Reform and Us - cooperation or conflict?

Rabbi Riskin's remarks calling Reform movement 'partners' draws call for liberal religious Zionist soul-searching on Halakha, Reform.

Mordechai Sones,

Female rabbi ordained in Germany, birthplace of Reform
Female rabbi ordained in Germany, birthplace of Reform

At a conference entitled "Diaspora Jewry and Us - Where We're Headed", Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, head of Ohr Torah Stone, referred to the Reform and Conservative movements as "partners" and as inseparable parts of the Jewish People.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati, head of the Rabbanei Emunah young religious Zionist rabbinic group, spoke to Arutz Sheva about Rabbi Riskin's remarks in which Riskin said: "The average American Jew can understand that Orthodoxy is the established Judaism in Israel, but he does not accept the fact that whoever belongs to a different stream, and prays in a different way would not be able to get a respectable place at the Western Wall. There is room for different types of prayers in G-d's House of Prayer. I am a very proud Orthodox rabbi, but I see the Reform and Conservative as my partners and as part of Israel and I am not prepared to categorize them as heretics and gentiles as the rabbinic religious establishment does."

Rabbi Efrati opens his comments on Rabbi Riskin's remarks with words of appreciation for Rabbi Riskin: "Rabbi Riskin has great merit in building the city of Efrat and in bringing many people to Judaism, and this is extremely important and stands to his credit."

"At the same time, such a statement should give pause within religious Zionism, and the first point is to define the debate with the Reform and Conservative movements. Does Rabbi Riskin argue with them about goals? Is there any debate at all about where we are heading? I think that Rabbi Riskin, like many liberal rabbis in religious Zionism, does not differ from Reform about the goal. Both of them seek to change parts of the Torah and the halakha so that they can fit in with 'my life' and the debate is only about the pace, about how long it will take. They want the Torah to suit 'my life' instead of changing my life to fit the Torah."

Rabbi Baruch Efrati
צילום: עצמי

For example, Rabbi Efrati cites Rabbi Riskin's desire to change morning blessings to be egalitarian so that a woman will say, "He made me according to His will, and he did not make me a man," and a man would say, "He made me according to His will and did not make me a woman." Rabbi Efrati points out that this is not a simple thing to do. it represents "a deviation from the blessings set by our Talmudic Sages. It also changes the nature of the Torah's relationship to man and woman to suit Western culture. This is the case with pre-nuptial agreements, in changes to the laws of conversion, and in many other areas, and so it is with the relationship to his Reform and Conservative 'partners.' This is not love of Israel alone, but an ideological partnership, and it is not at all clear whether classical religious Zionism can go in this direction and cooperate as partners with the Reform and Conservative movements."

According to Rabbi Efrati, apportioning an official place at the Western Wall not in relation to the individual but rather to an entire movement is tantamount to open collaboration with the aims and goals of these movements. "A private person can come and pray at the Western Wall, whether he is a Jew or not, as is already happening, but these are people who marry couples together with a priest, and just such a wedding could happen tomorrow at the Southern Wall and the one to have signed on it would be Rabbi Riskin. Are we prepared for that? Are we are prepared to change the Torah that is dedicated to us from generation to generation only to suit our Western values? Even if it's draped in unadulterated brotherly love, boundaries must be maintained."

The rabbi sees this as a troubling phenomenon that touches upon the liberal rabbinate within the religious Zionist community in its entirety, and in his opinion, a thorough examination of the ranks of religious Zionism should be conducted in order to examine this approach and where it leads. "Every two or three days we hear statements that would never be heard from Rabbi Lichtenstein or Rabbi Soloveitchik, and certainly not from Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, Rabbi Eliyahu or Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz"l. (major and founding Religious Zionist rabbis including three Chief Rabbis, ed.) Are we prepared to change our religious Zionist way of life? I think not. The actions of Religious Zionism must stay true to the Torah and to fear of Heaven and halakhah. Their goal must remain to amicably change the perception of the Jewish people so that it conforms to the Torah and not to change the Torah to suit transitory reality."

With regard to Rabbi Riskin's statement about the need to embrace and bring Reform Jews closer because they are part of the Jewish people that may assimilate if we do not treat them as partners, Rabbi Efrati says that Rabbi Riskin's actions and rulings are invariably guided by the spirit of liberal change, and therefore this interpretation can not be accepted. This has no bearing on having a warm relationship with individual Reform Jews. However, in his opinion, Rabbi Riskin's statements, warm and accepting as they are, represent an ideological alliance between liberal Orthodox Judaism and the Reform movement which is out of the question for religious Zionism.

Rabbis David Stav and Shlomo Riskin
Flash 90

"One must make a distinction between private individuals and the ideological movement. I will embrace a Reform Jew and study with him to bring him closer to the Torah, just like any other Jew, but here we are not talking about private individuals. The problem here is legitimization of the movement. Rabbi Riskin and similar rabbis are aware of this. This is not befriending an individual, but an ideology, and when we discuss matters of essential identity, there is no room for compromise. When talking on the private level, there is always room for embracing and bringing individuals close to the Torah, but not on an ideological level.

"The Reform and Conservative movements are causing horrendous assimilation in the United States. It's a fact, so to say that they cooperate with them 'to save' - save whom? They encourage assimilation, they make decisions that a Jew can marry a non-Jew by a rabbi. Are we a part of that? How does he say they are not apikorsim? If this is not heresy, then what is heresy? They wantonly desecrate Shabbat, eat on Yom Kippur, and eat pork. I will accept them as private people but as a faction they are a completely heretical movement. This opinion has been endorsed by the rabbis of Israel throughout the generations."

Rabbi Efrati repeated his remarks by stressing that he spoke "out of love and appreciation for his actions in other areas," but he believes that "there is a deep connection between compromise in the halakhic and intellectual realms and forging ideological ties with movements other than the Torah of Israel. Christians and Reform Jews, despite the difference between them, both represent the similar threat of an external force's desire to infiltrate and change the Torah halakhic outlook. We have to stand up and check who we are, even if this test is unpleasant, it must be carried out, out of mutual respect. Every day we hear of a different ruling that changes the foundations of halakhic jurisprudence in Israel. Who are we? Men of Torah conforming according to the Torah, or liberals who are attempting to use the Torah? I would like to hear an answer from Rabbi Riskin on this question."