A Purim Offering from the Union of Reform Judaism

By Janet Tassel, contributing editor at Harvard Magazine and a disillusioned Reform Jew

Just in time for the festivities of Purim, the Union of Reform Judaism, also known as the Union of Deformed Judaism, and elsewhere referred to as the Democratic Party with candles, came through with its holiday offering. The Union seldom misses an opportunity to cover itself with absurdity, and sure enough, through Purim and virtually until the Ides of March, it spent much of its recent convention debating, and then overwhelmingly passing, a resolution to bring shame to every patriotic American Jew.

The resolution, called “Resolution on the War in Iraq 2007,” is basically a stale leftover from the Union’s Biennial of 2005, wherein it voted “to call on the Bush Administration to immediately provide a clear exit strategy for the War in Iraq, with some troop withdrawal to begin after the December 15 elections.” Not hearing from the Bush administration, not even taken seriously by many Reform Jews, the assembled commanders-in-chief harrumphed and trundled it up again this year.

Those who keep track of such things might remember that the Biennial of 2005, led, as now, by defeatist-in-chief Rabbi Eric Yoffie, busied itself with affairs other than running away from Iraq; issues of great concern to our endangered Jewish people, such as the vast and scary “Religious Right” (to whom Yoffie predictably compared the Orthodox “extremists” in Israel). And it got solidly behind such Judeocentric measures as voting rights for the District of Columbia, collective bargaining (a fresh idea for 2005), “legal protection for gay couples,” and the promising potential of Abu Mazen.

But President Bush, who was and is treated by the Union with the condescension characteristic of the left, somehow neglected to obey the marching orders of Commander-in-chief Yoffie. To the contrary, huffs the executive committee, obviously offended at the slight, “on January 10, 2007, President Bush announced the deployment of over 20,000 additional troops to Iraq,” without, as he had been clearly ordered to do by the URJ, providing “an exit strategy….”

Quoting the military experts at the New York Times, the resolution continues by asserting that inasmuch as (pace Petraeus and all the generals in the field) there cannot be a military solution to the conflict, the United States should “seek a more vigorous diplomatic process…convening reconciliation talks” that include not only the United Nations, but Syria and Iran. This utterly mindboggling proposal stems from–yes, you dreaded this–the recommendations of the Baker/Hamilton Report.

Now the idea that a convention of Jews would base its recommendations on anything said by James “F—the Jews” Baker simply defies belief. But even if Baker were not an anti-Semite, a handsomely paid mouthpiece of the Saudis, and the man principally responsible for the disastrous outcome of the first Gulf war; even if he were simply a bumbling old loser, the idea that Jewish policy-makers would even pay attention to his ramblings shows how Reform Judaism has again lost its way, forfeiting all respect.

There is so much to be said about the arrogant posturings of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group, with its 79 “fruit-salad” recommendations, but one example will suffice. Daniel Pipes, having alluded to the ISG’s preposterous idea that “the Iraqi civil war would be ended by pleasing the Palestinian Arabs” and to its recommendation that the United States confer with Syria and Iran, continues, “Other brilliant recommendations call for the UN Security Council to handle the Iranian nuclear problem…and for the support group to persuade Tehran to ‘take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq…’ Right. The Iranian regime, whose president envisions a ‘world without America,’ will save Washington’s bacon. Such counsel smacks at best of what the Jerusalem Post calls ‘staggering naivete’ and at worst of ghastly foolishness.”

Let us not forget that Iran’s Ahmadinejad envisions a world without Israel even sooner than a world without America, and that he’s noisily trumpeting his intention to bring about this second holocaust. (The first one doesn’t count, you’ll recall.) In the stark face of this terrible threat, one can only stand in dumb disbelief at the proposition of the URJ to sit down and chat with him, and to hurry out of Iraq, leaving him and every other mortal enemy of Israel secure in the knowledge that we Americans run from our commitments.

Speaking of Ahmadinejad brings us back to the irony of this resolution’s coming along at Purim. Purim, for all its merrymaking and ahistoricity, teaches how vulnerable was the condition of Jews in Persia under the tyrant Haman. It seems an awkward time of the year for Jews to start debating a resolution featuring at its center the proposal to jaw-jaw (as Churchill used to say) with the Haman of today.

But the resolution–pushed, it must be said, by the URJ Executive Committee, which, according to dissidents within the Reform movement, may well be exceeding the powers granted it by the Union’s by-laws—takes great pains to hit a lot of Jewish buttons, so you shouldn’t think that the ideas come from the plain old secular left. Under a section called “Jewish Values Regarding Rules for War,” the commentaries tumble forth, quotations from BT Sanhedrin 74A, Baba Kama 28A, Shulchan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 425:l, and other occult sources, the rabbinical mumblings about obligatory wars, wars of permission, just wars, the authority to wage war, etc.

Why is the Union rendering unto itself that which it has no business rendering at all? Because, you see, “the prophetic tradition, so central to Judaism, calls on us to address the great moral issues of our day.” Prophetic? Virtually every member of the left is calling for an ignominious retreat from Iraq, just as they did from Vietnam—and just as the URJ did then. How is this prophetic? Prophetic means standing alone, bearing witness to the uncongenial and unfashionable Truth, not echoing the howlings of the mob. Reform activist and dissident Adam Cohn, in his terrific blog (http://reformjudaism.blogspot.com), writes:

    At this point, it would be good to remember that Jeremiah had an advantage over the URJ leadership. He was in direct communication with and speaking on behalf of God. The Israelite king would have been wise to listen to him. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of direct divine guidance. So, in lieu of God’s word, the URJ has substituted public opinion polls as a basis for their activism.

“Prophetic” is Samuel shouting at the hapless Saul, “The Lord sent you on a mission to make war on the Amalekites and kill every one of them. And that includes King Agag, you idiot!” Indeed, had Saul done as Samuel had ordered, it is said there would have been no Haman the Amalekite, and, who knows? perhaps no Ahmadinijad. And “prophetic” is Senator Joe Lieberman, the Last of the Just, who recently said, “There is something profoundly wrong when, in the face of attacks by radical Islam, we think we can find safety and stability by pulling back, by talking to and accommodating our enemies, and abandoning our friends and allies.”

The URJ manifesto is replete, not with the prophetic tradition, but with unchecked and anecdotal “facts,” and the clichés and mantras of the left. For example, they complain about “the rising price tag for the war.” As if we can fight the forces that threaten civilization on a dime. The fact is, as Jerry Bowyer writes on NROnline, “Listening to [critics of the war], you’d never know that the war is one of the least expensive in American history.” In any event, liberals think it’s a sin to spend money on defense, even if that includes the defense of Israel. They are unhappy that, as the resolution states, the cost of the war diverts funds away from “domestic concerns” (read “special interests”). And so, to that end, the Democrats in Congress have packed the war-funding bill with $4 billion in outrageous pork in order to “slow-bleed” the war supplemental.

So now, with every indication of a possible success in Iraq (whatever that may mean), including a new and brilliant general, who wrote the book on counterinsurgency; a slowing of American deaths, an optimistic appraisal of Iraqi self-sufficiency, including a new oil-sharing law, the URJ passes its head-in-the-sand resolution. Nobody with a sense of history seriously expects United States troops to vacate Iraq totally (nobody except the loony left); historians like Niall Ferguson expect there to be an American presence for decades.

“Central to Jewish just means doctrine is the need to protect innocent civilians,” drones the URJ resolution, as if American troops don’t do that every day. What might the civilian population have to face if we did pull out, as the left forced us to do from Vietnam and Cambodia? As Michael Rubin writes on NROnline, “In his history of the 1970s, my colleague David Frum relates the story of Sirik Matak, whom the US embassy in Phnom Penh offered to evacuate as the Khmer Rouge closed in on the city. It should be a must read to the “abandon Iraq” crowd:

    Dear Excellency and Friend,

    I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it. You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on this spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we all are born and must die. I have only committed the mistake of believing you.

The Khmer Rouge shot Matak in the stomach. He took three days to die.

The Union of Reform Judaism should include this story in their “just cause” deliberations, as they discuss Lev. 19:16: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” They might also take to heart the famous admonition of John Stuart Mill, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things.”

Now that is in the great prophetic tradition.

March 25, 2007 | 11 Comments »

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11 Comments / 11 Comments

  1. The more I hear and read about the depraved and evil horrors committed by the jihadists; gunning down children playing soccer, detonating car bombs with children in them at check points, using downs syndrome children to transport bombs etc., the more I am in favor of staying and fighting and defeating these monsters. Withdrawal would certainly be a victory for the global jihad. There is no other option but OUR victory.

  2. Laura’s reasoning appears to me to be correct, yet she stops short of seeing the benefits of the imposed and flawed democratic process that Iraqis have been engaged in. It still represents a sea-change for the Iraqi people. Should its democracy fail, those who tasted it for a short while will be different from those who did not. People choose to practice Islam because it is rock-solid. People leave the comforts of Islam because it is rock-solid. Rock-solid Islam cannot capture the truth, because rock-solid is not how the world works.

  3. I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty

    But the difference between than and now is have the Iraqis chosen liberty or Sharia? Are our soldiers risking their lives for liberty or an islamic state? And in view of the fact that this Iraqi government is joining in the arab boycott of Israel, it’s ironic that pro-Israel conservatives play the Israel card to American Jews in defense of the administration’s policy. Having said that, that does not mean I am for withdrawal, because I’m not. Withdrawal I believe would be disasterous at this point. But please let’s not pretend we are defending some western style liberal democracy taking hold in Iraq, these are the same intolerant muslims that exist elsewhere. The reason we should stay in Iraq is simply that is the lesser evil between the choices of staying and fighting or withdrawing.

  4. Not all the 65% who don’t support Bush support Cut and Run.

    True, a good number when asked if they support the Administrations’ policies answer no because they are weak and do not go far enough in dealing with the enemy.

    There are three types of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. – Twain

  5. Not all the 65% who don’t support Bush support Cut and Run.

    It is just such misunderstandings that lead to electoral defeat.

    Fine by this Republican.

  6. Uh, it was a Democratic Congress that failed to support our ally South Vietnam. They declined to vote the funds.

    Since the President doesn’t have the power of the purse it makes no difference that a Republican was President.

    Let me also note that in the stupidity of youth (I was 31) I thought the lack of support was a real good idea. I will be eternally shamed for my judgement of that time. Millions of deaths are on my head.

    BTW I’m one of those Deformed Jews and am an ardent Zionist. Go figure. I also support the war in Iraq. Odd man out I guess. Still it is unwise to paint with too broad a brush. You can find allies in the strangest places.

  7. I took the family for pizza last night at a local kosher pizza shop. Though one of the people serving behind the counter was near-naked with lots of tattoos and piercings, on the wall of the store was a melange of photos of old men with beards and black hats looking as though they had the world on their shoulders. These scholars, still given respect by the community, never made a public political statement supporting or opposing the war in Iraq or the war in Vietnam. That is because of the historical effects of making such statements in the past – the past 2000 years. These old men carried the entire panorama of the life of the Jews in their heads. They did not “cherry pick” their statements from the Talmud, but incorporated them all in their demeanor and pronouncements. Such perspective does not prevent sages from being wrong, as in those who stayed behind in Europe with their communities, never believing for a moment that the Germans could do what they did. However, hindsight has a different perspective than foresight, as we all know. They will not make the same mistake twice, since these old men have incorporated the lessons of the Holocaust into their very beings. They, like all humans, will make different mistakes.

    The real problem is with those who cannot, because of their own emotional inclinations, divide those personal histories from their impetus to take precipitous actions. The harm done by reform Jewish policies comes from precipitous statements and actions. They seem to take pride in their willingness to divide, rather than heal. “Principled” action takes on the meaning of “leaving out some of the facts.” These wars are complicated and until they can foresee the consequences of their statements for both the Jews and America, they should be just as quiet as church-mice.

  8. I also dislike it when Jews turn on Jews (or turn on anyone else were it for no good reason). I also would like to point out that a Republican Secretary of State is currently in Israel ignoring some basic common sense by forcing a resolution and reconciliation between a terror group and a country built on democratic and humanistic principles, a country that you might recognize as liberal. Well, Israel is very free, open and liberal when compared with the surrounding cruddy troglodytes who rule the hundreds of millions of Muslim in the region.

    However, you cannot deny that many on the left have made asses of themselves by stressing the evil of Bush while totally ignoring the much greater evil of the purveyors of Jihad. How can a person live with himself by equating what the US is doing in Iraq with what the jihad terrorists are doing throughout the world? How could one look upon what the Muslims have done and continue to do in Iraq and suggest that it is entirely our (the West’s) fault? If mistakes have been made then they involve the lack of hard military decisions and actions in favor of “winning the hearts and minds” advocated in the State Department.

    I will give you a Canadian example: In the town where I come from, the total focus of Israel advocacy was turned on its ear when one person captured the limelight to make his personal quest a reconciliation with Muslim groups who had been holding the most anti-Israel protests and making heinous verbal abuse and attacks on Israel while supporting Iran’s Hezbollah. When some Jewish people were invited to a dinner by the Muslim community, the Muslims pinned up a map of the Middle East without Israel – just like the ones in Palestinian texts. The reconciliation group continued unperturbed.

    Despite this treatment at the hands of the politicos in the Muslim community, the Jewish community supported this mission and carried on as if we were dealing with rational movement and that peace in our time was within the grasp of a small group of Jews in a small town who chose to put blindfolds on and ignore reality (plus the fact that they were ignoring both Israel and our other real friends in the community who actually support Israel).

    That is just one small example of why some people suggest that the left has lost its way. It is now into self-mutilation and chooses to see real enemies (recall that they attacked us on our soil) as victims. Nothing could be more of a lie and that is why some people on the right find the left to be bankrupt and without moral grounding.

  9. Legion, Dr. Laura sure got hers and it was indeed funny. Thanks for the citation.

    On the matter of Janet Tassel’s article, “A Purim Offering from the Union of Reform Judaism”, I do not care whether she is a libertarian or librarian. Regarding Rabbi Eric Yoffie and his devoted cadre of the so called leaders, movers and shakers of the URJ, I think Tassel has spiced her article up with just the right amount of contempt. If anything, she is a bit understated.

    You are rightly concerned about Jews attacking Jews. Rabbi Yoffie however was not attacked because he was a Jew. He was attacked because his views merit condemnation and contempt, both in his pretentious way of seeming to speak for main stream Jews beyond the reach of Reform Judaism which he doesn’t and secondly for a Jew, especially a presumptious leader such as Rabbi Yoffie to give credence to Baker and Hamilton, the authors of the ISG by agreeing with anything those two have to say, robs such Jews of any credence themselves.

    Recently the URJ passed a resolution calling for America to withdraw from Iraq, which I think spurred Ms. Tassel to write her article. It was noteworthy that the URJ had to include within that resolution that not all Reform Jews agreed.

    It would be most interesting to see just what proportion of Reform Jews are content to have Rabbi Yoffie speak for them. Ms. Tassel seems to have a handle on that and perhaps she can advise us in that regard.

  10. It woiuld be more helpful if you did not say the Left for the US to leave Viet Nam: it was the American public that wanted this and it was done under a Republican president…and quoting the poor guy about the Kymer Rouge is misleading since we were fighting officially in Viet Nam and NOT in Cambodia..the offer was from our embassy in Cambodia.

    I get ill when I see Jews turning against Jews and calling them the names that I have come to expect form anti-semites! You may not approve of the position Other Jews take on an American war in Iraq, but to turn against fellow Jews is sickening. Have you as a Jews sereved in the armed forces and if so, for which country? why?
    Are you one of the 35% of Amer icans who still support Bush and his war in Iraq? And if only that percentage supports him and the war, what happened to those many others that did vote for him? They clearly were not all from the far left, as you would suggest. Learn to temper your remarks and respect others, even when they disagree with you. I have researched the Harvard lady and now she is a Libertarian! wow! what the hell is that? An anarchist chick with a bra!Tossing about biblical citations is an easy game to play. Try this:

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