The Religious Denominations Take on Diets

A Satire about Officiating at Intermarriages

 

In an effort to stay on top of current trends and remain relevant, the Reform Movement made a declaration about proper eating habits.

The head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Nick Isaacs, noted that Americans were having a difficult time sticking with diets and often “cheated” leading to pangs of guilt. He said that those feelings of guilt could in turn lead to depression and further over-eating. “People should only feel guilt when they harm another living thing. It is nonsensical to have remorse for eating a cookie,” he said. “The Reform movement understands the very human nature of people and so declares that there is no distinction between a healthy diet and a non-healthy diet.” Isaacs went on to explain that his movement sought to obviate the negative sensation that ultimately pushes people further away from a healthy lifestyle. In his line of reasoning, removing any definition of what makes for a healthy lifestyle would thereby actually promote healthier living.

“And it’s really popular,” he added.

The Reform Movement is the largest denomination of American Jews and its latest proclamation is likely to attract more people, especially those that hate exercise.

Meanwhile the Orthodox movement – often the laggard of the three religious  denominations – felt compelled to issue its own statement in response to URJ’s Non-Diet Diet. The Orthodox Union wrote “Orthodox Judaism is rooted in rules and tradition that have been core to our beliefs and practices for generations. A healthy diet consists of eating properly and exercise.”

Really? Amongst the chulent chow-hounds?

Rabbi Isaacs ridiculed OU’s statement, noting the rigidity of their position. “Orthodox Jews will remain a small niche movement of extremists until they realize that people have a range of desires. Pretending otherwise is foolishness.”

“And they’re so fat too. They never exercise. They’ve adopted an immovable position that makes them both self-righteous and self-loathing. How is that really healthy?”

The OU would not formally respond to Rabbi Isaacs. However, in response to this reporter’s question, all the OU would say is that “Judaism never said it isn’t a big world with lots of tasty treats, and busy schedules which make it difficut to exercise. All we said was that a healthy diet consists of eating properly and exercise. It doesn’t mean that some people don’t fall short.”

A noted author, David Horkis who identifies with the Conservative Movement noted the exchange between the Reform and Orthodox denominations, and added his own take on the direction of the Conservative Movement. “The Reform Movement is obsessed with numbers. It believes that its sole mission is to have as many members as possible. Stating that there is no such thing as a healthy diet is obviously ridicuolous, but the Orthodox take the opposite extreme, and leave no room for people acting like people. It’s too rigid. They [Orthodox] are going to be left with a bunch of fitness nuts who will probably have kids with eating disorders.”

“But I fear for my Conservative Movement as well,” Horkis said. ”We have been so focused on a pathway of balance, of trying to maintain a goldilocks equilibrium between strict rules and no rules. I fear that the recent actions of a few Conservative rabbis proudly eating bowls of ice cream from the pulpit in a direct nod to the Reform movement will result in some absurd positions from the Rabbinical Assembly.”

Rabbi April Summer, head of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (RA) has been slow to wade into the diet debate. While she did not object to Horkis’s comments that Conservative Judaism sought a balance between tradition and popularity, she thought that chasing Reform’s position was crossing lines in the sand. “Our movement understands the reality of the science of the healthy diet and we understand the human desires to eat fatty foods and be lazy. Our focus is not demand complete obedience nor to sanction any-and-all behavior. Our goal is to focus on empathy, about the people struggling to have a healthy diet.”

Rabbi Summer said that the RA was not currently issuing an official position on the parameters of a healthy diet. Instead, it would issue a statement that it understood the challenges of people in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Horkis was none-too-pleased with that approach. “Is our denomination going to ever stand for something? Will we ever not cave in to our cravings? We’re stuck on not offending people. That’s become our mission statement.”

For their part, non-Jewish dieticians have been amused. “There are just a few million Jews on the planet, and they are caught up making declarations ranging from there’s no such thing as a diet; you must stick to a diet, and we feel for those trying to keep to a diet. They’ve got a lot of opinions for such a small community. And one thing is clear, 80% of the Reform movement will likely be overweight in short order.”

That’s not really much of a prediction; 71% of non-Orthodox Jews aleady are.


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The Reform Movement’s Rick Jacobs Has no Understanding of Tolerance

The various religious denominations in Judaism have coexisted peacefully in the United States for over one hundred years. Each denomination has very different viewpoints on the Torah and on acceptable practices and customs in matters of religious life. The choices each make are distinct, and they do not seek to control or influence how the other denominations choose to interpret or handle their religious lives. As such, the tolerance that each exhibits for the other is just a consequence, not a goal. The groups are not fighting over the same remote control. They lead parallel lives.

It is with this in mind that I note the various themes and calls for “tolerance” over the past months from Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism.

Consider Rabbi Jacobs Chaunkah message.

Jacobs opens his message with a note from Dr. Shaye Cohen who claimed that the battle of the Hasmoneans “marks the first time in recorded history that a war was begun in defense of religious liberty and individual freedom of belief.” An interesting point from a Harvard professor with a PhD in Ancient History.

However, the comment was quickly misinterpreted by Jacobs. In the following paragraph he wrote that “The Maccabees fought the first battle for religious tolerance in history. (emphasis added).” That is a complete distortion of Cohen’s comment and of history.

judas_maccabeus_before_the_army_of_nicanor
Judah the Maccabee in battle

The story of Chanukah related to the Syrian Greeks trying to Hellenize the Jews over 2100 years ago. The Greeks did not seek to introduce another alternative form of religious practice into the Holy Land. They sought to replace Judaism by defiling the Jews’ religious places.  The fight was an ALL-OR-NONE proposition.

The reaction by the Hasmoneans was similar in nature. The fought back for “religious liberty” and to rid the land of pagan practices. They countered the defilement of the Temple with purifying the Temple. They responded to the introduction of pagan practices with its expulsion.  The last thing that Chanukah celebrated was “religious tolerance.” It was a battle between all-or-nones.

Reform’s View of Tolerance in Israel Today

Judea and Samaria

Rabbi Jacobs misunderstanding of tolerance stretches from his interpretation of history in the Holy Land from over 2000 years ago until today.

In November 2015, Jacobs addressed his reform movement’s biennial in a keynote address. In this important speech about the direction of Reform Judaism he said (at 24:30) “Our Reform Movement, we have long opposed Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank (applause). The occupation threatens the very Zionism we hold dear.” He declared that his religious movement opposed Jews living in parts of the Holy Land. Seemingly not very tolerant.

He continued: “- the living expression of a Jewish and democratic state. It causes pain and hardship to the Palestinians and alienates Israel from friends and allies around the world. Only two states for two peoples, both states viable and secure, living side-by-side in peace, will bring this tragic conflict to its long-awaited end (loud applause).” Jacobs argued for a tolerance achieved by separation. A divide into two distinct states. However, he really meant a specific state of Arabs which should have no Jews, and a second state of Israel with both Jews and Arabs (the “progressive” two state solution is 1.5 states for Arabs and 0.5 states for Jews).

It was a curious twist on tolerance, for a “progressive” to condemn a Jewish “settler” that sought to live in peace alongside Arabs.

The Kotel

Rabbi Jacobs comments in November 2015 seemed to come into conflict with his actions a few months later.

In July 2016, Rabbi Jacobs marched into the occupied territories and demanded rights for Reform Jews.

rick-jacobs-kotel
Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, center, participating in a prayer service at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 4, 2016. (photo: Courtesy of the URJ)

Rabbi Jacobs came to the Old City of Jerusalem to pray and advocate for new privileges for non-Orthodox Jews. He did not seem to care or notice that much of the world considers the Old City of Jerusalem to be occupied Palestinian territory. That same territory which he thinks should be under Palestinian Authority, a political agency which advocates against Jews living anywhere in the area and seeks to stop the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.

His mind-bending views on “tolerance” continued as he led and advocated for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel.

The Kotel is the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple Mount. It has was the area set aside by Suleiman I 450 years ago for Jews to pray, after he kicked them off of the Temple Mount itself. Since 1967, the area has functioned as an Orthodox synagogue, and only Orthodox prayer practices are allowed there.

Jacobs seeks to change that and demands the legality of non-Orthodox practices at the Western Wall.  He is not satisfied with non-Orthodox prayers happening at the Southern Wall (which is actually bigger and prettier), away from the Orthodox services. We wants the Orthodox to tolerate his practices at the Kotel.

This is quite a different approach than Jacobs applies in other situations.  Jacobs normally advocates for peace via separation; tolerance via parallel paths.  Yet when it comes to the Kotel, (in an area he thinks shouldn’t even be part of Israel), he has demanded to impose his practices in the space of others.

Real Tolerance in Israel Today

The story of Chanukah was a fight for “religious liberty.” The all-or-none approach of the Greeks was countered with an all-or-none purge by the Jews. Neither side sought “religious tolerance.”

Remarkably, Modern Israel has taken a different approach.

  • While the Arabs of the Middle East sought to stop Jewish immigration – even at the dawn of the Holocaust – Israel opted to grant 160,000 non-Jews Israeli citizenship when it declared a state in 1948.
  • Even though the Arabs expelled all of the Jews from the Old City of Jerusalem in 1949, after Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it handed religious control of the Jewish Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf.
  • Even though the Arabs continue to advocate for a Jew-free state, Israel has allowed all Arabs in Jerusalem to apply for Israeli citizenship since it annexed the eastern part of the city.

In a world where the all-or-none approach is typically met with an all-or-none response, Israel has shown remarkable tolerance and acceptance of “the other.”

Rabbi Jacobs chose to distort the meaning of Chanukah and turned it into a call for advocacy on behalf Muslims in Burma in a global fight for religious tolerance. It is a nice message, but one not found in Chanukah, and disconnected from his attitudes towards Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem.

Let’s celebrate the holiday of Chanukah and the miracle of Modern Israel. It is a story that liberals can enjoy without distorting history and the English language.


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Rick Jacobs’ Particular Reform Judaism

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) held its biennial in Orlando, FL in November 2015. The head of the URJ, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, gave opening remarks that laid out his personal politics and worldview as the belief system of Reform Judaism.

rickjacobs
Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs
November 2015

Politics

Rabbi Jacobs is not a stranger to politics. In November 2014, Jacobs urged the state of Israel to not go forward with legislation to reaffirm its Jewish character. His position was that Israel needs more pluralism than Judaism; more universalism than particularism. In his opening speech to the Reform Movement one year later, he made clear that Judaism itself needed more of that approach too.

Jacobs spoke about Jewish values that are rooted in the Torah such as loving the stranger in your midst. He said that “thirty-six times the bible reminds us ‘v’ahavtem et ha’ger’ – to love the resident alien and treat the stranger as ourselves.” Indeed, such quotes are throughout the bible such as:

  • “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
  • You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21)
  • He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

However, Jacobs opted to then announce his own personal political views as being the official mantra of the Reform Movement: specifically that Jews living east of the Green Line (EGL) in Judea and Samaria is wrong and should be opposed. He stated the “Reform Movement has long opposed Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. The occupation threatens the very Zionism that we hold dear: the living expression of a Jewish democratic state.

Ignore for a moment that the global community endorsed Jews living throughout Palestine in the British Mandate of 1922.  How does a movement that prides itself on universalism advocate that anyone should be banned from living somewhere? How does a Jewish movement call for Jews being barred from living anywhere? How can a rabbi advocate for an anti-Semitic policy that is also directly against the bible?

Jacobs wants to see peace in holy land; he has no monopoly on that desire.

But why does a policy of welcoming strangers, mean adopting their hateful agenda? While Palestinian Arabs may demand Jews be prevented from buying and living in homes east of the Green Line (EGL), why should Jews endorse the same policy? There are many paths to a two state solution – and actual peace – that would not bar Jews from living in parts of the holy land.

The vast majority of Jews living EGL/ Judea and Samaria, want to live at peace with their Arab neighbors. These are lands that Jews have lived in for thousands of years and without any prohibitions from the League of Nations nor under the Ottomans before them.

While many Reform Jews may agree with Jacobs and his J Street view, does Reform Judaism leave no room for Jews with different views? Is Reform Judaism only open to radical liberals?

A Failure to Educate and Celebrate Israel

Jacobs did passionately defend Israel and spoke clearly of his opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).  He continued that many young people “feel that Israel has become too intolerant, not only of Arab citizens, but also of non-Orthodox Jews, Ethiopian Jews, LGBT Jews, asylum seekers and others.” He tacitly agreed to this viewpoint.

Exactly how does Jacobs believe that he defends Israel?  Just by saying that he is against BDS?

Why doesn’t he educate people and celebrate the accomplishments of Israel? Why isn’t he and the Reform Movement at the forefront of telling fellow liberal friends that Israel is the most liberal country in the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and in much of the world?


Jacobs called for a Reform Judaism that welcomes everyone in something he called “audacious hospitality.” He advocated a universalistic approach to the world over one of particularism.

Yet the leader of the Reform movement put forth a narrow political agenda regarding Israel that only spoke to a slice of its members, and by doing so created a wedge within the community about Israel. He failed to educate the community about Israel’s values that it shares, and thereby left a gap between Reform Judaism and the Jewish State.

There is a lot to love about Israel and much to learn about the different approaches to peace in the Middle East.  It would be better – and more consistent – for Rabbi Jacobs to understand that Reform Jews have a range of opinions about Israel that are consistent with Judaism and “loving one’s neighbor as thyself”, not in priority over oneself.

It would also go a long way to healing rifts between the broader Jewish community, and between the diaspora community and Israel.


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