Concerning the debate that arose about the prayers of our Conservative and Reform brothers near the Kotel, I wrote:
“It is appropriate that in the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section, they should be able to hold their prayers with due respect. Moreover, if the number of people who come to pray under their leadership increases, the ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ section should be enlarged and expanded for them, as needed. Members of the religious and Haredi community who observe halakha and minhag should not regret that members of these movements come to the Kotel, rather, rejoice that more Jewish brethren are connected to the place of the Temple and wish to pray to our heavenly Father. They should look favorably on the fact that although we disagree with their changes in halakha, we know how to respect and appreciate all their positive aspects. ‘Gadol Kiddush Hashem me’Chillul Hashem’ (sanctification of God is greater than the desecration of God).”
I also added that it is proper for the Rabbi of the Kotel to receive them respectfully, make sure they are not disturbed, and if they need a Torah scroll, to respectfully provide one for them.
What I wrote raised claims and questions. I will try to answer them briefly.
The Claim of ‘Minut’ (Heresy)
The most severe claim was that Reform Jews are ‘Minim’ (heretics), and thus removed themselves from Clal Yisrael, and a bitter war must be fought against them.
Answer: The Minim, for which our Sages established a blessing for their obliteration, were the Christian Jews who wanted to uproot Am Yisrael from the world, claiming that Israel was no longer the Chosen nation, and that Jews must assimilate among the Gentiles and adhere to Christianity. To be precise – Christians in general are not minim; the minim are the ones who acted wickedly to eliminate Am Yisrael from the world. In contrast, Reform Jews, and more so Conservative Jews, wish to preserve their Jewish identity. Moreover, the Achronim, led by Rabbi Kook (Igrot HaRayah 113), wrote that in these generations, the severe form of minut was nullified.
The Claim of non-relevance of Ahavat Yisrael
The second most severe claim: Reform Jews are apikorsim (heretics) who want to uproot the foundations of the Torah, and therefore, they are considered rasha’im gedolim (very wicked), and the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael (to love your fellow Jew) does not apply to them.
Answer: The mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael applies to the wicked as well, as explained by our mentor and teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook in the article “Le’Hilchot Ahavat Yisrael” (Le’Netivot Yisrael II, p. 550). This is based on the words of R. Meir (Kiddushin 36a), namely, that Jews who sin, or are even idolaters, are considered sons of God, about whom it is said:
“Yet the number of the children of Israel will be as the sand of the sea, which can’t be measured or counted; and it will come to pass that, in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God’ (Hosea 2: 1).
Our Sages also said:
“Great is peace, for even if the idolaters live in peace, the Holy One, as it were, does not “touch” them, as it is written (Hoshea 4:17): “Ephraim (Yisrael) has bound himself (in friendship to serve) idols — Let him be” (Sefrei, Naso, 42).
However, when they were divided amongst themselves (even though they observe Torah and mitzvot), what is written of them? “Their hearts are divided — Now they will be laid waste!”, and they fall before their enemies (Leviticus Raba 26: 2, and see, Yoma 9b).
We find then that everything said about hatred of the wicked relates to hatred of their evil deeds, but they themselves, we are commanded to love (Tanya 32). Consequently, our prayer is for an end to their transgressions, and not for the demise of the transgressors themselves (Berachot 10a).
This was agreed upon at all times. In recent generations, however, the words of Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l from his essay “Ma’amar Ha-Dor” must be added – that the sins of the various movements stem from a search for truth and morality, and comprise an aspect of righteousness. Consequently, we have to conduct the debate with them with respect, and learn from the best in them.
The Claim of the Accusers
Some people claimed that most probably, I am not familiar with the reality, and if I had known how sinful they are, and that quite a few of them support the haters of the State of Israel, I would not have related to them as brothers.
Answer: I understand the reality, and know that there are Reform Jews who support haters of the State of Israel, but precisely because of this, I have more appreciation and love for Reform and Conservative Jews who immigrated to Israel, and for those who visit the Kotel. In any event, even those who have considerably distanced themselves from us – as long as they wish for some type of friendship with us, it is a mitzvah to reach out to them, and hope that in return, they will reach out to us. We are all brothers; we are all sons of God. It is worth adding that any accusation that is not beneficial to tikun (rectifying the situation), God hates, because “God hates those who accuse His sons” (R. Avraham Azulai).
Differentiation between the Leaders and the Public
Some people argued that Jews who are members of the Reform movement should be treated with love, but the movement itself must be bitterly fought, and its leaders and representatives should be boycotted, at least publicly, so as not to give them any status or recognition.
Answer: The opposite is true. The leaders and representatives are more committed to their Jewish identity and to their people, and thus, deserve to be respected more, and not less. In addition, the majority of Jews who are members of the Reform movement do not understand such a differentiation, and even the Conservatives, who are closer to us. When they hear that their leaders and representatives are being fought against, and that their movement is not Jewish, they understand that observant Jews have dismissed them from Clal Yisrael. Thus, the talk of boycotting the movement and its leaders effectively uproots the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael which is a great principle of the Torah, and strikes like a sword into the heart of the nation.
The Fear of Influence
Some argued: Since they are working to change the Jewish and religious character of the state, a bitter war must be fought against them, because any granting of any status will promote them to an official status, and allow them to persuade more people to celebrate Bar Mitzvah’s and marriages with them, instead of in the usual framework.
Answer: Indeed, we have a big dispute with them, and would be very sorry about any Jew who might come to our synagogue, but prefer to go to them. Nevertheless, the debate should be conducted according to the rules of derech eretz (decency) and not in the form of boycotts, war and violence – both because it is right and moral, and also because publicly and educationally, it is more beneficial.
The way to bring the masses of Beit Yisrael to become stronger in keeping the mitzvot according to halakha, is by studying Torah and education, and not by quarrels and violence. It is worth adding that sometimes when we fail to educate, from Heaven we are challenged with difficult struggles so that we are forced to improve our ways, until the light of the Torah shines once more, and we will all repent.
Assimilation is Encouraged
Some claimed that Reform Jews encourage assimilation, because, after all, they are willing to marry a Jew with a Gentile, and therefore they are the greatest enemy of the Jewish people.
Answer: The goal of the Reform movement is to preserve Jewish identity. Therefore, in the beginning, they opposed marriage to Gentiles. When they saw that they could not stop the drift of assimilation, and in any case a Jew who wants to marry a Gentile will do so, they were faced with two options: to remove them from the community, or to recognize mixed marriages. They chose to accommodate intermarriage, and add them to the community.
Obviously, according to halakha it is forbidden to consent to intermarriage, and anyone who has not been converted according to halakha is not a Jew. However, they cannot be said to encourage assimilation.
The Majority of them are Gentiles
Some argued: Since the Reform movement accepts Gentiles without proper conversion and marry Jews to Gentiles, in practice, most of them today are Gentiles, and there is no mitzvah to love them as Jewish brothers.
Answer: Even if this is the case, it is obligatory to love all the Jews in the Reform movement, and even if, in the spirit of the times, he is married to a non-Jew, he is still our brother, and is considered a son of God. It is also a mitzvah to love their spouses or children who are not Jewish, as they are deeply connected with our brethren, especially when they feel identification with the Jewish people. With God’s help, we will merit increasing the light of the Torah, until everyone will want to properly join the great vision of tikun olam (rectification of the world) with guidance of the Torah, according to all the details of its laws.
Quotes from Rabbis
Some people quoted from the eminent rabbis of previous generations, who wrote about the danger of the Reform, and related harshly to the leaders of the Reform movement and those who follow them.
Answer: A key element in learning is to know when something was said or written, and in what context. When this key element is forgotten, halakha is mistaken.
For example, the Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Herzog ztz”l, Rabbi Nissim ztz”l, are quoted as having spoken extremely harshly against the initiative to establish a Reform Temple in Jerusalem. However, this was written when they thought it could be prevented, in order that everyone continue to associate with the accepted synagogues. However, it is clear that they did not intend to have their remarks quoted as a general statement about Reform Jews.
An illustrative parable: parents angry with their child who began to go off the religious path, and rebuked him for it severely in his youth. Disappointingly, he decided to become secular, and got married. Is it appropriate quoting what his parents told him when he was a teenager as their official attitude towards him, even when he is an adult and a father to children?! Certainly not!
Similarly, Rabbi Kook is also quoted (Ma’amarei Ha’Rayah, p. 511), who wrote harshly about the Reform. This quote, however, was taken from a letter to religious communities in North America who wanted to abolish the mechitza (partition) and hold prayers with men and women sitting together, and Rabbi Kook wanted to warn them of the danger that would lead to a breakdown and assimilation. He did not intend in that same letter, to define the Reformers in an insulting way, and have his words brought as a source of hatred of the Reform.
As an example, one can examine the words of the rabbis in the period when the abandonment of religion began, how they spoke and wrote with no less severity than what they wrote about the Reformers. However, today, when it is clear that the war was unsuccessful, and sadly, many Jews desecrate Shabbat, they would not want us to continue to mention their stern words, which were said and written when they thought they could succeed in stopping their community members that began to desecrate Shabbat.
They argued that it is forbidden to give a Torah scroll to the Reform Jews, since they do not read from it according to halakha, and are not modestly dressed in its presence.
Answer: Just as it is a mitzvah for every Jew, even if he desecrates Shabbat, to keep every other mitzvah, he also has the mitzvah to write a Torah scroll to have in his house (SA, YD 290:1). True, today we are lenient to fulfill the obligation by purchasing printed books; nevertheless, the mitzvah is still valid. Although it is forbidden for one who desecrates Shabbat to write a Torah scroll (SA, YD 281:3), it is a mitzvah for him to hire a sofer (scribe) to write it for him. If so, kal ve’chomer (even more so) is it permissible and a mitzvah to give them a Torah scroll when they want to read from it.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated