‘Reform Rabbi’: The Ultimate Oxymoron

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld,

Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld
Eliran Aharon

A few weeks ago, Dr. David Hurwitz, well-respected local pediatrician, returned from a trip to Israel and handed me an article that appeared in the April 25 edition of The Jerusalem Post.

The article, written by Joshua M. Davidson, senior rabbi of New York’s renowned Reform Congregation Emanu-El, was titled “Separating Biblical Mythology from Biblical History.”

I will quote extensively from the article so that you can absorb the full flavor of his thoughts.

He begins with quoting another rabbi who wrote, “The truth is that virtually every modern archaeologist with very few exceptions agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all… No extrabiblical evidence verifies the Biblical account of the Exodus.

“If a small band of refugees fled Egypt, the much greater mass of would-be Israelites was already living in Canaan… The improbable tales of Creation, the Parting of the Red Sea, and the truth becomes apparent to most modern readers that the Bible is more a product of history than history itself.”

Then the good “rabbi” throws in his political conclusions all based on his brilliant hypothesis. “To be specific, the sacred myth of Israel as the land promised the Jews by G-d continues to impede progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.” From there, he lambasts Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a member of the Evangelical Christian community, for tying the Lord to his mission in the Mid-East.

Next, he quotes from a Pew study that found that 84% of Orthodox Jews and 82% of Evangelical Christians accept the doctrine of the Promised Land (Who are those 16% of Orthos who don’t?). Then he says that, remarkably, 44% of Americans and 40% of American Jews believe it as well. (Didn’t he say a few lines ago that it is apparent to most modern readers that the Bible is more of a product of history than history itself? I guess 56% is most.)

He continues to warn Jews not to fall victim to “our own propaganda.” “Make no mistake: I do not dispute the presence of Israelites in Canaan as far back as 3,000 years ago…but intellectual honesty demands we separate myth from fact.”

He concludes by pointing to all the daily dangers Israel faces from Hamas in the south, to Hezbollah in the north, and from Mahmoud Abbas in the east, and he calls upon all parties to recognize each other’s right to exist. (How thoughtful!)

You have to love his call for “intellectual honesty.” His whole thesis is one big lie. His life is one big lie. His movement is one big lie. His temple is one big lie.

Let’s assume for a moment that he actually believes what he writes. Let’s even assume for the moment that what he writes is the truth. That is, there was no Creation, the Biblical narrative is untrue, the Exodus never happened, and the Torah was written by several different authors over time. Then why does he have a synagogue? Why do Reform Jews pray there? To whom are they praying? There cannot be a Sabbath if there was no Creator. There cannot be a Passover or an ecumenical Seder if the story of the Exodus was a hoax. There cannot be a Rosh Hashanah to preach social justice if there is no celebration of the birth of the world. There cannot be a Yom Kippur either. Isn’t this the ultimate life of intellectual dishonesty?

As for the substance of his arguments… I confess that I am no expert on the topic, but I can say with confidence that there is not one archaeological discovery that defies anything written in the Bible. From the nomadic travels in the Sinai, to the conquest of Jericho, to the Davidic dynasty and beyond, through the Temples – all archaeological discoveries corroborate every account appearing in the Bible and the Books of the Prophets. For years, I subscribed to Biblical Archaeological Review (BAR), a publication of mostly non-Jewish archaeologists who document archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land. Nothing, to my knowledge, has ever been discovered that runs contrary to that written in the Torah. There is no doubt that if not for the fact that the Temple site remains intact today, the Reform would deny its existence. The animal sacrifice thing does not sit well with them.

As for the lack of extrabiblical evidence of the Bible’s account of the Exodus, well that’s rich. Can you imagine Al Jazeera reporting on the miraculous escape of the Jewish slaves from Egypt? One can only imagine how it would be covered, or ignored. CNN would hardly give it a moment’s notice as well. Look at The New York Times coverage of the Holocaust. If you go back in time, you will hardly see any attention paid to it. I guess it was just a handful of victims. No big deal. How do you think Arab textbooks today cover Israel’s miraculous War of Independence, as well as the other miraculous wars? Are you kidding? You want independent verification of a miraculous event featuring Jews?!

Rabbi Davidson is willing to accept that there was a small band of “would-be Israelites” already living in Canaan rather than believe the Biblical account. This band eventually grew into the distinctly Jewish Nation. You must hand it to him. Such a belief system truly requires emunah p’shutah, unquestioning and absolute faith. Kol ha’kavod to the good rabbi.

Of course, he gets to the true outgrowth of his doctrine. Jews must share Israel today with the equally deserving Palestinians. Dream on. Keep the faith! Is it any wonder why the non-Orthodox feel disenfranchised by the Israeli government today?

Yet he does acknowledge that, as during the slavery period in Egypt, the Exodus, and the march through the desert right through to Haman, Jews today suffer the same implacable hatred as they did then. That part of the Biblical narrative remains constant.

I am wondering if Rabbi Davidson realizes that his critique of the Bible impacts upon Christians and Muslims, who hold the “Old Testament” sacred as well. I am sure he would not want to offend them. It’s not polite to do so.

Rabbi Davidson, I ask this of you: Please change your title. You cannot be a rabbi since you are a rabbi of nothing. Consider changing it to Chief Critic or Supreme Atheist. But not rabbi. Be intellectually honest.

Happy Shavuos, everyone!





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