Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Response to URJ Convention Speech

You can't have it both ways. You can't respect Maimonides' wisdom and negate the basic principles he mandated.
Published: Monday, December 23, 2013 11:10 AM


I just finished reading Reform Clergyman Rick Jacobs' speech at the biennial convention of the Union for Reform Judaism.

I would like to quote the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson on the Reform movement. "I trust that you have also made a study of Jewish history. If so, you will have seen that what is considered 'contemporary' Judaism, namely Reform and Conservative, is nothing really new. As a matter of history, we have had in every generation deviationist movements trying to break away from the mainstream of Torah yiddishkeit (Judaism), yet hoping to remain within it. As early as Mattan (the giving of the) Torah and only a few weeks afterwards, there were already the Golden Calf worshippers, and so it went from generation to generation, down to Mendelssohn, the father of Reform.

"However, thumbing through the pages of Jewish History, one can see at once what happened to all deviationists. Either they completely returned to the Jewish fold, as was the case of the majority of the Golden Calf worshippers, or they were completely lost, as was the case with the minority. Similarly, with those who came under the influence of Mendelssohn, many of them returned to the traditional faith of their ancestors, while the minority completely assimilated and converted."

The speech is the same untruthful spin repeated again and again by members of the reform movement. Quoting tradition when it suits them so as to seem connected and linked with the past, and then suddenly sharply turning into an entirely anti and insubordinate position of principles, explaining that this is merely modern evolution and progression.

You can't have it both ways. Jews for Jesus and Christianity essentially do the same thing.

On the one hand, Jacobs talks about "the prophetic voice of Isaiah, the compassionate guarantees of Hosea, the wisdom of Maimonides, the loyalty of Esther, ...only eternals are not negotiable, everything else is.." and then in the same breath he says, "let's stop confusing the old and tired institutional patterns of Judaism with the underlying core commitments that count....".

Maimonides makes his position quite clear in the  books of law he authored and would be appalled at Jacobs' statement that "in North America today, being 'against' intermarriage is like being 'against' gravity; you can say it all you want, but it's a fact of life..."

Jacobs mentions the Talmudic passage which tells us that "no person ever greeted Yohanan Ben Zakai first, not even a non-Jew in the market place; It was always Ben Zakai who was first to extend his hand - to Jew and non-Jew alike. Yohanan Ben Zakai is known for completely reimaging Jewish life when the second Temple was being destroyed. The architect of the biggest turnaround in Jewish History knew what it was to be audacious. And so must we."

This association is so disingenuously mendacious, it is breathtaking. It is tantamount to drawing inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr's  "I have a dream" to pitch the importance of  segregation and racism.

Everything Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai did was in order to fight exactly the kind of person Jacobs preaches one should be, the Sadducees of Second Temple times  The Sadducees were those who Hellenized and compromised the pure word of Torah and scoffed at the tradition of the Rabbis.

Jacobs makes mention of the position held by a majority of reform rabbis who agreed with the words of the Reform Movement's Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, "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."

However "trends are a wakeup call" he claims, and "in 1937 the reform 'repositioned' itself to be more open to traditional practices and to no longer oppose Jewish Nationalism." Perhaps we should be grateful.

So until 1937, even as Hitler came to power, the official policy of the reform movement was to be against a homeland for the Jewish people. The reform movement opposed a guiding principle in the same Talmud mentioned above, practiced for thousands of years, omitting from their prayerbook all hope for the Jews' return to their homeland. But today, they are "more open" and "no longer oppose" Jewish Nationalism. 

Jewish Tradition has always been imbued, permeated, soaked and saturated with prayers, from the time of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, in fact, for the return of the Jewish people to their land, our land, the land of Israel given to us in the Bible by G-d. And Jacobs wants us to accept that his is a movement connected to the "Jewish" traditions of the past?

Is this a movement firmly anchored  in Jewish tradition or merely something with the superficial coatings of Judaism, but wavering like sails on a boat in the wind, and completely and intentionally separated at its core from the Jewish past? Unless off course, the leadership decides to change again and reconsider what it is they "really" - at the present moment - believe.

Rick Jacobs continues, "I believe with every fiber of my being that young Jews are hungry, but not for a Judaism frozen in a distant time, no matter how loving and warm the purveyors - including Chabad, in particular - might be."

"We believe that our understanding of Judaism is right: that G-d did not literally hand down sacred laws in the Bible and the Mishnah at Sinai, but rather that from our encounter with the Divine, Jews have written our sacred texts, striving to understand in their own time what G-d called them to do...."

Is this the same Rick Jacobs who quotes the Mishnah when it suits him, but forgets to mention the first words and introduction to the Mishnah which  begins with - "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua....  ." G-d is the one who granted this wisdom, and as Maimonides rules, if a person should claim that even one letter of the Torah has not been granted by G-d, he is a heretic.

One last quote from the speech. "Orthodox Judaism is, of course, a legitimate choice for those who choose it,..."

I find this statement to be the most egregious statement in the entire speech. Jacobs is kindly granting legitimacy to those who proclaim the Bible is the decisive and definitive word of G-d. This from the movement that believes "Halakhah (Jewish Law) has no binding authority ", fosters intermarriage  and negates practically every commandment of our holy Torah as practiced for thousands of years, claiming  the "the trend is decidedly....decisively toward Reform". While this is patently untrue according to the Pew Report, it is telling to see that in Jacob's view, our faith and religion follow not G-d's word, but - trends!

The reform movement  affirms "the fundamental principle of Liberalism: that the individual will approach this body of mitzvot and minhagim (Jewish law & custom)  in the spirit of freedom and choice. Traditionally Israel started with harut, the commandments engraved upon the Tablets, which then became freedom. The Reform Jew starts with herut, the freedom to decide what will be harut - engraved upon the personal Tablets of his life."

I end with another statement from Rabbi Schneerson the Lubavitcher Rebbe. "My considered opinion, as I have reiterated it on several occasions privately and publicly, is based on the undisputable Halakhic (Jewish Law) decision formulated by Rambam ( Maimonides Hilchot Teshuvah 3:8) , according to which the doctrines and ideology of the Conservative and Reform movement can only be classed in the category of heretical movements which have plagued our people at one time or another, only to disappear again, having no basis in our everlasting Torah, Toras Emes (Law of truth) , Toras Chaim (Law of Life) ..."