Stop the violence! Save the Reform rabbis!

In his post today, Rabbi Menken did not provide the definitive Orthodox statement that Rabbi Ellenson called for, but I will do so. First, here is part of the essay to which Rabbi Menken was responding, an article — written by the head of the Reform HUC — with the inflammatory title “Obscene Orthodox Hatred Demands a Clear Denunciation”:

To be sure, such Orthodox opposition to non-Orthodox rabbis is hardly a novelty in modern Jewish history. Indeed, if one considers an event such as the assassination of Rabbi Abraham Kohn of Lemberg in 1848 by an ultra-Orthodox zealot, the charges of Eliyahu and the protests of the Hod Hasharon Orthodox Sephardic congregation seem mild….These displays of unwarranted contempt and hatred demand a public response of condemnation on the part of my Orthodox colleagues….Citation of another historical precedent helps illustrate why I make this request. In July 1860, a group of zealous Orthodox youth in Amsterdam entered an assembly of the Shochrei Deah, a Reform group, and stoned the liberal rabbi Dr. M. Chronik, almost killing him….Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer — then head of an Orthodox yeshiva in Eisenstadt, Hungary — did not hesitate to condemn these youth for their actions.

Rabbi Ellenson is quite naturally concerned that Orthodox opposition to Reform will lead to violence. Seeing as how a Reform rabbi was murdered in 1848, and another Reform rabbi was stoned as recently as 1860, it’s no wonder Rabbi Ellenson fears for his life. Those Orthodox fanatics, wow, every 150 years they explode like Krakatoa! So here is the definitive Orthodox statement that Rabbi Ellenson requested:

Orthodox Jews stand with Rabbi Hildesheimer, and unequivocally condemn the ad hoc killing or stoning of Reform rabbis. It is totally inappropriate and contrary to halacha to impose the death penalty in the absence of authoritative judicial proceedings, when we are in exile and there is no proper Sanhedrin. We await the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our days.

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28 comments to Stop the violence! Save the Reform rabbis!

  • Bob Miller

    Historically, the greatest physical threats against Reform Jews have come from within the very nations they wished to assimilate into.

  • L.Oberstein

    It is so much “fun” to point out the failings of Reform that I hate to to be a spoilsport.Since so many former Reform Jews who have become baalei teshuva feel a need to justify their “conversion”, they like to point out to one another that Reform isn’t orthodox. That is, reform doesn’t believe in the relgion and its primary sources in the same way as orthodoxy. What is gained by that except feeling triumphalist?

    Reform Judaism includes many very sincere people who take their Jewishness seriously,give tzedakah,support Israel( in a leftist kind of way) and are leaders in the overall Jewish community. No, they do not believe in the binding nature of halacha, but they are not identical with “secular” Israelis who celebrate Pesach by going to a chometz- treif vacation in Florida or Turkey. What is better, a Reform Jew who has a seder and goes to Temple from time to time or a secular Israeli who has never uttered Shema Yisrael ?

    The fact that Sephardim and Chareidim say nasty things about Reform Judaism is meaningless to me. What do they know anyway? Reform is a Diaspora way of being Jewish without being different from the gentiles.It doesn’t work too well and has many problems,especially intermarriage without any form of conversion,but let’s not confuse these people with the early reformers in Germany. Today’s Reform Jew could easily be tommorrow’s baal teshuva if you don’t spit at him and tell him that his rabbi is worthy of being thrown into a pit and left to die.

  • Toby Katz

    L.Oberstein — did you read the nasty article written by Rabbi Ellenson, attacking Orthodox Jews? There was a link. Please don’t talk to me about how we shouldn’t make fun of Reform rabbis. It is they, not we, who sow hatred and dissension among Jews.

  • dovid

    “What is better, a Reform Jew who has a seder and goes to Temple from time to time or a secular Israeli who has never uttered Shema Yisrael?”

    Let’s be real. There is no difference. You would have a case if you compared a committed Reform Jew with a Shinui or Meretz activist.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    There is quite the inconsistency here:

    1) “Please don’t talk to me about how we shouldn’t make fun of Reform rabbis.” In other words, it’s okay to do it (under the incredible pretense that derisive comments from the Orthodox somehow makes a positive impression on the average as-yet-uncommitted reader). How the nastiness and sarcasm of this fits in with divrei chachamim benachas nishmaim totally eludes me at this point.

    2) “It is they, not we, who sow hatred and dissension among Jews.” They might in fact be sowing hatred and dissension, but claiming that it is “not we” is obviously false. Sowing hatred and dissension seems to be the only purpose of this post.

    – Moishe Potemkin

  • Mark

    L Oberstein wrote:
    “What is better, a Reform Jew who has a seder and goes to Temple from time to time or a secular Israeli who has never uttered Shema Yisrael ?”

    I don’t know. I’ve often wondered this point and tried to find out whether those who had reform or conservative education are more or less likely to become BT’s. Fomr the informal studies I’ve done in the subject [not very extensive] I’ve not seen a significant difference but I’d love to hear input from those who know more.

  • anon1

    So they started with the inappropriate article. Does that really justify a mean-spirited response.

    More importantly, even if a response is needed — but why the cynicism? Do you think that impresses the Reform or makes them recognize the truth of the Torah? Perhaps more importantly, to the extent you are “preaching to the choir,” to people who look to the writers of Cross-Currents as representative of Torah Judaism to obtain a Torah perspective on world events, do you want them to walk away with the view that the Torah has a cynical way of looking at the world? Cynicism often dangerously borders on arrogance. That is something we should all strive to stay far away from — because the spritiual danger of ga’avah is much worse than the shrill cry of a Reform rabbi in some article.

  • Micha Berger

    But let’s be clear, there IS hate involved.

    I HATE Reform Judaism, and I HATE the fact that it is leading my beloved Reform brethren astray. It is my love for Reform Jews that informs my hatred for Reform Judaism. After all, if I didn’t care for the people it has pulled from our tradition and provides an excuse to stay estranged, why would I be angry over it? And then there would have been no fuel for that hate.

    -mi

  • Noam

    Reading this manifesto, Mrs. Katz seems to have the presumption that Reform Rabbis are deserving of the death penalty, and would recieve it if only a sanhedrin was in session. This is not funny. While I am sure she is proud of her cleverness, this is a serious statement. I would remind her of the position of the Chazon Ish, that in the absence of more pronounced Revelation, there is no category of heretic(see the top of R. Adlerstein’s post). I also wonder if she is going to pronounce the halachic punishments on everyone who has violated each and every prohibition. I look forward to her list. In the absence of that, I would hope that her future contributions are more constructive. Orthodox/Reform relations are difficult enough without these types of statements.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    I wanted to applaud Rav Berger’s careful phrasing – note the conspicuous absence of any statement implying hatred of other people, even those whose fundamental theological beliefs differ from his own.

    – Moishe Potemkin

  • Loberstein

    Let me make myself clear. None of us are stupid. We all know the facts. It is a question of how we relate to others. Today, most frum Jews have little if anything to do with nonorthodox rabbis and their synagogues. We also make a mistake wihen we use orthodox norms to judge them. If your heart is full of hatred it comes through even if you say you love them. It is arrogance, not ahavas yisroel to judge people who live in a different world than ours and are dealing with a totally different reality. The American mindset is not geared to ideology, only to practicality. Both reform and conservative rabbis are trying to inject some Hebrew singing, some torah thoughts and some Jewish identity in people who do not know much and are not that committed. Every conservative synagogue is having a Lag B’Omer event today, they are Jews who want to be Jewish but don’t identify with a lifestyle so radically different from theirs as to make it seem impossible.

    My main point which so many don’t get is that ideology has nothing to do with it. American Judaism is sociologically based not halachicly driven. The rabbis are employees of their synagogues and they are trying to do the best they can.

    If one has true ahavas yisroel, it dosn’t mean you agree with them or that you recognize pluralism, but it does mean that you undestand their hearts and appreciate their desire to be Jewish. It isn’t orthodoxy, If you want someone to be orthodox, show him that you actually care about him as a human being, don’t tell him that all of his efforts to make his life a little more Jewish are phony and that his rabbi is a heretic. You are judging people out of the context of their lives by your standards. The only thing you get from that is a feeling of how superior you are. Don’t mask arrogance as love, everyone knows if you really care about them.

  • Toby Katz

    Noam wrote: “This is not funny.”

    I disagree.

    But feel free not to laugh.

    Noam also wrote: “I also wonder if she is going to pronounce the halachic punishments on everyone who has violated each and every prohibition. I look forward to her list.”

    I explicitly said that meting out halachic punishments is the job of the Sanhedrin, after Moshiach comes. I can tell that Noam is curious whether he would make my list. But since I don’t have a list — I just don’t know! (Sorry, Noam.)

    As to the people who don’t think that humor and sarcasm is the appropriate response to wrongdoers, I suggest that they all look up Tehillim (Psalms) 115:4 – 8 and see what David Hamelech had to say about those who make idols and then worship the product of their own hands.

    Finally, Noam wrote: “I would hope that her future contributions are more constructive.”

    For sweetness and light and no polemical arguments, I highly recommend the aish.com mailing list — in all seriousness. Those who do not enjoy thrust and parry should not read what they don’t enjoy.

  • Toby Katz

    L. Oberstein writes:
    “If you want someone to be orthodox, show him that you actually care about him as a human being, don’t tell him that all of his efforts to make his life a little more Jewish are phony”

    It is true that the best way to mekarev people is through personal warmth, and Baruch Hashem my husband and I have a lot of success in kiruv. Published polemics are quite different from kiruv, but the world needs both. There is a place for making one-on-one connections, and there is a place for stating the truth as clearly and readably as possible.

  • Noam

    I hope Mrs. Katz does not injure herself in her attempt at self-congradulation on her wit. She of course does not say that they deserve to be stoned. However, she is being very disingenuous if she is going to deny that there is the very strong IMPLICATION that they should be stoned. However cleverly she has worded her statement, the meaning is there, plain as day, which is what I assumed she wanted. So this explaination that she gives is essentially meaningless and misleading. Being able to write something, and then deny what you meant is certainly a skill, and a clever one at that. Whether it is something someone supposedly representing the Orthodox community should be doing is another matter.

    And I hope this is not too much of a disappointment, but I actually don’t care what Mrs. Katz thinks of me.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    “As to the people who don’t think that humor and sarcasm is the appropriate response to wrongdoers, I suggest that they all look up Tehillim (Psalms) 115:4 – 8 and see what David Hamelech had to say about those who make idols and then worship the product of their own hands.”

    In point of fact, Dovid Hamelech says nothing mean-spirited about people who are making sincere attempts to live their lives properly based upon good-faith efforts to understand what is right and wrong, unsurprisingly filtered through the lens of the culture in which they were raised.

    – Moishe Potemkin

  • SM

    Polemic is necessary. Why?

    Polemic is a substitute for argument. Not exactly the great Jewish tradition – but hey, TK is only a woman so what can you expect?

    Oh – sorry if that’s not funny. I thought it was. Tell you what, don’t laugh if you don’t want to.

    The article was about the Boyden affair and the attempt to label the Shoah as a punishment for sin. The article concluded:
    “We should recognize that all Jews are linked to one another, in relation to the pain of the Holocaust as well as in regard to the fate of the State of Israel. Were Orthodox and other Jewish voices to be raised in protest against these obscene thoughts and deeds, it would truly be an act of decency that would sanctify God’s name.”

    Hard to disagree – once you stop laughing, obviously.

  • Yaakov Menken

    SM, your mistake is to buy into Ellenson’s false characterization of these two things as expressions of “hatred” that are “obscene.” Both were neither.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    I’m an intermarried, Heterodox Jew. I enjoyed Tobi Katz’s comment enough to show it to my wife.

    If she was advocating killing us (I’m pretty sure I’d be liable to the death penalty too under Halacha), that would be evil. Same thing if she wanted to restart the Sanhedrin so somebody would be able to execute us. She isn’t.

    Tobi Katz believes that G-d wants us follow Halacha and that eventually G-d will send the Mashiach and then those who did not follow it will be punished. So what? If you agree with her, be Orthodox. If you disagree with her, then what she believes shouldn’t matter to you a great deal.

  • Toby Katz

    “In point of fact, Dovid Hamelech says nothing mean-spirited about people who are making sincere attempts to live their lives properly based upon good-faith efforts to understand what is right and wrong….”

    – Moishe Potemkin

    Why do you assume that the idol-worshippers of old were not sincere in their beliefs?

  • Toby Katz

    SM wrote: “Polemic is a substitute for argument. Not exactly the great Jewish tradition”

    SM, you don’t seem to know the meaning of the word “polemic.” See the dictionary definition of polemic:

    POLEMIC A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine.

    adj. also po·lem·i·cal (–kl)
    Of or relating to a controversy, argument, or refutation

    ===
    IOW, polemic IS argument — a specific kind of argument, the very kind I am here engaged in.

    Extended arguments against false beliefs are very much a time-honored Jewish intellectual tradition, from Saadya Gaon attacking the Karaites to Rambam on Islam and Christianity to Ramban in his Sefer Vikuah (Book of Disputation) showing where Christians misinterpreted the Bible, to the great R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch attacking Reform and saving the remnants of German Jewry from its depradations.

    I am in very good Jewish company indeed. At worst you could say that I don’t argue very well and have no right on those grounds to put myself in such exalted company, but please don’t pretend that the “real” Jewish tradition is to roll over and play dead whenever we come under intellectual attack.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    “Why do you assume that the idol-worshippers of old were not sincere in their beliefs?”

    I invite you to take up that question with the Chazon Ish.

    It was his p’sak, not mine, that determined that the overwhelming majority of contemporary non-observant Jews have the status of tinokos shenishbu mibein ha’akum, and are therefore not to blame for their lack of observance. I apologize for the paraphrase, but his essential point is that although idol-worshippers of old could not have honestly avoided the conclusion that they were wrong, given the prevalence of miracles at that time; however, the situation is not the same today.

    That inequality renders your comparison quite inapt, again leaving us to question the benefit of the sarcastic nastiness in your initial post. (I am glad to see that you have abandoned the obviously false pretense that it is only they, and “not we,” fomenting hatred.)

    – Moishe Potemkin

  • Toby Katz

    “I invite you to take up that question with the Chazon Ish.

    It was his p’sak, not mine, that determined that the overwhelming majority of contemporary non-observant Jews have the status of tinokos shenishbu mibein ha’akum, and are therefore not to blame for their lack of observance.” — Moishe Potemkin

    I’m not sure what you’re telling me that’s new. Everyone in the Orthodox world today accepts this psak and takes it for granted that Reform Jews of today don’t know better and are not to blame for not being Torah-observant. I have no quarrel with the average non-observant Jew who is doing the best he can and never had much of a Jewish education.

  • Moishe Potemkin

    I am trying to help you understand why your citation of earlier examples of derisive language is less supportive of your use of it in this case than you think it is.

  • Toby Katz

    “I am trying to help you understand why your citation of earlier examples of derisive language is less supportive of your use of it in this case than you think it is.”

    Ellenson knows enough that it is highly doubtful he can be considered a tinok shenishba

    he grew up in an orthodox shul even if not observant and he boasts that he is a great Torah scholar

    he is one of those trying to force Israel to recognize Reform which would be an unmitigated disaster for Israel and for the Jewish people

  • Moishe Potemkin

    Knowing facts is not the same as understanding the nature and obligation of halacha.

    And none of this mitigates the damage caused when the average non-observant reader stumbles across yet another example of gratuitous mean-ness expressed by the Orthodox toward their brethren.

  • Noam

    When I was a resident, a certain emergency room doctor frequently called for unneccessary consults. After being woken up by him, again, at 2 am, for yet another unncessary consult, I told him that he needed to return a substantial portion of his salary, because he was performing the duties of a triage nurse, not an emergency room doctor, and he should be paid as a triage nurse, not a doctor.

    Of course a complaint was made, and a few days later my program director had a little chat with me in his office, and he told me “we all know he(the er doctor) is an idiot, but you didn’t have to tell him.” A few weeks later, at my director’s instigation, rules were put into place for emergency room consultations.

    Now, one way to deal with those with whom you disagree is to use denigrating humor, sarcasm, or other dissmissive forms of speech. This usually makes the speaker feel better, but usually accomplishes nothing, except for infuriating the target of the speech. The more constructive approach is to have a dialogue and a meeting, and resolve differences as best as possible. I guess I expected more and better from someone who puts herself out as part of the public face of Orthodoxy on the internet. Is this how you want your Bais Ya’akov students talking and writing about those with whom they disagree?

  • T.A. Zev

    Ori, have you discussed conversion with your wife? What are her reservations?

  • Ori Pomerantz

    My wife is considering conversion (to Conservative Judaism). She decided that it makes more sense to try to follow the Mitzvot first and then worry about the Mikveh – she’s serious about doing the right thing.

    Right now she is trying to get used to the notion of life without bacon and cheeseburgers. That’s hard for a Texan, especially since we eat a lot at fast food (four young kids and no relatives less than a five hour drive away). She’s also worried about losing the ability to shop on Saturday, since stores are only open for a few hours on Sunday here.