The Reform Movement came late to the party

They will learn to live with it, just as we Modern Orthodox/ srugim (of the knitted kippot) live with and still passionately love Israel even after Gush Katif and even though many of us wish the Chief Rabbinate sometimes were more oriented towards us

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Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer,

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
Rabbi Prof. Dov Fisch
צילום: PR

Jewish unity surely will be stronger at the time of Moshiach (the Messiah) and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on the Temple Mount in all its glory, , as the Reform Movement, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations/ Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, ARZA, Women of the Wall, Conservative Movement, Rabbinical Assembly, United Synagogue, Torat Chayim, International Rabbinic Fellowship, and “Open Orthodoxy” all no longer will be dividing Klal Yisrael.

Then there will be singing in the streets of Judea and the outskirts of Jerusalem, as the prophet said.  No more Reform Movement to divide the Jewish People.  No more Conservative Movement.  No more “Open Orthodoxy” – yet another of the deviationist “denominations,” some of whose seminary graduates now are publishing articles promoting Jewish intermarriage with non-Jews, even as their founder and leader calls for equal recognition of non-Orthodox conversions.

But that day has not yet come.  Today is a day when the non-Orthodox and anti-Orthodox suddenly are all aflutter over their demands for compromising the sanctity of the Kotel area.  It is time for us to recognize that the entire issue is “off kilter,” surreal. 

Let us talk facts, data.  A huge and growing percentage of America’s “Reform Jews” are not even Jews.  Of course – without question – a Jew is a Jew:  “Yisrael af al pi she-chatah, Yisrael hu” (A Jew, though he or she has sinned, remains fully a Jew.) However, for those of us who have not been looking closely at American Jewish sociology these past two decades, something extraordinary has happened within Reform Jewry’s demographics during that period.  We no longer are talking of the dichotomy of Jews who keep Shabbat and of other Jews who eat pork on Yom Kippur.  We now are talking of Reform temples jam-filled with outright non-Jews.

This next generation of American Reform is now being conceived amid a social maelstrom that sees their intermarriage rate above 70%.  Significantly more than half of today’s Reform Jews marry non-Jews. All of us in the field of congregational rabbinics know that the vast majority of such intermarriages are comprised of Jewish men with non-Jewish women. 

Reform (and, in a few years, Conservative Jews) will have dealt with the problem by giving up.  It became a tsunami they cannot stop.  Thus, instead of trying to overcome intermarriage, Reform has capitualted by redefining “Jew” to include the children of Jewish men with non-Jewish women.  That is the only way they have been able to keep those thousands of non-Jewish kids in the temple and on “accounts receivable,” to induce the parents to pay the tens of thousands of dollars to the Reform temple that they will pay for their non-Jewish “Patrilineal” kids to attend three or four years of “bar mitzvah”/ “bat mitzvah” / “bnei mitzvah” school at the temple. This will keep the parents paying temple annual membership dues and building fund assessments in the thousands of dollars – until the music stops and the lights are turned off after the non-kosher bar mitzvah party ends. At that point, the parents pull the kid out of temple school, drop membership – and make room for the next such family coming up the pipeline and entering the revolving doors.


Reform by now is comprised of many, many patrilineal non-Jewish children – and the new generation now being conceived will make their non-Jewish demographic their predominant population.
Thus, Reform by now is comprised of many, many patrilineal non-Jewish children – with the new generation now being conceived making their non-Jewish demographic their predominant population.  It is sad and oh-so-tragic, but it is. In another generation of twenty or so years, we will have to assume the average Reform member to be a non-Jew; it is that bad.  If you have 9 men and need a tenth for a minyan, and a reform temple is meeting down the hall or across the street, you will not even contemplate asking for one of them to join – because the odds would be that the kind volunteer is not Jewish and does not even know it. Those are not opinions; those are the Pew Survey data.

Even today’s Reform Judaism has failed to instill deep Zionist commitment to its next generation.  Yes, they have tried, to a degree.  But one looks at the college campuses of America.  One sees that non-observant Jews on American campuses today, graduates of those American Reform temple “bnei Torah” classes and parties, while including some who indeed are ardent and devoted to Israel, mostly are left-wing activists, devoted more to Bernie Sanders socialism and to the issues that animate the Snowflakes of the Left – Obama, LGBTQ+, climate change, intersectionality, safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions – than to the future of Torah, of Israel, or (disjunctrive, not conjunctive) of the Jewish People. 

As for those Reform Jews, old and young, who indeed do love Israel, who are not sympathetic to BDS, who recoiled from Obama, they will find a way to love Israel even without an opening to Robinson’s Arch from the Wall plaza.  They have their place to pray at Robinson’s Arch, and it is good enough.

They will learn to live with it, just as we “Modern Orthodox”/”Centrist Orthodox” srugim (of the knitted kippot) live with and still passionately love Israel even though many of us wish the Chief Rabbinate sometimes were more oriented towards our orientation.  We are not thrilled with all that is the Chief Rabbinate.  We are not thrilled with many aspects of Israel that do not fit to our taste.  Some of us are not thrilled with that which is too far to our Right, and we likewise are disgusted by much that is too far to our Left among secularists, expecially when secularists run things or unfairly dominate an unelected Israeli Supreme Court that really has no reins.

But we live with it.  We hate what Ariel Sharon did to Gush Katif, and we hate what Ehud Olmert tried to do to Yehuda and Shomron.  We hate what Ehud Barak did to Israel during his disastrous tenure.  We hate the Oslo Accords, and we have not forgotten how that accord was dishonest and cheated the voters of Israel, as critical Knesset members’ votes were purchased with promotions to ministerial positions, promises of chauffeur-driven cars and lifetime pensions as cabinet officers.

Yet we somehow manage to celebrate the Peoplehood of Israel unequivocally, and we somehow love Israel and Zionism with all our hearts.  We somehow are obsessed lovingly with Israel, night and day.  We Religious Zionists do not threaten – or contemplate – that, if these secularists or these haredim push one more deal, we are going to walk away from Zionism and Israel.  Such a thought never would cross our lips – nor even enter out minds.  Our right hands would go numb and our tongues would cleave to the roofs of our palates long before.

And so it will be with those of Reform who truly are Jews committed to Israel.  History has adjudged that the  Reform Movement has messed up every single Judaic thing they have touched.  Reform Judaism has been on the wrong side of history every time.: 

They abandoned Zion for Germany. 

They abandoned Hebrew for German. 

They wiped Israel and Jerusalem out of their prayer books. 

They have profoundly less chance of having Jewish grandchildren than does Donald Trump. 

They have virtually no chance of Jewish great-grandchildren or great-great granchildren, not even their rabbis (not even their rabbis who are Jewish). 

They abandoned Israel and Zion as part of their core philosophy.  For a century, they wrote Jerusaelm out of their prayers – literally – and they passed resolutions at theior annual conventions from Germany to Pittsburgh proudly and defiantly dissociating from Zion and Jerusalem.  “Berlin is our Jerusalem.  Germany is our Zion.”  So it was from their founder, Abraham Geiger, through Isaac Mayer Wise, their great founder in America who based all of the Reform Movement’s signature American institutions in Cincinnati – because of the prevalence of the German language and the huge German non-Jewish population that had settled in the “Queen City.” 

The hate for Israel and Jerusalem among Reform’s highest leaders extended into the mid-twentieth century. Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, the anti-Zionist rabbi who literally headed the UAHC Reform congregational body for thirty years from the mid-1940s into the 1970s, was virulently anti-Zionist until his death.

We welcome Reform’s belated decision to join the Jewish People and the course of Jewish destiny by supporting Israel, although we continue to be vexed by their putting their Obama liberalism first before their commitment to Jewish eternity.  We are glad that they want a part of Israel, even though they decidedly are among the strongest opponents of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria.  (And where, pray tell, do they intend to relocate the 600,000 Jews whom they would displace with their vaunted “Two-State Solution”?  Have they ever thought of that? Put more than half a million Jews on cattle cars, and transport them back to the Zion of Germany?)  

But we welcome them as kinfolk come home.  For those among them born of Jewish mothers, they truly are our people – and always will be, regardless of differing beliefs and ideologies.  We and they shared the daylight and atmosphere at Sinai, as G-d spoke to us all.

But let us call facts by the word: facts.  The Reform Movement, when they had the chance, banned Jewish men from wearing kippot in their temples.  If you walked into a Reform temple, for scores of years they literally banned men from donning kippot or tallitot.  Even today, there are Reform temples that bar Orthodox groups who rent prayer space in their buildings from having a mechitzah in their rented room during prayer.   These are the facts we do not read about in the secular media. 

They forced millions of our grandparents and great-grandparents to lose their adherence to Torah and to mitzvot when those 3,250,000 Jewish immigrants arrived in America between 1881-1914 from Eastern Europe.  The leaders of Reform in America shipped them from Ellis Island to other American cities.  From those American cities, they shipped them off to other cities.  No one among the Reform leaders of that era wanted them in their cities, fearful that such immigrants would comprise and grow a local Orthodox community.  Soon, New York’s Federation threatened other American cities’ Jewish Federations that, for every Jewish immigrant they send to New York, the New York Federation would send two immigrants back to that city.  To break up religious Jewish communities, they undertook to ship Jewish immigrants to farm in the then-unpopulated Catskill Mountains of upstate New York or to farm in Vineland, New Jersey – or just to get lost in Galveston, Texas.  These Reform Jews worked assiduously to assimilate the Orthodox, having arrived in America from Germany between 1840-1880 and thus having gotten a head start settling in America before the Great East European Immigration of 1881-1914..

For many in Israel, the tragedy is somewhat reminiscent of how the Labor secularists worked to destroy the Orthodoxy of Jewish immigrants arriving into Israel from the Sephardic lands of North Africa, and the story of the “disappeared children” of Yemen.

So this Reform wailing now is mendacious.  It is about politics.  It is about playing out America’s social politics in Israel.

Reform has their Robinson’s Arch.  They have their photo ops every Rosh Chodesh (First Day of the Month), with their women reading their Torahs and wearing tefillin and rainbox mini-shawls and matching rainbox skullcaps for the cameras. 

Can you imagine the Vatican dividing St. Peter’s Square to make alternate prayer space available for theological deviants?  And yet they do have  Robinson’s Arch. No one has closed it.

Thank G-d the haredim have the fortitude to take the kind of stand that they have taken.  Thank G-d the democracy of Israel reflects a population that has not given Reform the opportunity to destroy as it has done in America.  And thank G-d that the majority of Israelis are Sephardim who never even had a “Reform Movement” or a “Conservative Movement (the latter disappearing anyway) through their centuries of Exile, so do not care a whit about the issue.

Reform came late to the party.  And they atill have Robinson’s Arch.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, is author of General Sharon’s War Against Time Magazine (Steimatzky). His political commentaries have appeared on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review, Los Angeles Times, and in other major American publications.  He formerly was Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review, is an adjunct professor of law at two prominent American law schools, and is Rav of Young Israel of Orange County, California.  He is author of Jews for Nothing (Feldheim). His writings can be found at RabbiDov.com 








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