The Non-Orthodox Jewish Denominations Fight Israel

The tensions between the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations and Israel seemingly became tense over the Israeli government’s decision to postpone plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, the Western Wall. In truth, the relationship between the Reconstructionist, Jewish Renewal and Reform branches of Judaism (the 3R’s) and the Jewish State have been terrible for a long time.

There are a number of Jewish organizations that actively seek to harm Israel in public fora. As detailed in “Unity – not Uniformity – in the Pro-Israel Tent,” the largest and most noxious of the left-wing organizations are: the Jewish Voice for Peace that advocates for a global boycott of Israel; J Street that advocates for sanctions against Israel at the United Nations; and the New Israel Fund, that supports organizations that go on global tours bad-mouthing Israel and groups that seek to destroy the Jewish character of Israel.

What that article did not convey and will be discussed and explored here, was that these anti-Zionist groups are uniquely backed by non-Orthodox rabbis.

Jewish Voice for Peace

Arguably the most proudly vocal anti-Zionist group is the Jewish Voice for Peace, JVP. The rabbis of JVP have supported the Gaza flotilla; written books demonizing Israel as a modern day blood libel; and arguably promoted the murder of Israelis.


JVP post supporting convicted terrorist Rasmeah Odeh

JVP’s rabbinic leadership almost exclusively comes from the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal branches of Judaism. At their core, they seek a Judaism that has nothing to do with Zionism. Many are proudly anti-Zionist.

Rabbi Joseph Berman (Non-Denominational)
Rabbi Linda Holtzman (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Buzz Bogage, Denver, CO
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Evanston, IL (Reconstructionist)
Student Rabbi Leora Abelson
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Lev Baesh (Reform)
Rabbi David Basior (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Haim Beliak (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Joseph Berman (Unaffiliated)
Rabbi Andrea Cohen-Kiener (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Meryl Crean (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Michael Davis (also backed by the Students for Justice in Palestine which has supported terrorist groups)
Rabbi Art Donsky (Non-denominational)
Rabbi Michael Feinberg
Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny (Egalitarian)
Rabbi Shai Gluskin (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Borukh Goldberg
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi Edward Klein
Rabbi Alan LaPayover (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Eyal Levinson (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom (Conservative)
Rabbi David Mivasair (Progressive)
Rabbi Dev Noily (Progressive)
Rabbi Alexis Pearce (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Michael Ramberg (Progressive)
Rabbi Ken Rosenstein (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Lew Weiss (Reform)
Rabbi Alissa Wise (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Joey Wolf (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Rain Zohav (Jewish Renewal)

The Anti-Defamation has essentially labeled JVP a hate group stating:

“JVP has consistently co-sponsored demonstrations to oppose Israeli military policy that have been marked by signs comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and slogans that voice support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. JVP has not condemned or sought to distance itself from these messages.”

The rabbis of these communities put politics front-and-center of their religion. And their politics are anti-Zionism.

J Street

J Street officially states that it is not in favor of the BDS movement, but has supported many speakers who do call for the boycott of Israel. More, J Street actively lobbied the Obama Administration to allow the censure of Israel at the United Nations and enabling the resolution labeling Israeli territory east of the Green Line to be deemed illegal.

The rabbinic core of J Street is slightly more “traditional” than the rabbis from JVP, counting many Reform rabbis. The list of hundreds of rabbis is too long to review here, but a sample highlights the trend:

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, Brooklyn, NY (Reform)
Rabbi Lauren Henderson, Chicago, IL (Conservative)
Rabbi Alexander Kress, Abington, PA (Reform)
Rabbi Marisa Elana James, New York, NY (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, New York, NY (Conservative)
Rabbi Amanda Schwartz, New York, NY (Conservative)
Rabbi Scott Aaron, Pittsburgh, PA (Reform)
Rabbi Alison Abrams, Deerfield, IL (Reform)
Rabbi Ruth Adar, Oakland, CA (Reform)
Rabbi David Adelson, New York, NY (Reform)
Rabbi Katy Z. Allen, Wayland, MA (Independent)
Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, Philadelphia, PA (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Thomas Alpert, Needham, MA (Reform)
Rabbi Steven Altarescu, Bronx, NY (Reform)
Rabbi Camille Shira Angel, San Francisco, CA (Reform)
Rabbi David Ariel-Joel, Louisville, KY (Reform)
Susan J Averbach, San Francisco, CA (Humanistic Judaism)
Rabbi Benjamin Arnold, Evergreen, CO (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Melanie Aron, Los Gatos, CA (Reform)
Rabbi Arik W. Ascherman, Jerusalem, Israel (Reform)
Rabbi Aura Ahuvia, Woodstock, NY (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Larry Bach, Durham, NC (Reform)
Rabbi Lev Baesh, Lexington, MA (Reform)
Rabbi Chava Bahle, Suttons Bay, MI (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Justus Baird, Princeton, NJ (Reform)
Rabbi Rachel Evelyne Barenblat, Williamstown, MA (Jewish Renewal)
Rabbi Benjamin H. Barnett, Corvallis, OR (Pluralistic)
Rabbi Bernard Barsky, Dayton, OH
Rabbi Lewis M. Barth, Encino, CA (Reform)
Rabbi Geoffrey Basik, Baltimore, MD (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi David Dunn Bauer, San Francisco, CA (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Renee H. Bauer, Madison, WI
Rabbi David Baylinson, Atlanta, GA (Reform)
Rabbi Micah Becker-Klein, Hockessin, DE
Rabbi Martin Beifeld, Richmond, VA (Reform)
Rabbi Anne Belford, Houston, TX (Reform)
Rabbi Marc J. Belgrad, Buffalo Grove, IL (Reform)
Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer, Savannah, GA (Reform)
Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appel, Highland Park, IL (post-denominational)
Rabbi Karen Bender, Tarzana, CA (Reform)
Rabbi Olivier BenHaim, Seattle, WA (Reform)
Rabbi Allen Bennett, San Francisco, CA (Reform)
Rabbi James Bennett, St. Louis, MO (Reform)
Rabbi Philip J. Bentley, Hendersonville, NC (Reform)

The Reform movement isn’t explicitly anti-Israel the way that much of the Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal movements are currently. However, the current head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs is particularly political and claims that the official stance of Reform Judaism is anti-settlements. How he declared that his personal anti-Jews living in Judea and Samaria politics should frame the entire movement is something that members of Reform Judaism need to address.

New Israel Fund

The New Israel Fund gives money to groups like Adalah that have a stated purpose of ending any Jewishness in Israel. It lures people to donate money stating that it is about equality in Israel – and by that it means ending the Jewish Law of Return; the Hatikvah; Jewish star on the national flag, et cetera.

The international council of NIF features a number of non-Orthodox rabbis:

Rabbi Rachel Mikva (Reform)
Rabbi Bernard Mehlman (Reform)
Rabbi Anson Laytner (Reform)
Rabbi Daniel Weiner (Reform)
Rabbi David Levin (Reform)
Rabbi Morris Allen (Conservative)
Rabbi Norman Cohen (Reform)
Rabbi Alexander Davis (Conservative)
Rabbi Shosh Dworsky (Conservative)
Rabbi David Freedman
Rabbi Yosi Gordon (Conservative)
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz (Reform)
Rabbi Cathy Nemiroff (Reform)
Rabbi Debra Rappaport (Reform)
Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein (Conservative)
Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker (Reform)
Rabbi Sharon Stiefel (Reconstructionist)
Rabbi Aaron Weininger (Conservative)
Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman (Reform)
Rabbi Sharon Brous (Conservative)
Rabbi Rachel B. Cowan (Reform)
Rabbi Jerome K. Davidson (Reform)
Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen (Reform)
Rabbi J. Rolando Matalon (non-denominational)
Rabbi Aaron Panken (Reform)
Rabbi Gordon Tucker, White Plains (Conservative)

Relative to JVP and J Street, the New Israel Fund has many more Conservative rabbis joining its leadership ranks. But still, none of these anti-Zionist organizations that have thousands of rabbis in leadership positions have a single Orthodox rabbi.

Why?

Beyond Liberal Politics

There is no question that some of these forms of Judaism revolve around liberal politics more than religion. Many of the synagogues state clearly on their websites that they are focused on tikkun olam (repairing the world), and they do this not through Torah-inspired commandments like helping the widow and orphan, but in new imagined ways like raising the minimum wage and saving the planet.

But there are many liberal rabbis in the Orthodox community too, and they support the Jewish State. They are proud to point out that Israel is one of the most liberal countries in the world, and certainly within the xenophobic, antisemitic and misogynistic Middle East. When liberal Orthodox rabbis find a need to criticize the Israeli government, they do it directly with the government in a constructive manner, not through antagonistic actions on the global stage.

Therefore, the issue cannot be simply attributed to the politics of many rabbis in the non-Orthodox world. There must be something systemic in the religious philosophy of those denominations that make them embrace Israel-bashing.

Who Is a Jew

The key Jewish prayer Shemoneh Esrei recited several times every day begins with the blessing of “our God and the God of our fathers.” It encapsulates the notion that Judaism is both a religion of being, passed down physically from our ancestors, as well as one of choice – “our God” – in which each person takes ownership of his faith.

In regards to being a Jew, Orthodox Judaism (and Conservative Judaism, at this point in time) have held the line on using traditional halacha in critical life events that define “who is a Jew.” Two of those are birth and marriage.

Both the Orthodox and Conservative movements believe that the child of a Jewish mother is a Jew, regardless of the religion of the father. The other denominations believe in patrilineal descent, that religion can be passed down via the father’s religion. This is a fundamental breakdown between the religious denominations regarding “who is a Jew.”

Similarly, Orthodox and Conservative rabbis do not perform interfaith weddings. The rabbis in the other movements are very proud to perform such ceremonies and openly advertise their services.

These two life events are obviously interconnected. An interfaith couple will have a non-Jewish parent, and about half of the time, produce a non-Jewish child according to the traditions of matrilineal descent practiced by Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Sanctioning interfaith marriages has produced a chasm between the Reform/Reconstructionist/Jewish Renewal (3R) movements with other Jewish denominations, AND with Israel itself.

Israel created a Law of Return in 1950 that allowed any Jew to move to Israel. In 1970, the law was amended to clarify that a Jew “means a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion.” While the 1970 amendment made provisions for the non-Jewish spouse and children of a Jew to move to Israel, the Law of Return used a definition of matrilineal descent that only Conservative and Orthodox used, upsetting other denominations that support patrlineal descent. However, the law’s clause on conversion did accept non-Orthodox conversions performed outside of Israel, as decided by the Israeli Supreme Court in March 2016.

Universalism versus Particularism

Being a Jew is simply part one. The actions and demands of the religion, the mitzvot, are part two, and the breakdown between Orthodox Judaism and the branches that seek to harm Israel are profound.

Orthodox Judaism believes that the Torah has 613 commandments for a Jew to live by. Some are clear-cut, like “Do not kill,” while others are subject to broader interpretation like “keep the Sabbath holy,” as there may be many different methods of keeping the Sabbath holy. Conservative Judaism basically follows the concept of the 613 mitzvot, but interprets them differently (for example, Orthodox Jews will not use electricity on Sabbath to “keep it holy,” while Conservative Jews will often use electricity.)

In contrast, the 3R branches of Judaism have revamped the mitzvot in a way that fits a “new age” rewriting of the laws. They have made the commandments about human-centered spirituality that spreads out to God and all mankind, rather than commandments that are passed down from God to man.

The Jewish Renewal site makes its mantra clear, stating it’s “a transdenominational approach to revitalizing Judaism.” Its reach is to everyone: “Renewal is an attitude, not a denomination,” with “an emphasis on accessible spiritual experience.” In other words, this is a movement without demands, such as only eating kosher foods. It is more akin to a yoga retreat. Not only is there no need to be Jewish, a person needn’t perform ancient rote rituals. Just engage in new age meditation.

Reconstructionist Judaism is more traditional than Jewish Renewal, but far from “traditional.” Its emphasis is on “Jewish Identity,” as its website states: “what primarily gives Jews our identity is not belief but rather the feeling of belonging to the Jewish civilization itself. We observe Jewish holidays, rituals and customs, not because a divine being commanded us to, but because it is our primary method of reinforcing Jewish identity.” In other words, God’s commandments are not really commandments (or God doesn’t exist) for Reconstructionist Jews. The basis for observing any tradition is simply a matter of keeping the “Jewish identity” around, not because of any higher authority.

These days, the Reform movement has put the world front and center. It’s mission is to build “communities that transform the way people connect to Jewish life, building a more whole, just, and compassionate world.” It does this through tikkum olam, “repairing the world.” The movement’s leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, speaks of Reform Judaism as operating in concert with the global community: “the heart of a tikkun olam that embraces always both the universal and the particular.

These three branches of Judaism approach religious practice very differently than Orthodox Judaism. Their Judaism is centered on global mankind’s yearning to connect – to the planet and the people around the world – to achieve a personal fulfillment of serenity. Jewish rituals are props to achieve that state of zen. Similarly, non-Jews bring their own props to their encounters with God and mankind. Universalism and particularism (of props) coexist in a human-centered meditative state of bliss.

This 3R approach towards religion is an inversion of Orthodox Judaism that is premised on a top-down philosophy. The Bible and Ten Commandments began with God, not man. The 613 commandments given to Jews were just that – commandments – not guides to validate one’s own sense of social justice. These commandments were uniquely given to Jews, as Orthodoxy believes that non-Jews were given only seven commandments which relate to universal morality.

The orientation of particularism of Orthodox rabbis extends broadly: to Jewish people (they do not perform interfaith weddings); the Bible (with unique commandments only for Jews); and to the holy land itself, which they believe was given to the Jewish people. According to a Pew poll in 2013, 84% of Orthodox Jews believe that God gave Israel to the Jews. That compares to only 54%, 35% and 24% of Conservative, Reform, and non-denominational Jews, respectively. By way of comparison, 55% of Christians believe that God gave Israel to the Jews. How remarkable is that? Christians are more Zionistic than non-Orthodox Jews.

This dichotomy between Orthodox and non-Orthodox denominations is at the core of different approaches to the Jewish State and the holy land. For Orthodox Jews, the Jewish State is particular, just like the bible and Jewish people. In contrast, the non-Orthodox denominations focus on universalism, and shun particularism as a form of tribalism and nationalism, with more than a whiff of racism.

It is therefore not a surprise that Jewish denominations that shun particularism in favor of universalism also denounce Zionism.

But why would universalists attack Israel on the global stage?

The fundamental approaches to Judaism, Jews and the holy land do not just lead to a difference of opinions; it destroys the baseline of communication, making discussion virtually impossible. In mathematical terms, the universalists are speaking in base 10 and the particularists are speaking in base 7. They can both understand each other in simple matters, like single digit numbers or that Abraham is the father of monotheism. But on complicated matters like a democratic Jewish State living in peace and security in the heart of the Arab Muslim Middle East, the interaction falls apart like discussing the number 242 (equal to 242 in base 10, but just 170 when converting base 7 to base 10). They are just not talking about the same thing. So rather than talk to each other, they talk to people with a similar language. The 3R rabbis take their version of tikkun olam to the global stage, like the United Nations.

Whereas Orthodox liberal Jews can call out for rights for Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs without vilifying Israel, non-Orthodox rabbis seemingly cannot. Orthodoxy can approach equality within the rubric that the holy land as special and unique for Jews, while the non-Orthodox only see tribalism and primitive thinking. The 3R rabbis burnish their bona fides by burning ties that could reek of particularism as they engage with the global community.

The Current Dynamic

The universalism / “anti-tribalism” movement within the 3R denominations often attacks both Orthodox Jews and the Jewish state. It has sometimes provoked a backlash.

In September 2015, the Reconstructionist movement announced a new policy to allow rabbis to marry non-Jews as a reaction to the movement’s conclusion that “many younger progressive Jews, including many rabbis and rabbinical students, now perceive restrictions placed on those who are intermarried as reinforcing a tribalism that feels personally alienating and morally troubling in the 21st century.” With such declaration, several Reconstructionist rabbis became fed up.

In April 2016, twenty Reconstructionist rabbis left the denomination to form Beit Kaplan, as they felt that the Reconstructionist movement had lost its way. They said that “the decision to form the association was sparked, in part, by the recent RRC policy shift that muddled the definition of what it means for a rabbi to have a Jewish family. Other contributing factors include a desire to return the focus of liberal Judaism to Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan’s vision of Jewish peoplehood and a desire to affirm connections to the Jewish people globally, including in Israel.”

Several Reconstructionist rabbis became infuriated with the official positions of Reconstructionist’s universalism. Their new assembly felt compelled to clarify that not only did it think that sanctioning rabbis intermarrying was a destructive force on the Jewish family, it said that it “unequivocally reject[s] any movement to delegitimize Israel in the community of nations,” because the Reconstructionist movement had become a haven for demonizing the Jewish State.

In short, Beit Kaplan felt that the Reconstructionist movement had lost the basic concept of the definition of being a Jew and the special nature of the Jewish State.

The 3R rabbis’ Israel-bashing had started to gain momentum during the 2014 Gaza War, when many non-Orthodox rabbis actively vilified the Jewish State. The lunatic rabbinic fringe even held fasts for the people of Gaza, but not for anyone in Israel.

Consider Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, the leader of an enormous gay Reconstructionist congregation, member of J Street and listed in Newsweek’s list of 50 Influential Rabbis. Her radical left-wing politics were mostly blessed by her members, but her tirades against Israel became too much for many to bear. In 2014, one of the board members of her congregation resigned, publicly stating the “recent [2014 Gaza War] events have demonstrated that CBST [the gay synagogue] is far more committed to a progressive political agenda than to the Jewish people….  I don’t want to raise my kids in a synagogue that’s praying for people firing rockets.

The attitude was pervasive. Leading rabbis of JVP and J Street – all non-Orthodox – called for a divorce between Judaism and the Jewish State, and between the holy land and Jews.

Consider Rabbi Brian Walt, a member of JVP and coordinator of the Jewish Fast for Gaza, who gave a talk entitled “Affirming a Judaism and Jewish identity without Zionism,” in which he declared: “political Zionism violates everything I believe about Judaism.” Or Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, on the board of J Street and signatory to the fast for Gaza who penned a letter for Code Pink to support the BDS movement, stating she “saw the destruction that is wrought by too many Israeli settlers,” making her change “my mind about the purchase of products made in the Jewish West Bank.

Non-Orthodox rabbis comfortably argued that there are too many Jews in the holy land because they segmented the religion, the people, the land and their identity. As they believe that religion is defined solely by identity, there is no need for a particular land, and no narrow definition of the Jewish people, as identity is self-selected.


Non-Orthodox rabbis wrap themselves in a tallit as a mere Jewish prop in a universalistic and humanistic approach towards meditation, while they shudder at the particularism of the God of Orthodox Judaism and the Jewish State.

Supporting Israel is not a battle of political orientation between liberal and conservative Jews. It is a philosophical break in the Jewish community with a fault line regarding the uniqueness of Jews and the Jewish State. The non-Orthodox denominations’ religious philosophy will only let it embrace an Israel that is: about people, not God; about rights not rituals; more secular than religious; more democratic than Jewish; and more universal than particular.


Related First.One.Through articles:

Students for Justice in Palestine’s Dick Pics

The Left-Wing’s Two State Solution: 1.5 States for Arabs, 0.5 for Jews

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

A Seder in Jerusalem with Liberal Friends

There are Standards for Unity

The Three Camps of Ethnic Cleansing in the BDS Movement

The Anger from the Zionist Center

Tolerance at the Temple Mount

The Impossible Liberal Standard

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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.


Relaed First.One.Through artilces:

New Group, ZOFLAT, Takes on Shift in Modern Orthodoxy

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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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Today’s Inverted Chanukah: The Holiday of Rights in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria

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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.


Related First.One.Through articles:

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A Disservice to Jewish Community

Nicholas Kristof’s “Arab Land”

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