A Reform Rabbi’s Tolerance Only Goes So Far

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Yediot Acharonot’s YNet carries an opinion piece on the subject of an Orthodox synagogue at Kibbutz Degania, written by Reform Rabbi Dr. Dalia Sara Marx, a teacher at the Hebrew Union College. Considering that the Reform movement claims to be dedicated to pluralism and tolerance, it is — to say the least — an interesting read.

The pluralistic and tolerant Rabbi Marx lectures the Deganyanim on the topic of why the installation of an Orthodox synagogue is a lousy choice. Her chosen expressions include [with commentary in brackets]:

  • You have chosen an Orthodox, discriminatory synagogue.
  • Men and women who make rational decisions with respect to all other aspects of your communal lives… [should know that creating an Orthodox synagogue is not a rational decision.]
  • Why are you prepared to forego your control with regard to your Jewish spiritual life? [Orthodoxy isn’t a choice at all, it’s lack of control.]
  • People who understand that cooperation and equality are more than mere slogans [should know that Orthodoxy represents neither.]
  • How could you treat Judaism as some sort of singular, simplistic, one-faced beast? [That one needs no elaboration…]
  • Why would you agree to bring that empty truck of Orthodoxy into your community? [This one’s good for laughs. Orthodoxy is the empty truck?]
  • Please choose the path that is appropriate for you. [You’re fools if you imagine that Orthodoxy would represent that choice.]
  • You have a unique contribution to make to Judaism today, and you have the ability to create something for yourselves. [With Orthodoxy you will neither contribute nor create.]
  • Your synagogue can and should reflect your egalitarian and participatory way of life, and should be a focal point of creativity and building… [Orthodoxy respects neither women nor participation. This is also a laugh, as laypeople leading services — and women in positions of religious leadership — are most prevalent among the Orthodox.]
  • A synagogue need not be a white elephant on the kibbutz grounds.

Simply amazing. She’s all for pluralism and tolerance, as long as people don’t choose Orthodoxy.

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28 Responses

  1. es says:

    Jonathan wrote:
    Real pluralism would mean Orthodox rabbis – and President Katzav – addressing or referring to Conservative or Reform rabbis by the title of “rabbi”.
    Anything less is not pluralism or tolerance, nut religious bigotry.

    And what about messianic Rabbis, reconstructionist, gay Rabbis, christian ministers who choose to call themselves Rabbi, is there no limit?

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    Jonathan,

    To be non-pluralist, but rather maintain higher standards, is a solid position — one that is more likely, in fact, to continue for another few hundred years. The “Orthodox Establishment” retains the minimal Halachic standards that have defined Judaism for well over 1000 years. Reform founded itself upon rejection of those standards, so why should you be surprised that those who adhere to Halacha don’t accept Reform?

  3. Jonathan D. Safren says:

    “Pluralism, as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society,”

    When it comes to religion in Israel, there is no pluralism according to that definition. The Orthodox Establishment as an absolute monopoly on all matters of marriage, divorce and conversion, and does not tolerate any other such.
    Real pluralism would mean the Orthodox – and the State – accepting non-Orthodox weddings, divorce and conversions as well.
    Real pluralism would mean Orthodox rabbis – and President Katzav – addressing or referring to Conservative or Reform rabbis by the title of “rabbi”.
    Anything less is not pluralism or tolerance, nut religious bigotry.

  4. Calev says:

    Why should Ms Marx’s views be surprising? It is quite clear that – particularly in the Israeli context – Reform and Masorti have set themselves up in competition with Torah Judaism under the touchy feely smokescreen of pluralism.
    I remember well how international Reform leaders supported a couple in Perth, Western Australia, who were suing the local Orthodox day school because it wouldn’t let their child enrol. Well, their child wasn’t halachically Jewish (the mother had converted Reform) and it was an Orthodox Jewish day school. The Reform movement condemned the school for abiding by its own principles. Fortunately, they lost their case. But I have no doubt that these hypocrites will find other causi belli.

  5. YM says:

    Rabbi Joffe just doesn’t get it. If the Torah does not express the will of hashem, then it is not a “sustaining force”; it is just another book, no more important than Shakespeare or Playboy magazine or my old
    Beatles albums. Here is another definition:

    e·phem·er·al (ĭ-fĕm’ər-əl)
    adj.
    Lasting for a markedly brief time: “There remain some truths too ephemeral to be captured in the cold pages of a court transcript” (Irving R. Kaufman).
    Living or lasting only for a day, as certain plants or insects do.
    n.
    A markedly short-lived thing.

    [From Greek ephēmeros : ep-, epi-, epi- + hēmerā, day.]

    ephemerality e·phem’er·al’i·ty or e·phem’er·al·ness n.
    ephemerally e·phem’er·al·ly adv.

  6. Shoshanna S. says:

    From an Address by
    quoted from “JUDAISM IS HEALTHIER HERE THAN IN ISRAEL”
    RABBI ERIC H. YOFFIE
    President, Union of American Hebrew Congregations
    December 13, 1996

    “I have said very little about the ultra-Orthodox presence in Israel because I do not believe them worthy of much time and attention. These elements are separating themselves from mainstream Israeli society and are becoming a society apart; they are utterly fanatic and becoming more extreme every day.
    We need to fight the legislative incursions of the ultra-Orthodox, of course. They already limit the human rights of all Jews in Israel, and have more mischief in mind. But this is a battle we are destined to win.
    The ultra-Orthodox have failed miserably in Israel. They enjoy a legal monopoly on religious affairs, and every conceivable Orthodox institution receives government money. Yet despite these advantages and a high birthrate, they still constitute a small proportion of the population. They are hysterically afraid of the tiny Reform Movement and they still find it necessary to impose their will through coercive legislation. In public opinion polls, the ultra-0rthodox are less popular than the Arabs, and fully 20% of the Israeli population refuses to be married by the official rabbinate.
    Is there a danger of an ultra-Orthodox take-over? None whatever. Israelis are not meshugga; they know that a free and independent Jewish state was not established to return her citizens to the Jewish ghetto. Sooner rather than later some sort of separation between synagogue and state will be implemented, and already the internal contradictions of the system are beginning to assert themselves.
    The greatest tragedy of all is that the ultra-0rthodox have caused an entire generation of Israelis to view Judaism with contempt. They have abused Torah for their own selfish purposes, and brought it into disrepute. Let us be clear: religious coercion distorts the essence of Judaism; it insults our history; it mocks the ideals of freedom and liberty for which a Jewish society must stand. Above all, it sullies the banner of Torah, and compromises Israel’s appeal to the idealism of young Jews everywhere.
    But our primary task is not to do battle with the fanatics, as important as that battle may be. Our primary task is to work with our allies in presenting an alternative to extremism; it is to teach the young people of Israel to value Torah, and to see Torah not as a burden, but as a sustaining force.”

    Why is it that to me this man’s words do not feel very inclusive, tolerant, unifying, or loving but rather the opposite? Is it just me?

  7. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    The attitude of this Reform Rabbi reminds me of the sans culottes — Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, but…. To Robespierre, (a really nice guy when you got to know him) some inelegant behavior was the necessary means of liberating France from royal oppression.

  8. Sarah M says:

    “at least 95% of Jewish Israelis would choose to be identified with the more rigorous Orthodox standard”

    umm, the result of many Israelis thinking that the only legit form of Judaism is orthodoxy is that they have nothign but contempt for it.
    So I’m not sure by what standard the ortho world gets bragging rights here.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    It seems then that the word pluralism always needs an asterisk to direct us to the footnote defining the terms and conditions in fine print, so we can find out which “bad guys” are being excluded from the happy band. In this sense, there are probably even more kinds of pluralism than there are of vegetarianism. Maybe some standard glossary with a numbering system would help the reader.

    Or we can put the word in the deep freeze.

  10. Yaakov Menken says:

    Actually, Seth, I think that that particular bit of hack & slash to Wikipedia took place after I had looked at the page. I know the dates are wrong, but I seem to recall seeing those since-deleted lines. They were irrelevant, and as you saw in earlier comments, I noted the Maslin article in any case.

    Wikipedia is, in general, quite accurate (those quotes were not pulled for inaccuracy, but because the latest contributor thought them out of place). Reform may have its own commitment to egalitarianism, but they routinely tout pluralism as something that they have, and the Orthodox do not. By your definition, it would seem that they are no more pluralist than the Orthodox, in which case their use of the term would be a falsehood in and of itself.

    Can you propose a definition of pluralism that is both narrow enough to permit them to reject Orthodoxy, yet wide enough to not permit the Orthodox to claim full compliance?

    Should you manage such a feat, you will then have an impossible task: finding any example of a Jewish group espousing such a vision of pluralism. When the Reform claim to be pluralistic, in contra-distinction to the benighted Orthodox, they define pluralism precisely as I and every Jewish communal organization have used it.

  11. Seth Gordon says:

    Seth, to say that Reform “supports many varieties of Jewish religious expression that are consistent with the goals of the Reform movement” is your definition of Jewish religious pluralism.

    The movement itself, however, says that it “currently espouses the notion of religious pluralism; it believes that most Jewish denominations (including Orthodox groups and the Conservative movement) are valid expressions of Judaism.”

    “The movement itself” says nothing of the sort. Wikipedia, an encyclopedia that anyone can edit, says that. And last week, the same Wikipedia article quoted several Reform leaders decrying Orthodox communities in terms that make Rabbi Marx look positively mild. Maybe next week it will say something else.

    In the Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1999, the word “tolerance” does not appear at all, and the word “pluralism” only appears once: “We embrace religious and cultural pluralism as an expression of the vitality of Jewish communal life in Israel and the Diaspora.” Since the very next sentence is “We pledge to fulfill Reform Judaism’s historic commitment to the complete equality of women and men in Jewish life”, it’s clear the authors of this platform did not intend to endorse Orthodox Judaism as one of the many expressions that they considered appropriate.

  12. Yaakov Menken says:

    Seth, to say that Reform “supports many varieties of Jewish religious expression that are consistent with the goals of the Reform movement” is your definition of Jewish religious pluralism.

    The movement itself, however, says that it “currently espouses the notion of religious pluralism; it believes that most Jewish denominations (including Orthodox groups and the Conservative movement) are valid expressions of Judaism.”

    Remember, they use this term to distinguish themselves from the bad guys, the non-pluralistic Orthodox. Your definition would render the distinction meaningless — we Orthodox are, of course, 100% pluralistic under your definition: Orthodox Jews, “support many varieties of Jewish religious expression that are consistent with the goal” of serving HaShem and incorporating G-dliness into our lives, as defined by the Torah and Halacha.

    Ori, the Orthodox believe in religious pluralism in Israel as well. No one says that Christians and Muslims shouldn’t have a religious structure, which they do — in fact, several distinct ones, for Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, etc. However, we don’t want to see the definition of our religion and religious requirements changed by the state. If the Reform were a tad more honest, they would set up a separate religious classification called “Reform Judaism”, rather than attempting to interfere with the Orthodox structure. The problem with that approach is obvious: at least 95% of Jewish Israelis would choose to be identified with the more rigorous Orthodox standard, including 100% of the Sephardic community.

    This, however, is a topic for another post. I think it’s self-evident that to call some form of religious expression “immoral” rather than “invalid” is a distinction without a difference.

  13. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ori: I agree that Reform should be more clear about what they reject and why.

    RYM: If they were honest about rejecting us exactly as we reject them, the whole situation would be different, up to and including the whole “Who is a Jew” debate in Israel, which is really about “Who is a Rabbi.”

    Ori: There is a difference between the standards one believes are moral, and the standards one believes should be enforced by law. For example, Catholics believe that a piece of cracker can have the soul and divinity of G-d. That is idolatry, which is against the Noahide code. Yet I haven’t heard any Orthodox Jews suggesting the US should outlaw Catholicism.

    The debate in Israel isn’t about which version of Judaism is right. It’s about which versions of Judaism should be legally accepted.

  14. Seth Gordon says:

    Stanley Fish argues that “there is no such thing as free speech”; every time someone is arguing for “free speech”, there is some background of restrictions on speech that he or she takes for granted. (In the US, for example, nobody would say that the right of “free speech” should permit false advertising and libel and copyright violation and playing loud music at 3:00 am and ordering your dog to attack an innocent bystander, etc., etc.) People who argue for “free speech” have some (perhaps unarticulated) concept of what speech is good for, and they are really asking that all speech that is useful for this purpose be unrestricted.

    Similarly, Reform is “pluralistic” in the sense that it supports many varieties of Jewish religious expression that are consistent with the goals of the Reform movement. A rabbi who chooses to keep kosher is consistent with this kind of pluralism. A rabbi who tells his or her congregation “God wants you to keep kosher, whether or not you find it personally meaningful” is not.

    If you consider “pluralism and tolerance” to mean “keeping your mind so deliberately empty that you approve equally of all ideas, no matter how much they contradict one another”, then yes, Rabbi Marx is not supporting “pluralism and tolerance”. But I’ve never seen anyone claim that the Reform movement endorsed that definition of “pluralism and tolerance”, so your charge of hypocrisy falls flat.

  15. Bob Miller says:

    Steve Brizel said,
    “In an ideal world, all Jews would be in the streets protesting both the lack of protection for Sderot and the miscarriage of justice in the Vallis case.”

    In a more ideal world, the people would elect a government that protects Sderot and establishes justice.

    In the most ideal world, the government would hand over the keys to Mashiach.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    R Micha-I see little, if any, relationship between my earlier post on this issue and R Menken’s next CC posting. The terms that I posted are the vocabulary of the PC who view themselves as the repositories and dictionaries of dialogue on all issues-providing that the issue has no affect on their POV and their views of the terms are the exclusive ones. FWIW, I think that his comparison of Sderot and the Charedi civil disturbances was yet another illustration of the disconnect between the Charedi and DL camps. In an ideal world, all Jews would be in the streets protesting both the lack of protection for Sderot and the miscarriage of justice in the Vallis case. Unfortunately, some of us only care about the welfare of live Jews who look and talk like “unzeren” and some of us view allegations of nivul hames and anxiety induced confessions as “nisht unzerer.” IMO, that issue is the issue that we all have to focus on as we face Parshas Shelach and the downhill slide towards Av and the tragedy of Tisha BAv.,

  17. Yaakov Menken says:

    Ori, they do not accept Conservative or Reconstructionist synagogues in the Union either — that’s not the point. They purport to believe that all forms of Jewish expression are equally valid. As the relevant Wikipedia entry describes it, “Reform Judaism currently espouses the notion of religious pluralism; it believes that most Jewish denominations (including Orthodox groups and the Conservative movement) are valid expressions of Judaism.” They clearly state that Orthodoxy is, for them, within the pale.

    If they were honest about rejecting us exactly as we reject them, the whole situation would be different, up to and including the whole “Who is a Jew” debate in Israel, which is really about “Who is a Rabbi.” Their entire argument rests upon the claim that they accept everyone, while the Orthodox reject them.

    S. (and Joshua), see my previous comment, and the link to Simeon Maslin’s article. You are absolutely right that this attitude cannot be attributed to all Reform Rabbis — but it’s not extreme, either.

  18. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Ori: As you said, historically Reform rejected Orthodoxy first. However, that is irrelevant to this generation – Dr. Dalia Sara Marx grew up in a world in which the tradition she was raised on was rejected by the Orthodox. It would be extremely difficult for her not to reject back.

    RYM: By your definition we are every bit as pluralistic as Reform—actually more. We accept Yemenite, Syrian, Morroccan, Italian, German, Lithuanian, and a host of Chassidic practices, as long as they all accept the Torah and Oral Law and the full chain of tradition.

    Ori: Pluralism is a matter of degree. It doesn’t have to mean “everything goes”. To pick an extreme example, the US is a pluralistic society when it comes to religion, despite the fact that Moloch worship is illegal. It’s not legal to kill your firstborn after birth, even if it’s part of your religion.

    RYM: Reform talks the talk of accepting everyone, including the Orthodox.

    Ori: They do? If you started an Orthodox synagogue with a mechitza, they say you’ll be able to join the Union for Reform Judaism, for example? Or do they mean that they’ll accept Orthodox Jews on an individual basis, hoping to reform them, in the same way you’d accept Reform Jews on an individual basis, hoping to get them to do Tshuva and become Orthodox?

  19. S. says:

    >” One who is pluralistic must accept the desirability of non-pluralistic viewpoints.

    That’s far from a given. This is similar to the issue of how democracies ought to treat non-democratic parties. Political systems like the US are set up in such a way that it is very unlikely for non-democratic parties to assume much power. Other systems, such as ones used by parliamentary democracies are far more likely to cede power to non-democratic parties. As this is undesired some of these countries legally restrict those parties. It would be foolish to do otherwise.

    You can’t wave a dictionary at people who–correctly or not–think that you would legislate what they can eat or read or think or who they can marry. Being so tolerant that one ends up in the corner of a room with wet paint all around them is just stupid.

    Having said that, that doesn’t mean that the letter of one Reform rabbi is nice or commendable or that she embodies the ideals of her group. Orthodox Jews are also not immune from not embodying the ideals of Torah True Judaism all the time.

  20. Yaakov Menken says:

    I’ll probably flesh this out in a post soon, but in brief:

    Yehoshua, I (unsurprisingly) disagree. When you fail to point out the hypocrisy of their position, people often don’t get it. The American Jewish Press Association actually gave former CCAR President Rabbi Simeon Maslin their “Excellence in Commentary” award for an anti-Orthodox diatribe devoted to mocking Orthodoxy (rather than promoting Reform), entitled “Who are the Authentic Jews?

    Ori, although your premise is precisely accurate, you have your cause and effect backwards. “When you reject people, they have a natural tendency to reject you back.” That is very true, and applies to ideas and ideologies as well. Reform was founded upon the rejection of the Torah’s divinity and the authority of the Oral Law, so it should surprise no one that the Oral Law (and those who follow it) considers a proponent of Reform’s philosophy “not really a Rabbi.”

    You have stated more honestly than they what “pluralism” means to them. It is an abuse of the term — they are absolutists, whose absolute truth is that “there is no right answer.” By your definition we are every bit as pluralistic as Reform — actually more. We accept Yemenite, Syrian, Morroccan, Italian, German, Lithuanian, and a host of Chassidic practices, as long as they all accept the Torah and Oral Law and the full chain of tradition.

    Pluralism, as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society,” and “the belief that such a condition is desirable or socially beneficial.” One who is pluralistic must accept the desirability of non-pluralistic viewpoints. Reform talks the talk of accepting everyone, including the Orthodox. You are merely accentuating their failure to walk the walk.

  21. Micha says:

    R’ Steve Brizel’s comment explains R’ Menken’s next CC posting

  22. Ori Pomerantz says:

    A Reform Rabbi sees an Orthodox synagogue as a bad thing. I’m shocked! Shocked! OK, sarcasm aside, I’m not so shocked. When you reject people, they have a natural tendency to reject you back.

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, how would you react to somebody who told you you were not really a Rabbi, and could never be a Rabbi? That’s the way Dr. Dalia Sara Marx probably feels about Orthodoxy. How would you feel about somebody who told you you’re a bad Jew for using the Internet? That’s the way she feels about being told she shouldn’t drive to services on Shabbat.

    The Pluralism of Reform Judaism is limited to those who accept Pluralism. That’s the way it should be, and they should articulate it better. Reform Judaims is a rejection of Halacha and Orthodoxy, just like the Orthodoxy of a Ba’al Teshuva is a rejection of the heterodox movement s/he was raised in. These are honest disagreements, and both sides seem to be doing it LeShem Shamayim (= for the sake of heaven)

    Nobody should expect an Orthodox Rabbi to like Reform synagogues. Nobody should expect a Reform Rabbi to like Orthodox synagogues either.

  23. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, buzzwords such as “tolerance” , “compromise”, “cooperation”, etc generally are used by those who belief in these terms applies only to those with such views. At that point, especially when used by R and C , such terms are verbal launching pads for O bashing of the worst kind.

  24. Micha says:

    Could we go back a step? There is an astounding and beautiful fact we shouldn’t let get buried under the comments of some prof at HUC. The first qibbutz, the heart of Socialism and Labor Zionism, put up a shul! Mashiach can’t be too far away…

  25. Bob Miller says:

    Karl, meet Dalia

  26. Toby Katz says:

    She’s my favorite kind of Reform rabbi — shows her true colors, no equivocation.

  27. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I looked at the comments on the Ynet article and found a tremendous amount of heat and very little light. It shows the degree of resistance that people have that prevents them from listening to what other people are saying. It is very important to pay attention to the other person in a conversation no matter what the issue is, but even more so when it is a matter of Jewish survival. When you write something that someone else is going to read, there is absolutely no excuse for ranting. This woman paid her own movement a tremendous disservice (to the advantage of the Torah) but the frumme would have been advised to hang back and let the fake liberals hang themselves rather than piling on.

  28. Joshua says:

    The validity of Reform aside, we shouldn’t presume that Rabbi Marx represents the Reform movement as a whole. In my experience, Reform Jews are fine with Torah Judaism, so long as I don’t present it to them as something they should be doing too. This kind of attack is just despicable, however.