Recently I received a letter from David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism asking me to help support his movement. He wrote to me as “one Jew to another,” spotlighting certain issues he considers important to the Jewish people and Judaism.
Rather than simply toss the note into the nearest trash basket, I decided to respond to Mr. Saperstein and tell him just what I think.
“Unfortunately,” I began my letter, “I found your appeal to be horribly divisive, ignorant, and completely irrelevant to traditional Judaism.” I pointed to his “us vs. them” mentality, as evidenced by his use of such loaded buzzwords as “reactionary” (three times); “right-wing” or “far right” (four times); and “and progressive” (three times).
“Why,” I asked him, “do you assume that only the right wing of the political spectrum is reactionary?” I told him that my family had lived for more than half a century under a system of force-fed Soviet Marxism, a system that constantly described itself as “progressive.” But it was, in fact, quite a reactionary system, not least in its opposition to Judaism and our Torah traditions.
On the matter of the political affiliation of American Jewry, I pointed out that here, too, labels are meaningless: “I agree with you that for generations the American Jewish community has been an important force in promoting progressive values and social justice. At this time, a significant percentage of this group is moving to the right of the political spectrum. However, you should not assume that because of this shift they have abandoned social justice and tikkun olam.”
I noted that “although I voted for President Bush in the 2004 election, I still consider myself progressive and committed to social justice.”
Using his own words from the fundraising letter to drive my message home, I added: “I also wish to ‘Make America a better place. To seek peace and to pursue justice. To confront intolerance, defend individual freedom, and fight for social justice.’ Unfortunately, I feel that today’s liberals, leftists, and Reformists are no longer committed to these values; they are only making empty promises.”
I noted that the Reform movement’s positions, based both on official pronouncements and the stated opinions of Reform leaders, lean too much in the direction of “giving away Israel’s land, intermarrying outside the faith, ordaining homosexual rabbis, and other desecrations of our traditions in the name of social justice.”
“I support a clean environment as much as you do,” I wrote, “but if you are a real rabbi, how can you honestly support marriage for homosexuals? How can you label our president a reactionary, when he has proven his support for Israel and the Jewish people?”
When I decided to become religiously observant, there were three large Jewish denominations to choose from. I informed Mr. Saperstein that “I chose Orthodoxy because it has proven itself consistent with Torah values without compromising. There are plenty of inconveniences that come with being observant, but when you look at [Orthodox Jews], we are happy to follow the mitzvot without any doubts.”
In conclusion, I suggested that Mr. Saperstein “stop the name-calling and pause for a moment. Ask yourself why Orthodoxy is growing and Reform is shrinking. Ask yourself why Jews, especially in the younger generations, are abandoning liberalism. I know that you have a life of dedication to Reform Judaism behind you, but it is never too late to consider Orthodoxy. You will be in the company of a movement that has securely guarded Torah traditions for centuries.
“Assimilationist movements come and go. They selectively follow some Jewish values, such as tikkun olam, while ignoring everything else the Torah teaches. Throughout the centuries, Jews have been an example to the world of brotherhood, faith, tradition, and family. What’s wrong with living a morally enriched life and teaching it to others? Why should you, the president, or I keep it to ourselves?”