An open letter to American Reform Jewry

Perhaps US Reform Jewry should check into the movement's practices in Israel before fighting for recognition.

David Bedein

OpEds David Bedein
David Bedein
credit David Michael Cohen

To Reform Movement Clergy and Congregations in the USA:

Israeli media reported that the American Reform Movement intends to use this year's High Holiday season to attack the Israeli Rabbinate's refusal to recognize the American Reform Movement as equal to Orthodox Judaism.The clergy plan to make use of the pulpit as a vehicle to raise funds for achieving recognition in Israel, as if the Reform Movement has no status at all in Israel.

Your real problem, however, is that your new Reform standards are not even recognized by your own movement in Israel.

Non-Orthodox movements have made amazing leaps and advances in Israel since I first arrived in 1970 and lived with two students who were studying at HUC, the Reform Movement's Hebrew Union College branch in Israel.  At that time, Reform Judaism in Israel hardly existed. 

Today, according to sources in the Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs, there are about 15,000 families affiliated with 64 Conservative and Reform synagogues in Israel, all of whom receive some public funding from the Israeli government and/or the Jewish Agency. 

What gets little attention is the fact that the Israeli Reform Movement is far different from its American partner.  

The Israeli Reform Movement does not recognize “patrilineal descent” as a legitimate determinant of Jewish identity. American Reform does.

The Israeli Reform Movement is far different from its American partner.  
Reform Jews in Israel, like halakhic Jews, recognize Jewish identity through the mother, not the father. 

Nor does Israeli Reform Judaism allow interfaith marriage. American Reform does. American Conservative synagogues accept non-Jewish spouses of members and allow interfaith dating in USY, their youth movement.

Yet the standard report in the media is that the Orthodox Jewish establishment stands alone in rejecting Reform Jewish religious practice abroad. 

The American Reform Movement has separated itself not only from Israeli Jews who follow normative customs and laws of Jewish tradition.

You have separated yourselves from  Reform Jews in Israel.

This raises an intriguing question: Will American Reform Jews protest at the Reform Movement's Hebrew Union College on King David Street in Jerusalem for rejecting your new standards with the same gusto that you demonstrate against the Orthodox Rabbinate in Jerusalem for rejecting your new standards?