Op-Ed: America's Reform Jews: A Biblical Exile Story?
When we read the Biblical story of the Jewish people in Egypt, we think of the Exodus, our Redemption from slavery and the Ten Commandments.
But that’s not entirely correct. That’s the end of the story. There’s also a beginning, when Jacob, called ‘Israel’, brought his entire family to Egypt. Jacob saw that Egypt as a refuge. He wanted freedom from famine. Egypt offered him that freedom.
The Egyptian slavery of the Jews began, in other words, because Israel turned to Egypt for help. Egypt was the greatest superpower in the world. In a world threatened by the evils of physical starvation, Egypt stood tall, wealthy with food. Egypt opened its doors. It welcomed an Israel seeking a better life.
In the beginning, Egypt was kind to the Jew. Joseph the Jew became powerful. Egypt listened to the Jew’s advice.
Then, a change occurred. We don’t know what prompted that change. Few details are given. Perhaps a sitting Pharaoh brought in new advisors. Or, perhaps a new Pharaoh ascended the throne with a message of ‘change’.
We have seen such new leadership before. We saw it in 1933, when Adolf Hitler was elected to lead Germany. Some see it again in the European Union, where political Parties often attract strong voter turnout with a message of change that is based on anti-Semitism.
Look at the history of the Jewish people through the eyes of Rabbi Yosef Eisen, Miraculous Journey, Targum/Feldheim, Southfield, MI, 2004): he writes that the cycle of Egyptian welcome-and-change is the cycle of our history (see pp. 12-20).
Do American Jews see such a message? Has a new leader arisen with a message of change?
For the first time is history, a new American leader has called for Israel to shrink itself to 1949 borders (euphemistically called ‘1967’ borders) as a road to ‘peace’ with an enemy who vows to destroy Israel. For the first time in history, a new American leader bows to Israel’s enemies and apologizes humbly for offending those enemies. For the first time in US history, the words, ‘Islamic terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ are ordered stricken from official use by police and intelligence services.
Some of the details of change in America are known, some are not yet known. In the Biblical Egyptian story (in the opening of the Book called, Sh’mot, or ‘Exodus’), there are also few details. But for those who can see, the message of change is clear.
Our Jewish Heritage hints to us how the historic Egyptian change unfolded. Egyptian leadership stopped looking favourably upon the Jew. Suddenly, Jews provoked suspicion. They were accused of becoming too powerful. Their very presence on the Egyptian political map became a threat. Whispers were heard in the halls of power: perhaps the Jews could no longer be trusted. Perhaps they would join an enemy and turn against us; perhaps they would start their own war. Perhaps, it was whispered, Egypt would be stronger if it was no longer so accommodating.
Bit by bit, Jews saw change.
But they didn’t care. We know they didn’t care because, when we see the end of the story, only twenty per cent elected to leave Egypt. Eighty per cent elected to remain.
Eighty per cent chose Egypt over Israel.
We also know that when Moshe came to the Jewish people to declare that he was sent by G-d to Redeem them, they were not entirely happy about that. They complained. By standing up to Pharaoh, he was creating a disaster. They claimed that every time Moshe stood up, Jewish troubles got worse, not better.
Eighty per cent of the Jews chose Egypt over Israel.
Today, perhaps seventy per cent of America’s largest Jewish sector—Reform Jews--choose America over their Jewishness. There’s even a name for what they do: ‘out-marry’. That means they marry a non-Jew without bothering to have that spouse convert to Judaism.
In some places, the rate of out-marriage reaches ninety per cent, while overall it is 76%.
America’s Reform Jews, like their ancestors in Egypt, appear to choose ‘Egypt’ over ‘Israel’.
We also see a movement away from support of Israel. In 2011, 400 Reform Rabbis signed a public letter demanding Israel commit to a ‘two-state solution’. They said Israel must sign a peace with those who would destroy her. In 2012, some 400 ‘Rabbis and Cantors’ signed a similar letter.
Also in 2012, the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)--Israel’s two partners for that ‘two-state peace solution’-- both declared that their goal for their newly recognized ‘Palestine’ was to position their state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River—thereby eliminating Israel altogether. This seems to be the plan that ReformJewish leadership in America promotes, but it means the complete destruction of Israel.
Reform Jews are not the only Jews in America. But the question remains: do they recreate Biblical Egypt? Is there hope they can rethink their position?