One of our visitors who goes by the name of Katie asked some questions in the mikvah discussion and since I spent a long time writing responses and consider the discussion to have some importance and relevance, I thought they merit a post. I didn’t sit there for days to develop a position paper but I do think my responses represent some ideas and solutions for some of the current problems that exist between movements especially in light of the control over the Israeli Rabbinate and Ministry of Religious Affairs by Orthodox streams. Katie’s questions are in italics.
1. If Israel is a Democracy then ought all publicly funded Jewish religious institutions and facilities be open to any members of any Jewish denomination? For example, as previously mentioned, ought a Reform Jew be allowed to have a mixed service, officiated by a Reform Rabbi and serving food prepared according to Reform dietary standards at The Great Synagogue in Jerusalem? How about if the example changed and we substituted Reform for Liberal or Humanist Jews?
1. The state of Israel should not be involved in religion. To the extent that there is a Ministry of Religious Affairs, it should simply deal with ensuring fair, free and safe practice of any religion within Israel.
The complexity of navigating through the various movements within Judaism means clearly that the politically strong, politically connected, wealthier, or those given power through historic accidents will use the ministry to advance their movement’s objectives to the detriment of other movements.
The government should stay out of religion. Since this is Israel, perhaps we could all agree to certain base-line restrictions that would relate to Jewish culture, such as ensuring that any publicly owned or controlled, or quasi-owned bodies such as bus transportation or shops would not be operating on shabbat and holidays.
Historic religious sites should be under the auspices of the government because of their historic nature – the Kotel being example #1 – and the government should ensure that all citizens (and non-citizens) have fair and equal access. One way to get around the issue of how to deal with certain practices such as breach of kashrut might be to restrict worship or practice in the relevant buildings to a baseline standard that acknowledges historic and ancient traditions. So, for example, a Reform rabbi would be allowed to conduct a ceremony or there could be a Reform event at the Great Synagogue, but they may not use any food that would be considered unkosher, a microphone on shabbat or holidays, etc.
2. If Israel is a Democracy that cherishes freedom of religion, is it not possible that forcing Orthodox Jews to tacitly acquiesce to the validity of Reform and Conservative standards a violation of Orthodox Jews’ freedom of religion?
2. Perhaps. I can see how they might feel that way. That is why the state should stay out of the situation. It has no business being involved in conversions, marriages, divorces or the religious aspects of death. In the US and Canada there has been a problem similar to that of the Mikvahs in Israel. The Orthodox have refused access to other movements in some places. The Conservative movement ended up building their own. In Israel this becomes complicated because you’d be discriminating between two groups since one would receive government funding so isn’t it simpler and more fair to allow the free “marketplace” to determine how people get married, worship, etc.?
In this way, the Orthodox are not forced to acquiesce to anything.
Since one difference between Israel and outside of Israel is that communities raise money and disperse it outside of Israel, you might end up with a complex funding problem for many institutions if you were to remove government altogether. What I would propose is that the government earmark a certain amount annually dedicated to supporting Jewish religious life. The money would be placed under the control of unaffiliated professional government employees and will be divided based on official requests from groups and some sort of complex set of rules that ensure everybody gets some. That’s how the UJA and UJF do things today, and this blind government trust would emulate them. There is room here for hanky-panky or usurpation of the rights of some to the benefit of others, but in theory you could have watchdogs and in practice I’m guessing things will more or less work properly.
Alternatively, you could simply eliminate any funding at all. You wouldn’t do this overnight because some school systems and yeshivas would be destroyed, but you could do it over a period of a couple of years.
3. When you talk about Orthodox rejectionism, do you mean that Orthodox Jews reject Reform and Conservative Jews or are they rejecting Reform and Conservative Judaism (pay attention, there’s a difference)? Do the Orthodox accept anyone as a Jew whose Mother is Jewish, regardless of affiliation?
3. Both. I’ve heard and seen both types of rejectionism. The criterion that the mother should be Jewish is not the one the state of Israel uses for the right of return. This conflicts with the Rabbinate and their authority. Ethiopian Jews have been practicing as Jews for millenia, yet somehow when they get to Israel, the Rabbinate refuses to acknowledge their Jewishness and they are forced to have conversion-lite. Are their mothers Jewish? You bet. But not according to the Rabbinate. Who granted the Rabbinate the power to decide this? The state. Why? Historic accident.
Reform Judaism accepts, in certain instances, that Judaism can be passed through the father. This makes sense to me. After all, if half the genes are mine and you’re going to go by genetics, then why shouldn’t the child be considered Jewish. Of course, the Rabbinate rejects this.
Back to rejectionism. While the Orthodox accept any Jew who is born to a Jewish mother or who had an Orthodox conversion as Jewish, they completely reject the religious practices of other movements, their religious leadership as having any authority – and by extension authority over civic issues – and those Jews such as those who are born to a Jewish father or converts in those streams. That leaves many out in the cold. This rejectionism translates into facts on the ground. There are no Conservative government-sponsored schools in Israel but there are such Orthodox schools. There is access to the Kotel that satisfies one stream but not others. The Rabbinate can and does delay Ethiopian “conversions” for years or demands that converts become Orthodox even if their faith is not of an Orthodox nature.
I do not expect to change Orthodox rejectionism since it is based upon their faith and practices. I respect their faith and practice and believe they should be free to practice what they believe. I merely want to surgically remove them from the government (and all other religious groups as well) so that they can’t affect people’s lives through government authority.
I also hope, and this is a hope not a demand, that the Orthodox will understand that it’s better to have Conservative Jews and Reform Jews than no Jews. Rejectionism causes people to ask why the hell they should bother if they are going to be derided and belittled.
The issue, in my opinion and despite many accusations from Orthodox Jews, isn’t that other movements are corrupting Jews. The issue is that history, science, enlightenment, greater mixing and ability to mix with other cultures are causing people to relate to God – AKA the supernatural – in ways that are critically different than, say, 500 years ago. You can’t impose faith on people, they either have it or they don’t. If you reject them for belonging to other groups that don’t subscribe to your beliefs, however, their resentment combined with the unbridgeable gulf in faith will cause them to seek to leave the fold. In this respect even those whom the Orthodox consider Jewish, those who are born to Jewish mothers for example, are more likely to leave Judaism and assimilate. Rejectionism hastens assimilation.
4. Do Conservative Jews accept the validity of all Reform conversions? If not then why not? Wouldn’t that also be kind of discriminatory?
4. They don’t. Yes, it is discriminatory. They also don’t run the Rabbinate or the Ministry of Religious Affairs and never will.
5. Is there no difference between Haredi and Modern Orthodox standards with respect to dealings with Reform and Conservative Judaism? If there are differences, is it fair to paint both with the same brush?
5. Misleading question. In some matters they resemble each other and in some matters they don’t. Sometimes they are painted with the same brush and sometimes they are not. On the issue of conversions, who is a Jew, mikvah use for conversions which is what this post covers, I think the two groups (broken down into many other groups) are very similar.
I do think, however, that their manner of treating these issues differs and as ck shows in his life and actions, despite his hardass criticisms of non-Orthodox Judaism, a modern Orthodox Jew can certainly find ways to straddle the divide and find bridges with other streams.
6. When the founding document of Reform Judaism explicitly uses the term â€œrejectâ€ with respect to values and beliefs held by Orthodox Jews, who is rejecting who? When a Conservative Rabbi tells a convert that it’s acceptable to ignore traditional standards and drive on the Sabbath, when a Conservative Rabbi agrees to officiate at a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah that isn’t kosher and has mixed seating thus effectively excluding Orthodox Jews, who is rejecting who?
6. This is what the Reform say today: We are committed to the (mitzvah) of (ahavat Yisrael), love for the Jewish people, and to (k’lal Yisrael), the entirety of the community of Israel. Recognizing that (kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh), all Jews are responsible for one another, we reach out to all Jews across ideological and geographical boundaries.
We embrace religious and cultural pluralism as an expression of the vitality of Jewish communal life in Israel and the Diaspora.
I don’t think there’s a question that Reform and Orthodox were at odds with each other, but Reform has clearly gone through an evolution with respect to a number of issues (Israel, for example), while the Orthodox have not.
As for your other two comments in question 6, I fail to see their meaning and think you’ve been changing the topic in questions 4 and 6 and to some extent 3. Are we talking about customs now? Because, you know, the other day the Israeli Rabbinate rejected the customs of North American Orthodox rabbis. It seems those North American rabbis don’t know what they are doing.
The issue in this post isn’t rejection of customs, it is rejection of people and movements by a state sponsored group.
To address your point, however, I guess my ideal would be that when you come to my house, please respect my customs even if you don’t partake. When I come to your house, I’ll do the same.
To go a step further with respect to rejectionism, I don’t think that the Conservative rabbi considers his advice to be rejectionism. On the contrary, he will view it as pro-active and a part of Judaism no less valid than Judaism of 1000 years ago. He doesn’t deny Judaism from 1000 years ago, but posits that it can evolve. You or an Orthodox Jew might disagree that it can evolve, but that does not make his action one of rejection.
I don’t expect an Orthodox Jew to accept mixed seating, but I reject his view that mixed seating is sinful. Can’t I respect him as a Jew and respect his customs when I’m on his turf? If he’s on my turf, he is welcome to respect my customs. If he chooses not to respect my customs, that does not mean my customs are a rejection of him or his.
Why should one deny a positive or pro-active change such as advocating that women be treated as equals to men and deserve the same level of participation in religious society as men? Isn’t that actually overcoming exclusivity with inclusiveness. Why can’t an Orthodox guest attend a celebration and not partake of the food or request special food, or bring his own food. Isn’t the important part of the event that two people are being married or that a person is joining Jewish adulthood? Should I reject attendance at an Orthodox wedding because they only serve Aaron’s Best Kosher meat which I dislike for their slaughter and labor practices? I’ll go and partake of what I can and enjoy the wedding.