web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Reform’

Non-Orthodox Reaction To The Siyum HaShas

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The massive turnouts around the world celebrating the completion of the twelfth cycle of the Daf Yomi should finally put to rest any remaining claims by leaders of non-Orthodox movements that they represent the wave of the Jewish future.

Can any among them assert with a straight face that they could attract anything remotely approaching the more than ninety-thousand Jews who flocked to MetLife Stadium or even the tens of thousands of others who gathered at other venues across the U.S. and around the world?

Can they identify anything their movements urge on their members that rivals the proven lure of the timeless exposition of the Oral Law by the sages and scholars of the past two millennia?

In fact, the critique of the Siyum HaShas offered up by some of those leaders highlight just how far they’ve strayed from the Judaism of the Ages. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Uriel Heilman, this is what the senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism told him concerning the Reform movement’s view of the Talmud and the Siyum HaShas:

Text study is very important to us, but we focus on the Ur-text, on Torah in particular. That’s an interesting contrast between Reform and Orthodox. Talmud, Oral Law, is not our core text….We’re aggressively pushing Torah and Tanakh study; we’re not aggressive at a North American level of pushing Talmud study. Talmud study remains important, but it’s not as central, certainly doesn’t rise anywhere to the level of a daily study encouragement for us.

[It’s part of] how Reform Judaism looks at rabbinic law…. We see ourselves as successors reclaiming the core Torah text.

The rabbis of today and of yesteryear are of equal authority. The amoraim [rabbinic sages quoted in the Talmud] do not get special consideration. Contemporary commentary is equally as interesting and holy, if you will….

We’re creating new sacred texts. Only time determines what Jews will value for the long term…We’re not assigning Divine weight [to Talmudic rulings]. They don’t carry more weight than contemporary Jewish philosophy…. Oral Law we do not find to be binding.

It is clear that in the Reform mindset there is nothing special about any of the Tanaim and Amoraim of the Talmud who expounded on the Torah, or later commentators like Rashi, Tosafos, and the Rambam. Indeed, as the Reform spokesman made clear, their “contemporary” sages are the equal of the aforementioned giants and quite capable, thank you, of creating “sacred texts.”

The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which trains clergy, educators and professional and lay leaders for the Conservative movement, made a similar point in an article on the Siyum HaShas in the Wall Street Journal. While he freely acknowledged that studying the Talmud has been key to the growth of Orthodoxy, he went on to ask,

But what about the rest of the Jewish population? How can they be offered a sense of community and meaning? What learning could galvanize non-Orthodox minds, stir our hearts, nourish our souls?…I propose a different page for Jewish learning, one that is open to the larger world and bears the impact of modern thinking. It would cleave faithfully to texts, rituals, history and faith while being informed by art, music, drama, poetry, politics and law.

Imagine if every Jew who wished to do so could awake to a platform of daily Jewish text not limited to the Talmud – and to Jewish media not limited to text. Daily reading of Torah or psalms would be juxtaposed with their echoes in the headlines of the day; a passage from Job would be accompanied by clips from the Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man”; the poetry of Isaiah could be explored side by side with that of the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.

So he doesn’t get it either. Contemporary philosophers – even highly regarded filmmakers – don’t bring the same things to the Jewish table as a Rabbi Tarphon or a Rabbi Akiva, a Rashi or a Chofetz Chaim, a Rav Moshe Feinstein or a Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv. The Daf Hayomi siyumim made it clear that the traditional study of classic Jewish texts is fundamental to the survival of the Jewish people and that those seeking to deny the authoritativeness of those texts are in denial about what is plainly before their eyes. And that may well be the enduring contribution of the Siyum HaShas.

Rev. Samuel Myer Isaacs: Champion of Orthodoxy (Part I)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from “The Forerunners – Dutch Jewry in the North America Diaspora” by Robert P. Swierenga, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1994.

The nineteenth century witnessed a decline in religious observance by most of American Jewry. Changes were instituted in Orthodox synagogues that led many of them to affiliate with the Reform movement. Many religious leaders went along with – and some even encouraged – these changes. There were, however, some men who did their best to maintain traditional Judaism in the face of what at the time seemed an unstoppable tide of change. One such man was the Rev. Samuel Isaacs.

“Isaacs was born on January 4, 1804, in Leeuwarden – the capital city of the province of Friesland in the far northern Netherlands – the son of a prominent merchant-banker, Meyer Samuel Isaacs (Isaks) and Rebecca Samuels, his wife. This devout family had five sons and four became ministers. The Leeuwarden synagogue seated six hundred and was one of the largest congregations outside the main Jewish centers in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.”

The Napoleonic Wars adversely affected Dutch Jews engaged in trade with London and Meyer Isaacs found himself increasingly in debt starting in 1805. Things were so bad by 1814 that the Isaacs family relocated to London. There, Meyer, who was a well-educated layman in both secular and Torah subjects, became a teacher. In addition, he made sure educated that his sons received excellent religious and secular educations.

Samuel, who was only ten when his family moved to England, was young enough to learn to speak English without a Dutch accent. “This ability later earned him many speaking engagements in America, where sermons and public addresses in English were much preferred to the customary Yiddish or German tongue.”

“After completing his education Samuel taught Hebrew for a time at the Jewish Orphanage of London and then in the 1830s he became principal of a Jewish day school.” In 1839 he married Jane Symmons. At about the same time he was offered the position chazzan at Ashkenazi Congregation Bnai Jeshurun of New York. The result was that Samuel and his new bride sailed for New York a few days after their wedding. The trip took three months.

“The arrival of an English Jewish preacher was indeed a novelty in those days, for in 1839 preaching in the vernacular was a rarity. The Elm Street synagogue near Walker Street [where Congregation Bnai Jeshurun was located] was crowded every Sabbath to hear the new preacher, and not a few non-Israelites were attracted.”[i]

The synagogue thrived under Isaacs’s leadership despite the fact that on a number of occasions groups left the synagogue to form their own minyanim where davening was conducted in accordance with the minhagim of the region where the mispallelim came from. In 1844 a major schism developed. Rather than fight, Chazzan Isaacs, the shamus and at least ten other Dutch families chose to withdraw quietly and form a new congregation which they named Shaaray Tefila.

This new congregation, which was formally organized in 1845, consisted primarily of English and Dutch Jews. Reverend Isaacs served as it spiritual leader until his passing in 1878.

“Isaacs’s long tenure at Shaaray Tefila marked the high point of Orthodoxy in New York Judaism…. Isaacs devoted his pulpit to the defense of pure religion undefiled, calling the faithful to observe the full Mosaic law, the Levitical dietary rules and purification rites, and especially to keep the Sabbath. Honoring the Sabbath was difficult for Jewish retail merchants and clerks because Saturday was the major American shopping day, and state and local Sunday closing laws often kept Jewish businesses closed on that day as well – until they won legal exemptions.

“Reverend Isaacs’s second theme was to uphold Orthodoxy against the new Reform Judaism that German Jews were bringing to America in the 1840s. Among other worship practices, Reform introduced mixed choirs and instrumental music, integrated seating, prayers in English, abolition of head coverings, and confirmation for young women as well as young men. Reform congregations also were lax in enforcing religious discipline and Sabbath-keeping.

“Isaacs challenged these new ideas ‘from the fertile fields of Germany, where everything grows fast, although not always wholesome.’ What is at issue, he warned, is that Jews are ‘assimilating our system to that of Christianity ….’ ”

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Facing Heated Calls For Change On Several Fronts

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

WASHINGTON – The latest battle over religious pluralism in Israel has unleashed a new barrage of criticism and calls for reform aimed at the Orthodox-controlled Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Unlike major flare-ups in past decades, however, this time it’s not just the Reform and Conservative movements leading the charge – mainstream, consensus-oriented Jewish groups with no denominational affiliations are speaking out, too.

One flashpoint has been the fallout from the Israeli attorney general’s decision to approve government funding for Reform and Conservative religious leaders as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities” – albeit through the Ministry of Culture and Sports rather than the Orthodox-controlled Religious Services Ministry, which funds Orthodox rabbis.

That announcement drew a caustic response from Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who in a June 27 meeting urged more than 100 fellow Orthodox rabbis – including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger – to pray “in order to stop the destroyers and saboteurs of Judaism [because] they are trying to uproot the foundation of Judaism.”

“There is a natural backlash on the part of American Jews and American Jewish leaders when the Chief Rabbinate issues such statements,” said Steven Bayme, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations. “As we enter the 21st century, the [Chief Rabbinate] needs to be reevaluted in terms of democratic norms and modern Israel’s relationship to world Jewry.”

In response to Rabbi Amar’s remarks, about 50 Reform and Conservative rabbis protested outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s building in Jerusalem. Two Conservative rabbis filed a police complaint accusing Amar of incitement – a particularly serious claim in Israel ever since the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which has leaders from across the religious spectrum, but which in recent years has become more vocal on behalf of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jews, was quick to respond.

“It is a fundamental Jewish virtue to ‘love your fellow as yourself.’ We condemn comments that disparage fellow Jews and, in particular, well-established branches of Judaism that represent 80 percent of North American Jewry,” Jerry Silverman, the president and CEO of JFNA, said in a statement. “Statements such as those made by Rabbi Amar only serve to alienate our fellow Jews from our religion, our people and the Jewish state.”

Shortly after that controversy, the board of governors of the AJC – another nonsectarian Jewish organization with no formal ties to either the Reform or Conservative movements – went even further in criticizing the Chief Rabbinate and calling for major changes to the institution.

“In the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an anachronism, and at worst a force dividing the Jewish people,” the AJC’s leaders declared in a resolution.

The Chief Rabbinate’s actions “threaten to divide the Jewish people and risk an anti-religious backlash against Judaism itself within the Jewish state,” they wrote. The AJC urged Israel’s government “to undertake promptly all needed actions” to end the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over issues of personal status.

The latest wave of criticism comes amid a backdrop of religion-related controversies – tensions between Modern Orthodox rabbis and haredi Orthodox rabbis over conversions; the push for civil marriage in Israel; and the struggle over whether haredi men should serve in the military or continue to be exempt to study in yeshivas.

“Like any human institution, the Chief Rabbinate could use improvement,” said Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive director emeritus of the Orthodox Union.

“What those improvements would be though requires a lot of thought and a lot of study, and from the OU’s perspective in no way could the Orthodox nature and the halachic nature of the Chief Rabbinate be compromised.”

Rabbi Weinreb stressed that OU congregations and rabbis adhere to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s decisions. He added that the process of electing chief rabbis could be refined so that it is “less political.”

The call for radical reform of the Chief Rabbinate was greeted warmly by Reform and Conservative groups.

“It’s a powerful letter from the dead center of the American Jewish establishment weighing in on what the Israeli government and the Israeli public still thinks is a fringe issue,” Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said of the AJC’s position. “It’s a welcome voice in that debate.”

Southern Comfort for Orthodox and Reform Campers on the Fourth

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

When a Reform summer camp in Mississippi invited an Orthodox summer camp for a Fourth of July celebration, the get-together became national Jewish news. The onslaught of publicity caught both camps off-guard.

“To me it seems like a normal event,” said Rabbi Avichai Pepper, camp director for the Orthodox Camp Darom. “There’s no reason to think this is anything different… Most of the people who work at the camp are used to not seeing a difference: a Jewish child is a Jewish child.”

“I think all of the cultural or practical differences may exist [when] we’re talking about 60 kids coming together,” explained Jonathan “JC” Cohen, camp director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp. “It’s kids being with kids at camp”

The two camps are roughly three hours apart from each other; Camp Darom, an arm of the Orthodox Baron Hirsch Congregation of Memphis Tennessee, is in Grenada, MI, while the much larger Jacobs camp is in Utica. Cohen said that both camps in the deep South have similar goals.

“You live in the Bible Belt and you get comments by your Christian classmates who don’t know what it’s like to be Jewish,” Cohen explained. Jewish camps offers a place where Jewish campers “get to be in the majority instead of the minority.”

Camp Darom is the only Orthodox camp in the Southeast United States and, with the exception of a small camp in Arizona, the only Orthodox camp in the entire south. The camp, which rents a piece of land owned by the United States Army Corp of Engineers, serves roughly 50 children. The Jacobs camp, which is run by the Union for Reform Judaism, serves close to 230. Both camps were founded in the mid-1970’s.

The day for the get-together was chosen for a specific reason.

“Unlike any other part of our 3,000 year history, the U.S. has really been very good to us,” said Rabbi Pepper. “I can’t think of celebrating a better day. Here we are in the same area as [the film] “Mississippi Burning” and we’ve got a nine-foot Israeli flag hanging under an American flag.”

Cohen said he was cautious about the programming and ensured that no lines would be crossed. Camp Darom would be bringing its own food, since Jacobs does not have a kosher kitchen, but the two camps would be eating in the same dining hall.

“It’s a good Jewish thing for people to eat together,” said Cohen, adding, “We’re not going to pray together.”

There will be a carnival and a parade and a concert by the Jewish musician Dan Nichols. Given the Orthodox prohibition on mixed-swimming, URJ is having separate swimming hours for its water slide. The URJ also ordered a snow cone truck to come in the evening and asked the operator to provide a kosher syrup. Cohen said that an event last year fell through, but this year funding help was provided by the Foundation for Jewish Camps.

“It was a small investment on our part to create this program and we hope this will inspire them to find other ways they can work collaboratively,” Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp explained. “More of the Jewish world should follow the camps… They’re modeling the way we should act as a community down the road.”

The organization holds a series of conferences for camp directors across the United States from all spectrums of Judaism — from Reconstructionist to Agudah-like camps.

Both camp directors agree that growing up in the South breeds a specific type of Jew.

“There’s not a lot of Jews, and because the Christians in the south are very verbal in their Christianity you have to fight to be Jewish,” said Cohen. “If you’re really fighting for your identity, you generate a more passionate Jew.”

Macy Hart, the CEO of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, said that Jewish life “isn’t lived in the shadows.”

” Jewish life in the South has been one of true commitment to Jewish identity,” he said.

Hart was also the first director of the Jacobs camp, a camp he said that initially the Reform leadership was not so keen on.

“Never underestimate the determination of Jewish parents in the South to expose their children to a Jewish experience,” he said.

‘Losing Zuckerberg’ and Reform Judaism’s Opportunity

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Dear Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan,

Thank you for your article in the Forward entitled “Losing Zuckerberg – Why Did Facebook King Move Away From Reform Judaism?” In the article you lament the intermarriage of Mark Zuckerberg and ask why a young man who comes from an affiliated Reform background would call himself an atheist and choose to marry out of our nation.

Poignantly you write: “For those in the Reform movement and for those who are committed to non-Orthodox American Judaism generally, we need to take the sudden interest in Zuckerberg’s personal life as an opportunity to perform cheshbon hanefesh, to take an accounting of our accomplishments and, as in this case, our failings.”

As one who taught Reform Hebrew school for many years at the flagship Temple Emanuel in Manhattan, I agree with your concerns that Reform Judaism is too lax, too undefined, as you write: “We failed Zuckerberg and will continue to fail young people like him because the pluralistic theologies of Reform Judaism articulated since the 1960s make it difficult to grasp what we Reform Jews believe on any given issue. Our faith is too amorphous… we have lost our way, ignoring scholarship in favor of any type of “spirituality,” no matter how vacuous.”

Indeed. Even in your own article you admit that as a Reform Rabbi you would not be comfortable asking a congregant to observe some form of the Sabbath or even refrain from marrying a non-Jew. These are two Jewish fundamentals, one dealing with the culture of Judaism, the other with the perpetuation of our nation, yet you feel powerless to call for adherence. And as a result, a young Jew whom you train grows up to be less of a Jew and more of a secular humanist and is it a surprise when you raise a secular humanist that he or she looks to marry a co-religionist of that faith and not the Jewish one?

But my critique is not about Reform’s rejection of classical Judaism, because that polemic has been hashed out time and again.

My argument is that in our times there are two separate tracks of Jewish continuity: Traditional Judaism and Zionism. The real failing of Reform Judaism is that it rejected both of them. You can reject one and still survive, but you can’t reject both and make it.

To remain Jewish in America, without the external aid of anti-semitism, there needs to be a glue which keeps ideology and peoplehood at the forefront of a young Jewish mind. The traditional Torah world has strong ritual, ideology and a social matrix within the community, making intermarriage almost impossible. But an American Jew who lacks tradition does not have much to separate him or her from a philo-Semitic American gentile and he or she is likely to end up marrying one.

So the question stands: barring the super-success of Chabad and other such religious movements on campus, what can deliver powerful Jewish identity to millions of young American Reform Jews?

Your conclusion, Rabbi Dana, is that Reform Judaism needs a new infusion of Judaism: “We need to ask ourselves why he [Zuckerberg] is apparently not committed to the God of his ancestors, and to take drastic steps to rebuild our religious ecosystem.”

I applaud your sentiment, but I am skeptical. Do you really think the Reform movement will abide a “Kosher-style” surge? And even if that infusion comes, do you think that it will be attractive to young people? Conservative Jewry, ostensibly more traditional, has not fared much better than Reform.

Permit me to suggest that there is a more natural and faster track to keeping young Reform Jews Jewish. Instead of trying to rebuild a ‘religious ecosystem’, how about steering our youth to take part in the rebuilding of the physical and social ecosystem of our people in our ancestral homeland? In other words, instead of pushing more Judaism in the Reform world, why not push more Zionism?

There is a future for Reform youth in Israel. In Israel, you can be a secular humanist and still remain Jewish because you will marry Jewish. Moreover, secular Israelis do not remain Jewish only by virtue of living in a Jewish society that is rejected by the neighboring gentiles. Being a secular Israeli is very much a Jewish cultural identity. Most secular Israelis connect to the beautiful narrative of being Israeli, fighting in the Israeli army, getting married under a Chuppah, having a family Seder, and building a home in the land of Israel.

Reform, Orthodox Kids to Celebrate Fourth of July Together

Friday, June 29th, 2012

The Americafest celebration next week, which will bring campers from the Orthodox Camp Darom in Grenada, Miss., to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Miss., was made possible by a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

The celebration will mark the first time the two camps have come together for an intercamp program day, and will include a Fourth of July parade featuring campers from both camps, an afternoon carnival, an outdoor concert by Jewish musician Dan Nichols and fireworks.

“While the two camps practice their Judaism differently, their missions are very much the same: to strengthen the Jewish identity of young people from small and isolated Southern Jewish communities by providing them with outstanding programs and powerful Jewish memories,” Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen, the Jacobs camp director, said in a statement. “Jacobs Camp’s motto, ‘A Jewish Place at a Southern Pace,’ will surely ring true during this one-of-a-kind celebration.”

Reform Congregations in Hungary Lose State Recognition

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

The European Union for Progressive Judaism and Hungary’s two Reform congregations took their case against Hungary’s new law on religion to the European Court of Human Rights in The Hague.

The two synagogues, Sim Shalom and Bet Orim, said in a statement that they had submitted an application Tuesday to the Court “concerning the violation of their human rights” caused by the entry into force of the new Hungarian “Church Law.”

The new law, which came into force Jan. 1, grants official recognition to only three streams of Judaism in Hungary: Neolog (Hungarian Conservative), Orthodox and Status-quo (associated with Chabad Lubavitch) congregations.

“As a consequence of the entry in force of the Act, the ‘church’ status of the Hungarian [Reform] congregations was revoked,” the statement said.  The two Reform communities consider the new law on religion “illegal” and “discriminatory,” the statement said, and had already called on the Hungarian Constitutional Court to annul it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/reform-congregations-in-hungary-lose-state-recognition/2012/06/27/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: