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Banana syndrome at the URJ

Israel’s Knesset. The parliament of a banana republic?

Israel’s Knesset. The parliament of a banana republic?
Photo Credit: Miriam Alster / Flash90

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Last week, MK David Rotem created a fuss here with his remarks:

Reform leaders in the U.S. are calling for the removal of MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) from the leadership of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, after he said that Reform Judaism wasn’t really “Jewish,” but a “different religion.”

Later, he explained that he hadn’t said that Reform Jews weren’t Jews, which wasn’t the point anyway. And finally he issued an apology:

My intention was that I have deep differences with the Reform movement about practical matters related to Judaism. At the same time, considering that we are all Jews and members of the same religion, we need to solve these differences in discussions and conversations around the table. I apologize to anyone who may have been hurt.

I am not going to become involved in the discussion of whether Reform Judaism is “another religion” from traditional Judaism. Obviously there is a point when a ‘denomination’ becomes a different religion. Many people, myself included, think that “Messianic Judaism” is more a form of Christianity than a form of Judaism. It has been argued that Chabad — or some factions thereof — have gone too far in their adulation of their Rebbe. I am really not going to get involved in this.

What I do want to discuss is the increasing pressure on Israel from liberal American Jews in regard to the place of Judaism, in all of its forms, in Israel.

The New Israel Fund, a US-based group (which, by the way, I regard as anti-Zionist and pernicious), has long funded Israeli organizations promoting “religious pluralism,” which means equal treatment of various forms of Judaism, equal roles for women in every aspect of Judaism, the elimination of the Orthodox Rabbinate’s control of family law, etc.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) — massive in the US, small in Israel — has pushed for full recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in matters of marriage and divorce, as well as state funding for non-Orthodox rabbis (a limited victory was recently obtained in Israel’s Supreme Court). The head of the URJ, Rabbi Richard (Rick) Jacobs (more here), was a member of the NIF Board of Directors and chair of its Pluralism committee until taking the reins at the URJ.

Yesterday I received an email from the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) — an organization that, needless to say, does not explicitly define itself as engaged in religious politics — mentioning that its “Global Planning Table” (GPT) would develop several initiatives, including this:

Civil Society: a third initiative, still being refined, which will most likely relate to religious diversity and civil marriage in Israel. The task force has hired a consultant in Israel to make recommendations on how the GPT could achieve impact in this area.

What I want to say about all this is not that their goals are necessarily wrong. I can certainly tell you from personal experience that immigrant Jews can have a very difficult time establishing their Jewishness before the Rabbinate in the event that they want to be married in Israel. This is a huge problem for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, where WWII and Soviet anti-Jewish attitudes caused Jewish records to be lost.

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About the Author: Vic Rosenthal created FresnoZionism.org to provide a forum for publishing and discussing issues about Israel and the Mideast conflict, especially where there is a local connection. Rosenthal believes that America’s interests are best served by supporting the democratic state of Israel, the front line in the struggle between Western civilization and radical Islam. The viewpoint is not intended to be liberal or conservative — just pro-Israel.


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4 Responses to “Banana syndrome at the URJ”

  1. Rhonda Clark says:

    Iran wants to kill Jews, and Obama is letting them get nukes

  2. Matt McLaughlin says:

    I think there's something else going on here. Something along the lines of Jabotinsky's view> Israel not being Jews' spiritual homeland but as an offshoot or implant of Western civilization in the East. This worldview translated into a geo-strategic conception in which Zionism was to be permanently allied with European colonialism against all the Arabs in the eastern Mediterranean. Now that relationship is challenged with American Jews' lethargic view of Zionism, and the Reformed Church of Scotland re-thinking its advocacy of Zionism to the tune of the Catholic's view> that there is no modern Chosen people deserving of a monopoly of the Holy Land. Its along the lines when Party leader Yosef Lapid pitched his appeal to Jews from Western Europe as distinct from those from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Russia. He welded his call for a "secular unity government" to an appeal to "westernism," saying that "if we let the east European ghetto and the north African ghetto take over, we will…be lost within a terrible Levantine dunghill." Or Eli Yishai's controversial statement about Israel and 'white men'.
    I don't think Israel's proclaimed Jewishness is simple to understand. How this Jewishness has taken form? Hertzl said not to think of Jews as a race. Oren said there's no official religion for Israel. How is this alleged Jewishness viewed by the non-Jew, the non-Zionist? The Muslim isn't an heir to Abraham, too?

    OREN: …… unlike Great Britain that has a national church, we don't have an official religion.

    http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1307/28/fzgps.01.html

  3. Stuart Kaufman says:

    I disagree with one small matter. Diaspora Jews not only have a right, we have an obligation to speak up about matters in Israel, because Israel is the Jewish state, and we are Jews. Our right to have a say there is not equivalent to that of Israelis, who have real skin in the game, but we have some equity in the State of Israel. However, with regard to the right of the Reform Movement to comment – they have no right. The Reform Movement ceased being jewish over 40 years ago. Individual members may have the right (if their mothers are Jewish, they are Jewish), but that is it. As to "rabbi" 'Rick' Jacobs, I have no idea if his mother was Jewish or not. If so, he can comment, but not in his role as a "spiritual leader" of a non-Jewish movement. As to the positions of the reform Movement concerning Israeli issues, they have as much value as the positions of, e.g., Presbyterians or Methodists. No more, no less.

  4. Jack Zeller says:

    Writing off other Jews is not Jewish. Elaborate explanations convince only parochialists who have a long tradition of writing off others. Rotem deserves better than his bad habit.

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