Reform Angst Regarding Israel and Jewish Nationalism

By Matthew M. Hausman *

While attending shiva for a family member, a Reform rabbi felt moved to share a few thoughts regarding the Jewish views on life, death and the grieving process. Although his words about the deceased were eloquent, his doctrinal observations were quite disturbing. He lamented, for example, the absence of Jewish belief in an afterlife, apparently unaware that traditional Judaism believes in spiritual immortality and the world to come – essential tenets included in the Thirteen Principles of Faith articulated by Maimonides in his commentary on the Mishnah. However, the early reformers abandoned traditional belief when they rejected halacha (Jewish law) and the concepts of messianic redemption and Jewish nationhood. In so doing, Reform broke with normative Judaism, attempting to fill the ideological void with a belief in Israel’s universal mission. Unfortunately, this universalism has come to reflect secular, liberal and left-wing priorities that often conflict with traditional Jewish values, historical rights and interests.

Reform rabbis and congregants today champion “social action” to the exclusion of traditional observance, claiming that the humanistic values shaping their understanding of the concept represent the fulfillment of the Jews’ spiritual mission. Ironically, the movement’s activist wing, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, engages in little that can be called “religious,” but instead focuses on secular political and social causes. Given the movement’s history of liberal political activism, it is not surprising that Rabbi Richard Jacobs was chosen to head the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), in spite of his affiliations with J Street and the New Israel Fund.

Despite the artful claims of their supporters, J Street and the New Israel Fund (NIF) are not pro-Israel. Rather, they are left-wing organizations at cross purposes with the Jewish state. Their antipathy for Israel is evident in their validation of a Palestinian national myth that repudiates Jewish history, their failure to emphasize the Jews’ historical connection to the land of Israel, and their blind support for the establishment of a Palestinian state regardless of the persistent Arab-Muslim refusal to acknowledge Jewish historical claims. Moreover, they advocate dialogue with Arab-Muslim groups that will not concede Israel’s right to exist. After his affiliations were publicized, Rabbi Jacobs went on record to proclaim his support for Israel, but his associations with J Street (he serves on its Rabbinic Cabinet) and the NIF (he’s a member of the board) certainly raise concerns about the nature of his commitment.

The support Rabbi Jacobs received from a cross-section of the Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) – itself a politically liberal body – suggests that his acceptability as a leader was predicated more on his liberal credentials than his scholarship or affinity for Israel. In the opening paragraphs of a letter published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a group of CCAR officials and past presidents came to Jacobs’ defense, stating the following:

    We are past presidents and leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest and oldest rabbinical organization in the world. We are ardent Zionists, deeply committed to a Jewish democratic State of Israel in secure and recognized borders.

    Some of us identify ourselves with J Street, others with AIPAC and others with neither. However, one should not doubt the firm commitment of each of us to the welfare of the Jewish state and Jewish people. In that respect, we are typical of the broad spectrum of pro-Israel involvements that characterize the Reform movement.

    We enthusiastically support the choice of Rabbi Richard Jacobs to succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie as president of the Union for Reform Judaism and are deeply dismayed at the unwarranted attacks that have been leveled against him…

    (“Supporting Rabbi Richard Jacobs,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 5, 2011.)

At the very least, this letter reflects confusion within the Reform rabbinate as to what constitutes “commitment to the welfare … of the Jewish state.” Or it shows an institutional ambivalence in which superficial exclamations of devotion to Israel are used to parry any criticism regarding the rabbinical embrace of an agenda that promotes the Palestinian cause at Israel’s expense and which fails to condemn brazen expressions of antisemitism from the political left. It is beyond reason how these rabbis could vouch for J Street despite its clear pro-Palestinian bias; its dishonesty in concealing its funding sources, including the big lie that George Soros provided no financial assistance (its IRS Form 990 showed substantial contributions from Soros); its opposition to sanctions against Iran; its duplicity in providing speaking opportunities to Israel bashers and antisemites; and its lobbying efforts undercutting Israeli interests in Congress and the U.N.

The implication by these rabbis that J Street is simply an alternative to AIPAC was disingenuous, but their failure to address Jacobs’ NIF connection was astounding. The NIF is known for funding organizations that seek to delegitimize Israel and which are in the forefront of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (“BDS”) movement. Through its funding it has promoted anti-Israel “lawfare” and supported groups seeking to undermine Israel, including Adala, Mossawa, and the Arab Human Rights Association. It seems incongruous that one could serve on the NIF board and yet claim to support Israel. Clearly, this was too much for Rabbi Jacobs’ boosters to defend in their letter of support, which simply ignored his NIF affiliation.

Considering the CCAR’s own record of advocating the creation of a Palestinian state, condoning the eviction of Jewish “settlers” from Gaza, Judea and Samaria, and seeking dialogue with Muslim-Arab groups that do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, its tolerance for a leader associated with organizations that demean Israeli integrity, sovereignty and security should not be surprising. The only surprise is that anybody was shocked at all.

The selection of Rabbi Jacobs to head the URJ, and the earnest defense of his nomination, indicates a larger philosophical conundrum within Reform. Specifically, its leadership’s tolerance for a left-wing that demonizes Israel reflects the tendency to exalt a secular, liberal agenda despite the inclusion of policies that contradict traditional values and encourage political alliances that threaten Israeli security and continuity. This was amply demonstrated when Jacobs’ predecessor, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, announced an alliance between the URJ and the Islamic Society of North America (“ISNA”) in 2008, after the ISNA had supposedly renounced terrorism. Despite claims to the contrary, the ISNA has never recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; and it was identified as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Holy Land Foundation trial. According to Jorge Solis, the presiding judge at that trial, the prosecutors “produced ample evidence to establish the associations” between ISNA, among other groups, and NAIT, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and Hamas. Thus, its designation as moderate seems inconsistent.

The URJ’s willingness for dialogue with such groups – and its refusal to acknowledge the doctrinal basis of mainstream Islamic rejectionism – evidences either inexcusable ignorance or willful self-rejection. Furthermore, Reform rabbinical involvement with groups that disparage or delegitimize Israel suggests an intrinsic discomfort with Jewish identity and sovereignty. Not all Reform congregants feel this way, but clearly many of their leaders do. Historically, this unease comports with Reform’s early repudiation of Jewish nationality and the belief in national redemption, as well as the expression of both in modern political Zionism.

Starting with the first Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden in 1837, the early reformers introduced theological changes that deviated profoundly from traditional thought and practice. They rejected the Talmud and traditional observance, as well as the beliefs in a personal messiah and the restoration of Zion – core doctrines that had sustained Jews through two millennia of persecution and exile. In proclaiming that “Berlin is our Jerusalem, and the [synagogue] is our Temple,” the original German reformers embarked on a quest to reconceive Judaism as a “religious persuasion,” instead of a unique identity in which religion, ancestry and heritage play distinct, integral roles.

At its Philadelphia Conference in 1869, the American Reform movement followed suit, articulating its rejection of traditional messianic hope by stating that:

    The Messianic aim of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures, and their call to moral sanctification.

This pronouncement was shocking to Jewish national hopes and aspirations, and audacious in its denial of the centrality of the ancient homeland in belief and worship. The early reformers did not simply posit an authentic, alternative understanding of redemption. Rather, they created a new concept that abrogated the scriptural, historical and ethnographic foundations of Jewish nationhood. Their transparent purpose was to facilitate acceptance into Gentile society by making Jewish culture seem less alien, and to present Judaism as merely a theological preference instead of an all-encompassing ethno-religious identity that sets Jews apart.

Undaunted by the disparity between its assimilationist goals and traditional Judaism, the early American Reform movement went even further at its Pittsburgh conference in 1885, where it formally expunged nationhood from its restatement of Jewish identity. The Pittsburgh Platform, which constituted the manifesto of classical Reform Judaism in America, attempted to redefine Jewish identity thus:

    We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community; and we therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning a Jewish state.

With these and similar declarations, reformers in Germany and America advocated a deracinated identity based not on common history and descent, but instead on a purely ethical creed that deviated significantly from classical Jewish thought. Whereas traditional Judaism always defined the Jews as a people whose unique religious obligations were incumbent upon them precisely because of their ancestry, the early reformers proclaimed themselves to be Germans or Americans of “the Mosaic persuasion” to suggest common roots with their Gentile host societies instead of descent from forebears exiled by the Romans from Judea.

The early reformers rejected Zionism because it conflicted with their aim of redefining Judaism solely as a faith community rather than as the religious and cultural expression of an extant people with ancient roots. Those who sought to construe Jewish identity this way believed they would promote their integration into Gentile society. Indeed, the fathers of American Reform – Rabbi Kaufman Kohler in particular – opposed Zionism specifically because it reinforced the sense of Jewish nationality they sought to consign to the dustbin of history.

There were certainly Orthodox Jews who rejected Zionism, but they were not motivated by a desire to deny nationhood. Traditional Jews always regarded themselves as a nation in exile and never ceased praying for the deliverance of their homeland. To the extent there was religious opposition, it reflected the fear that secular Zionism would weaken the belief in messianic redemption, not the repudiation of Jewish nationality. However, many religious Jews supported Zionism from the start; and in fact some of the earliest proponents of reestablishing the homeland were Orthodox rabbis and mystics. These “proto-Zionists” included Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai and Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, who actively preached national regeneration before Herzl was even born, and whose ideological descendants participated in the Zionist movement. Indeed, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, a renowned scholar and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Yishuv, concluded that holiness could be found even in the acts of secular Zionists in redeeming the land of their ancestors.

While not all Reform Jews rejected Jewish nationality, their movement did not officially re-embrace it until the Columbus Platform of 1937. This retrenchment reflected the affinity of much of the laity for the Jewish community in the Yishuv and for the persistence of belief in the shared heritage amongst all Jews. It also recognized that the rejection of Jewish “otherness” had failed to secure acceptance in Germany, the birthplace of Reform Judaism. The failure of acculturated German Jews to achieve social integration was pointedly illustrated by the success of Nazism, and by the recognition that the Nazis did not invent antisemitism, but merely capitalized on what had been part of German culture for generations. That antisemitism continued to thrive regardless of how loudly Jews proclaimed themselves German showed they would never be permitted to assimilate.

Consistent with the Columbus Platform’s reaffirmation of Jewish nationhood, American Reform officially dropped its anti-Zionist stance in 1937. This was partly an acknowledgment that many Reform congregants had already endorsed Zionism (though many others remained opposed). Nevertheless, tension remained whenever Jewish interests were perceived to conflict with “social justice,” which as presented in the Columbus Platform became synonymous with the progressive politics of the era. When given the choice of supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt or lobbying for European Jewry, many Jewish progressives chose FDR, often rationalizing that such devotion would facilitate Jewish survival overseas. Some progressives were simply meek regarding their own Jewish identities; however, others felt compelled to attack more assertive Jews who boldly challenged the administration’s indifference to Jewish suffering.

Nowhere was progressive duplicity clearer than in the treatment of Peter Bergson by Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise and Jewish supporters of Roosevelt. The Bergson Group was aligned with Zev Jabotinsky, Revisionist Zionism and the Irgun, and worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the unfolding Holocaust. Despite apologetic post-war claims to the contrary, the Final Solution was common knowledge in the United States in 1942, and the Bergson Group organized rallies and produced a travelling pageant to stimulate a national call to action. The pageant, entitled “We Shall not Die,” was staged in major cities across America, including New York and Washington. Rabbi Wise, the American Jewish Committee, and other establishment organizations maligned the Bergson Group and attempted to suppress the show. Some of Rabbi Wise’s associates even urged the IRS and FBI to investigate the group, though no improprieties were ever found.

Jewish progressives denigrated Bergson and his colleagues by impugning their integrity and portraying them as provocateurs. Even some who identified as Zionists, including Rabbi Wise, showed greater interest in undermining Bergson and the Revisionists than in uniting against a common enemy. Rabbi Wise’s shameful treatment of Bergson’s people was no doubt influenced by his affinity for Labor Zionism, which opposed the Revisionists in the Yishuv, and by his blind allegiance to Roosevelt – despite the antisemitism that tainted his administration and riddled the State Department.

Today there are certainly Reform organizations that support Israel. However, there is still friction when Jewish interests are regarded as inconsistent with liberal priorities, especially in light of the continuing promotion of liberal politics as consonant with Jewish values. This is illustrated by the number of Reform action committees dedicated to gender politics, green initiatives and other liberal causes. It was also evidenced in 2008 by the abundance of Reform rabbis involved in “Rabbis for Obama,” whose intent was to portray Obama as friendly to Israel despite his long-standing associations with antisemites like Jeremiah Wright, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said, and the Nation of Islam; his silent record in the Senate regarding Israel; and his initial endorsement of Walt and Mearsheimer. Accordingly, it is no coincidence that J Street’s membership rolls are crowded with Reform Rabbis.

The support for Rabbi Jacobs within the Reform rabbinate betrays the reluctance of Jewish liberals to acknowledge that the political left fosters antisemitism and opposes the continuity of Israel as a Jewish state. This problem transcends the URJ, and reflects the tendency of many liberals to ignore left-wing antisemitism altogether, or to blame it on policies of the Israeli government or the dual myths of Israeli occupation and colonialism. Generally, they offer little or no criticism of the Arab-Muslim rejectionism that existed before Judea and Samaria were liberated in 1967, and indeed long before Israel declared independence in 1948. Moreover, they seem embarrassed to discuss how the Jews’ historical connection to the land preceded Muslim colonialism and Arab immigration by thousands of years, or to challenge the dubious Palestinian narrative.

Whether Reform voters truly consider Israel a priority will be determined by how they respond to Rabbi Jacobs’ stewardship of their movement, a barometer for which will be their conduct in the 2012 presidential election. The Jews who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 chose to ignore his known relationships with Israel bashers and antisemites, or were guided by liberal priorities rather than Jewish values and concern for Israel. After Obama’s disgraceful treatment of Israel these last few years – the nadir of which was his recent State Department Speech – the question is whether they are again willing to declare him “good for the Jews.”

In light of the State Department speech, their electoral response next year will offer a litmus test regarding how they value Israel for two reasons. First, the speech was based on the discredited theory of “linkage,” a foreign-policy sacred cow of the anti-Israel left, which links the Arab-Israeli conflict to all other geopolitical problems in the Mideast and holds that its resolution is essential to regional peace and stability. Second, Obama called on Israel to retreat to indefensible pre-1967 armistice lines and negotiate the Arab “right of return” while demanding no preconditions of the Palestinians. Despite the rationalizations of his apologists, there can be no doubt that Obama has abandoned Israel to appease Arab-Muslim sensibilities.

If the URJ and CCAR truly support the Israel as they claim, they should take a critical view of the President’s dismal foreign policy record instead of once again lending their imprimatur to sanitize his image among Jewish voters. They should also rethink their tolerance for organizations like J Street and the NIF, and question their own judgment in selecting a leader with memberships in both.

If those who chose Rabbi Jacobs and defended his pro-Israel bona fides want to show genuine concern for Israel’s safety and integrity, they could start with some public introspection into the motivations behind their choice of leadership. They could also analyze why they are so willing to validate groups that promote the BDS movement, work to delegitimize Israel, and criticize her character as a Jewish state. Finally, they could ask themselves how far they are willing to bend to accommodate a political agenda with which they might agree on many secular and social issues, but which tolerates, rationalizes or defends antisemitic expression masked as political criticism of Israel.

* Matthew M Hausman is a practicing attorney in New York

June 26, 2011 | 22 Comments »

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  1. Liberal Jews are so broadminded that they side with the enemy who wish to annihilate us.
    So it goes with J-Street and with Soros-supported New Israel Fund.
    I have yet to be certain that this is intentional or ignorance, but I’m leaning towards intentional; Soros knows what he’s doing.

  2. I met a divorced reform jew once. I asked her if she had a GET. She told me she wanted one, but her (reform) rabbi told her she didn’t need one! This was a woman who WANTED to do the right thing, but her ‘rabbi’ told her otherwise. I explained to her that she still needed a get, put her in touch with a Beis Din (orthodox) who arranged it all. It took her ex-husband some convincing, since the reform Rabbi told him it was not necessary. Thankfully, in the end, this woman did not give birth to any mamzerim!

  3. He lamented, for example, the absence of Jewish belief in an afterlife, apparently unaware that traditional Judaism believes in spiritual immortality and the world to come

    What is truly lamentable is his not only the profound miseducation this Reform rabbi received but his own bone laziness. A Google search for “Jewish belief afterlife” returns over 3 million entries and when I searched books at for “Jewish afterlife” the first book to come up was Simcha Paull Raphael’s magisterial work.

  4. abigail says:

    It is noteworthy to observe the present day doctrinal progeny of both of these,
    Reformed Judaism and liberal Protestantism (WCC),
    aligned, and in some respects allied, in their liberal views and policies towards Israel;

    Israeli Supreme Court and the Israeli Peace Movement is traceable to Nazis Germany.

    In Israel the German Jews got control of the state institutions of Power by controlling first academia then the courts and ultimately the Supreme Court, Media and control of all things defined as culture in modern western terms. Religion was left to the Jewish orthodox as the Germans didn’t have the numbers to challenge directly but they have always used their positions in Academia, media, and culture to chip away at the Religious orthodoxy’s hegemony in Israel and have been quite successful. As long as the Religious orthodox are dependent on the Government for Job,Salaries, and financial support for religious institutions they will never rise up in any serious challenge to the existing order. This partly explains why except for a very few most of the leaders of the religious orthodoxy are mostly silent and compliant in the face of obsessive provocations and challenges by entrenched elites still dominated by the world view of pre-1939 Germany. The affinity of Israel’s secular elites and the American reform movement is no accident. (Yamit)

    For mainstream Zionists, the year 1933 started a windfall of haavara, an exchange in which Germany allowed its Jews to leave for Palestine with large amounts of money and possessions. Short of foreign exchange, the Germans devised a solution acceptable to the Zionists: the departing German Jews would pay for local goods with Deutschmarks; the goods would be then exported to Palestine, where Zionist enterprises would sell them and pay the arriving immigrants. The solution was a win-win one: Germany rid itself of some Jews, and the Jewish Agency received about a 35 percent profit on the transactions. Unbeknownst to German Jews at that time, they also profited handsomely—by having their lives saved. Still, only about a tenth of German Jews moved to Palestine.

    Lacking Zionist ideals, the cosmopolitan yekkes became the major voice behind the idea of a bi-national state, or even Jewish autonomy under British rule. They advocated peaceful solutions and accommodation of Arabs. The German Jews were remarkably pacifist as a matter of law-obedience. They had an aversion to mob violence, and they suffered from guilt. They lived under the tremendous guilt of “the drowned and the saved.” They could not forget that the immigration certificates handed to them were refused to others, who subsequently perished. By helping the Arabs, they mitigated their failure to help European Jews

    When the Jewish state had been formed, the yekkes were the only educated class. Automatically, they became academics, media professionals, and judges. They imprinted German values on their students. Those were the extremely nihilist values of the most assimilated Jewish community of the time. If God had a purpose in the Holocaust, it could only have been stopping the assimilation, preventing that plague from coming to the Land of Israel, just as a generation of the Exile had to die in the desert. That purpose had failed, as yekkes exerted disproportionate, overwhelming influence over the Israeli educated class.

    Read Full Essay here

  5. Re Abigail I started thinking. Reforming an eternal Covenant between Creator and a Nation is in my view something specifically Jewish. It does not compare, is not in the same category with what Abigail mentions: reforming christian theology. Christianity (the faith) is in itself already a Reform. Very soon after birth it tried, sometimes clumsily to cut its ties to the very roots:Judaism. So Reform is totally inherent to Christianity; up till this day this is very clearly demonstrated. Reform goes on and on. Churches unite, separate, exegese changes all the time, the church “is the new Israel”, every place the Bible says “Israel” it really nmeans “the church”. Very clear texts in the Bible (in Hebrew) are being “translated” in a way to give them a totally different meaning, pointing to the birth of the Christian Redeemer. Young girls become “virgins” and such. Christianity is almost sinonym with reform without which it would not exist in any form. It started as Reformed Judaism.
    As for Judaism Reform means taking leave of Judaism. There cannot exist a Covenant reformed by one of the parties (sorry, this sounds almost sacrilegious as if I were speaking about two equal parties, which is totally untrue). G’ds Covenant with the first Jew and all his descendants stands for ever more. G’d is G’d. Not a man, changing his promises. Cleaving to Judaism means for men trying to get near to that unreacheable status. I would come to the conclusions that Christian and Jewish Reform are unconnected. Reforming a reforming faith does not seem dramatic. Jewish “Reform” is an absolute.

  6. What beset Orthodox Judaism in the 19c(as this article so very well recounts)
    also beset Orthodox Protestantism in both the 18c and 19c:
    both originating in Germany, and both undermining the final(sole for Orthodox Protestantism)
    authority of Holy Scripture.
    It is noteworthy to observe the present day doctrinal progeny of both of these,
    Reformed Judaism and liberal Protestantism (WCC),
    aligned, and in some respects allied, in their liberal views and policies towards Israel;
    as remarkable as it was to note their respective views and inaction before and during the Shoah.

  7. I’d like to echo a phrase Yamit used:

    Reform Jews are what we can consider to be neo-Hellenist

    Firstly, I think there is much truth to that statement.

    I have always had a small problem with Jews using the, essentially Hellenistic / Latin word / notion of a “soul” or “spirit” in a human being. I think both words “soul” and “spirit,” when used in the context of ostensibly describing some portion or attribute of a human being, do not posses (widely accepted) definitions which distinguish the two words clearly from each other.

    Now sure, if one puts the word “Spirit” into a translator, one will see many modern Hebrew words (do some have ancient roots?). Here is something about which, I am ignorant, and would love to hear anyone’s comment: is their a generally accepted ancient Hebrew word (ideally pre-Hellenistic) that we think comes close to the modern notion of “soul” or “spirit” (again, within a human being, or of a human being – NOT “external spirits” as “dispatched” by G-d to appear in a dream, or “deliver a message” for example)?

    I would hope such an ancient Hebrew word / notion does not exist, as I think that notion is, to an extent, in conflict with the fundamental (and proper) ignorance all Jews should claim with respect to G-d and the Messiah (certainly when compared to Christian “knowledge” of G-d). That “ignorance” and highly strict monotheism are, in my opinion, really two sides to the same coin.

    This is a bit like peeling onion skins, because clearly, Jews were influenced in certain ways by Hellenism (and perhaps Judaism was influenced as well? comments?), as was most of the literate world. But I’d still like to believe that while Judaism may have always had a Messianic notion, that ancient Jews were careful in avoiding attempts at “spelling out” how the dead “exist” in the interim before the Messiah, or essentially how they “arrive” in the next world.

    Put another way, I doubt, assuming the pre-Hellenistic Jews were strictly monotheistic, that they would have proffered a “soul” or “spirit” or other “modus operandi” (using some, pre-Hellenistic term) to imply a “continuation” of any part of the human being. Doing so, at least on a philosophical level, elevates man (or an aspect of man) to heights which I don’t think Judaism “wants.” In other words, I think the pre-Hellenistic wise Jews, would have wanted to avoid attempts to explain “what happens to you once you are dead, but before the Messiah arrives.”

    Maybe they’d want to proffer an explanation to the lesser educated bereaved, (similar to how Pessach shows us how Judaism takes pains to speak to every “level” or strata of Jewish society).

    Hellenism of course eventually did arrive, and Jews, as well as the rest of the world were presented with many new words and notions, including a potentially “useful term” (to some people) called the “soul” and/or “spirit.” One can say, well what’s the harm in using that word in a highly strict manner. My only answer is that it is potentially confusing to the modern Jew as it then sounds just like the Christian notion of a “soul” or “spirit” which they most certainly did adopt, hook, line, and sinker, primarily from the Greeks!

    I guess I’d just like to keep Judaism as “distinct” as possible from that “mix-up” by avoiding those two terms and inventing or re-discovering a term which does not even “appear” to comment on a human being after he dies but before the arrival of the Messiah. I’d frankly like to keep that “question” UN-answered in the same way that Judaism tries to keep at bay, attempts to describe attributes of G-d in the way, or rather, to the extent that Christianity does (they have no apparent problem in assigning all kinds of attributes to G-d, e.g. G-d has a son, G-d “is” “here,” G-d “is” “there,” etc). Once one claims to know a characteristic about G-d (and using those phrases [e.g. again: G-d “is” “here” right “now”], starts you on that path), in my opinion, one begins to, strictly speaking, veer away from the monotheistic camp.

    This is really more of a philosophical Jewish question, and perhaps does not belong in these comments. If so, I apologize in advance. Also, if I haven’t made clear my basic uncomfortableness with the use of “spirit” and “soul” in describing a sort of “continuation” of some aspect of the dead human being, allow me to apologize again! Lastly, I heartily welcome any comments and most of all: corrections!

  8. This from a highly regarded scholar

    You have it exactly right. I saw Reform anti-Zionism at its worse in the 1930s as a member of the Junior Society of NYC’s Temple Emanuel and as a student at HUC from 1942 to June 1945. In spite of all that was going on in Nazi-occupied Europe, leaders of Reform Judaism at HUC such as Julian Morgenstern, then HUC’s president, lectured to the students that after the war, it would be the duty of Europe’s Jews to return to their native countries and help rebuild democracy. Today, we know what happened to Polish Jews who did try to return. By 1943, I was completely disabused of my original anti-Zionism which I came to regard as a pathology that prevented otherwise intelligent people from comprehending the hazards of their own and their people’s very existence.

    In the early 1940s, there was one man in Cincinnati who was fully informed about the mortal threat to Europe’s Jews and was doing all he could to rescue them, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, z’l. Born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1882, he received his Orthodox rabbinic ordination (semicha) from one of the greatest authorities on Jewish law of his time, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Gridzinski in 1906. He emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1907. In November 1939, he called a meeting that resulted in the establishment of the Vaad Hatzalah,(Rescue committee) and became its president. He was also president of the Aggudat HaRabbanim. In October 1943, he led a rally of 400 rabbis in Washington for the rescue of Europe’s Jews, the only such rally held during the entire war in Washington. The rabbis proceeded to the White House to present a petition to President Roosevelt. He refused to meet with them.

    During the war years, I would occasionally go to services on Shabbat at Rabbi Silver’s congregation. Rabbi Silver spoke Yiddish during the services and had an untrimmed beard. We invariably came away from his services convinced of the superiority of our Reform Jewish ways. We saw him as some sort of medieval relic in contrast to our enlightened, progressive, modern Judaism. In retrospect, I came to understand that the really ignorant leaders were those smug, anti-Zionist teachers at HUC, like Morgenstern, who combined their anti-Zionism with a steadfast incapacity to understand what was happening in Europe.

    For a long time, I thought that Reform Judaism had adjusted to reality. Many rabbis and laypersons have, but the appointment of Rabbi Richard Jacobs shows that a very powerful segment of the movement has learned nothing. Moreover, there are many Jews today who are making the same mistake as did an earlier generation with Roosevelt.

  9. This in my inbox from Matot Arim:

    Like most educational and cultural institutions in Isarel — Yitzhar’s Od Yosef Hai yeshiva had always received a modest subsidy from the State. All of a sudden, some months ago, the budget vanished. No justification or reasoning was provided. Meanwhile the yeshiva had to pay bills, salaries and security expenses.

    After a long period of mystification, a breakthrough was obtained 3 months ago: diligent sleuthing by Ichud Leumi’s MK Uri Ariel revealed that Shai Nitzan, the senior Ministry of Justice official, was behind the move (see confirmatory letter to Uri Ariel, in Hebrew, from Perach Lerner in the Prime Minister’s Office: – click twice to enlarge.

    Shai Nitzan is one of Israel’s most radical opponents of the Yehuda and Shomron settlement movement.

    This was bad news, and strange news: Subsides for educational institutions are decided upon by the Ministry of Education — not the Ministry of Justice. Please write to Education Minister Gidon Saar asking him to politely over-rule Mr. Nitzan and restore the Yitzhar yeshiva’s modest subsidy. Example letter, if you don’t have time to write in your own words:

    Dear Minister Saar,;; or by fax: 025602246

    Yitzhar’s Od Yosef Hai yeshiva earned alot of respect when it “stuck it out” in its original site, Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem, for a long time, under life-threatening conditions. Eventually this yeshiva was forced to leave the holy site it was bravely maintaining, practically single-handedly, because of heavy Arab violence against the tiny site, causing the deaths of at least 3 Israelis – Druse soldier Madhat Yosef, Hillel Liberman, a father of 7 and recently, Ben-Yosef Livnat, 25 year old father of 4. Since being forced to leave, the yeshiva has been in Yitzhar, also a difficult and isolated location in the Shomron which suffers massively from European-financed ultra-left activists. I was mystified when I heard that the modest subsidy it receives was snatched away with no reason being provided. I understand that all necessary paperwork has been provided to you recently and feel confident that you will restore the subsidy to this institution which, due to its location, has a great many needs and has been, as I hope you will agree, in the front lines in the fight for the survival of the our people.

    Our blog:

    Now on Facebook:

  10. Shy Guy says:
    June 27, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Meanwhile, closer to home, Stasi forces have been busy today…

    When the Government either right or left begins to TARGET and HUNT the Leaders of the real religious right you can take it to the bank that more will follow and it’s always a prelude to more retreats by the government.

    Max Pressure should be applied to the Jewish Home Party to quit the coalition unless Yitzhak Aharonovich is fired. Embarrass Shas and Aguda that they are nothing more than prostitutes and Apikorsim.

  11. He lamented, for example, the absence of Jewish belief in an afterlife, apparently unaware that traditional Judaism believes in spiritual immortality and the world to come – essential tenets included in the Thirteen Principles of Faith articulated by Maimonides in his commentary on the Mishnah. However, the early reformers abandoned traditional belief when they rejected halacha (Jewish law) and the concepts of messianic redemption and Jewish nationhood. In so doing, Reform broke with normative Judaism, attempting to fill the ideological void with a belief in Israel’s universal mission. Unfortunately, this universalism has come to reflect secular, liberal and left-wing priorities that often conflict with traditional Jewish values, historical rights and interests.

    As a Christian who loves Israel, I’ve often wondered why so many American Jews would vote for the likes of Obama and other Israel hating politicians. This statement explains it clearly. Now I understand.

  12. Lea de Lange says:

    I answered that he was a Jew, no doubt but the religion he described had little to do with Judaism, in short Judaism it was NOT. When you ask a question of a Jewish Rabbi (I dislike the word “orthodox” as if there could be unorthodox Judaism) he will open the Talmud and answer you accordingly. He won’t start interpreting according to his own thoughts. He is a teacher of, a guardian of sacred wisdom that came from Sinai.Reform? Improving on divine Wisdom? What sacrilege.

    Joshua was commanded:


    Adding to the commandments would appear to be contrary to a written injunction which says:

    Deut. 4:2 says “You shall not add unto the word that I command you, neither shall you diminish from it, that you may keep the commandments of God that I command you.”

    Deut. 12:32 says, “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

    The Community of Israel accepted an obligation to enforce the SAME Law on all members of the Community!


    The Torah was given to the whole of Israel as a group and they were commanded to be mutually responsible for each other in keeping it.

    Judges and Sages Commanded to Interpret the Bible

    Moses was commanded to appoint seventy elders to help him rule over the people (Numbers 11:16).
    There also existed a hierarchy of local judges over tens, hundreds, and thousands (Exodus 18:21).
    Any case too difficult at one level would be passed on upwards (Exodus 18:26).
    As in any legal system over time a body of precedents and legal principles developed telling in detail how the Commandments were to be put into practice.

    [In point of fact most of the Rabbinical injunctions are hinted at in the written Scriptures according to grammatical niceties and quirks of the Hebrew Language. A good portion of the Talmud is dedicated to clarifying the Law according to what the Biblical verses indicate.
    Even if this was not so however we would still be obliged to do as the Rabbis say.]

    In case of doubt the Israelites were commanded to go to the authorities and Sages that would exist in their time.


    In case of doubt concerning any matter of the Law and its practical implications one had to make an effort (“ARISE”) and go to the recognized authority that existed.


    The Priests, Levites, and/or simple Israelite Judge, whoever was in charge at the time, would make the decision usually after consultation with the others and in accordance with accepted tradition and well know laws of logical deduction applied to Biblical verses and derived from them. This was the foundation of what later became the Talmud.

  13. I once had a conversation with a Jew who told me, I do not know why, that he is a member of a Reform congregation. Reform? I thought of Christianity but no, he meant Reform Judaism and wanted me to tell him what I thought about that “kind of Judaism”.

    I answered that he was a Jew, no doubt but the religion he described had little to do with Judaism, in short Judaism it was NOT.

    He was angry and I am sorry but what else could I have said. Judaism is all about “Hear, oh, Israel” and “We shall do and we shall listen”. Judaism was taught to us by G’d Himself, we mere humans could never ever change anything, not one word in all of it.
    Changing wat G’d gave and we, the people accepted is clearly leaving Judaism.

    When you ask a question of a Jewish Rabbi (I dislike the word “orthodox” as if there could be unorthodox Judaism) he will open the Talmud and answer you accordingly. He won’t start interpreting according to his own thoughts. He is a teacher of, a guardian of sacred wisdom that came from Sinai.Reform? Improving on divine Wisdom? What sacrilege.

  14. This is Reform Judaism:

    The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (also known as HUC, HUC-JIR, and The College-Institute) is the oldest extant Jewish seminary in the Americas and the main seminary for training rabbis, cantors, educators and communal workers in Reform Judaism.

    HUC was founded in 1875 under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in Cincinnati, Ohio. The first rabbinical class graduated in 1883. The graduation banquet for this class included food that was not kosher, such as clams, soft-shell crabs, shrimp, frogs’ legs and dairy products served immediately after meat. This feast was known as the treifah banquet.

    They should have all converted to Christianity and have done with it!!

  15. Yoel Ben-Avraham says:
    June 27, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I’m reminded of a breakfast conversation I had with a Reform rabbi from Terre Haute Indiana some, almost forty, years ago. He shared with me his personal amazement (and I think deep concern) that he could not find a forth generation Reform Jew in his entire congregation, one of the First Reform congregations established outside New York in 1858. I wonder if anything has changed in the past forty years?

    The big change is: they are down to one generation and that’s optimistic.

    If one were to discount the ex-Jews in America one would find that there are not over 5 million Jews in America but less than ONE MILLION!!! These are the Jews we should support and reinforce. The rest are JINOS or dead Jews walking!!

  16. I’m reminded of a breakfast conversation I had with a Reform rabbi from Terre Haute Indiana some, almost forty, years ago. He shared with me his personal amazement (and I think deep concern) that he could not find a forth generation Reform Jew in his entire congregation, one of the First Reform congregations established outside New York in 1858. I wonder if anything has changed in the past forty years?

  17. Rav Meir Kahane, in some article I only half-remember from about 25 years ago, discussed a structure run by the Reform Jews, which they called “the House of Living Judaism”. In apt mockery, the Rav referred to that place as “the House of Leaving Judaism”.

    That, in my otherwise general ignorance about Jewish doctrinal differences, has more or less been the way I always thought of the bunch. The usual marshmallow liberals with miniature mezuzot suspended hidden around their necks but not around their minds.

    Don’t waste time or thought on them.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  18. Ted Belman says:
    June 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Why are libersl Jews OKAY with Obama telling them he will force Israel to make concessions for her own good.

    liberalism and Jewish reformism are synonymous. Reform Jews are what we can consider to be neo-Hellenist. A heretical perversion of Judaism. Liberalism is their substitute for G-d and Judaism.

    Once you reject the concept of the national revelation at Sinai and reject the Law as binding,then you are left with ethics in place of G-d.

    Some Protestants are closer to Judaism than are the reformist Jews and reformist Jews are closer to Protestantism than to traditional Judaism.

    There is no reason why any assimilated ignorant ethnic Jew should relate to or care about Israel anymore than Libya or Botswana.

    They observe and cling to the 11th commandment: “Thou shall Melt”

    Shy Guy says:
    June 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    They abandoned Judaism. Why should anyone expect anything Jewish from people who spat on their heritage?! On the contrary. They are self-loathing by definition.

    “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask thy father, and he will declare unto thee, thine elders, and they will tell thee.”

    A reform Jew would seek out a guru before asking his own ignorant stupid father who is so ignorant that any ans. is worse than no ans.

    The rapidity of American Jewish assimilation has rendered them beyond redemption! Too many, assimilation too deep, and it’s all happened in a couple of generations. 2-3 more generations the American Jewish community will no longer exist and you can’t reverse the rate of intermarriage.

    I write them off and suggest expending time and energy on reinforcing the remnant who still maintain a strong Jewish identity and strong affinity towards Israel. The rest? Screw em.

  19. They abandoned Judaism. Why should anyone expect anything Jewish from people who spat on their heritage?! On the contrary. They are self-loathing by definition.