is the most comprehensive work on the subject, and has rightfully achieved status as an indispensable classic for anyone seriously interested in, and concerned about, this issue.)
2. Avraham Korman, Yehudi: Mi-hu U'ma-hu, 3rd ed.,
Safriyati: Tel Aviv 1979. (This too is a very comprehensive work, with the principal emphasis on the Halachic and historical aspects.)
3. Litvin-Hoenig, Jewish Identity, Feldheim: New York 1965.
(This valuable text contains the correspondence between PM
David Ben-Gurion and the "fifty sages (sic) from all ranks and
ideologies," when the question of WHO IS.A JEWfirst became a controversial issue in Israel in 1958. Note that the overwhelming majority of the respondents, including the 'non-orthodox and secular sages,' urged acceptance of the universal Halachic criteria!)
4. Norman Lamm, "Who Is A Jew?," Jewish Life, May-June 1970.
(An outstanding essay by a leading scholar and thinker, as timely today as when first written.)
5. Nissim Rejwan, "Who Is A Jew: Two Famous NonQuestions Answered," Midstream, August-September 1985. (A penetrating essay, from a non-religious perspective, by a noted political journalist.)