Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Shevat 5759 - Feb 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
What Are the Key Points in the Struggle Against the Reform?
by Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein

It is with great disappointment that the Israeli government and courts continue to give more and more legitimacy to Reform and Conservative and I write this chapter in my series of articles on attempts of various groups and individuals to allow the Reform and Conservative to infiltrate into Israeli society.

In my last article I explained that the success of the Reform and Conservative in receiving recognition in Israel -- though they are not more than a handful of people here -- is in two spheres:

1. Government registration and recognition, where the civil court forced the various governmental bodies to accept Reform and Conservative converts for civil purposes as Jews;

2. Halachic matters, such as setting up the joint conversion institute, which interferes in the actual conversion process.

Last week another serious decision was rendered by the High Court which is another step in the continued deterioration of the religious status quo, and it can even be called non- religious coercion since it interferes with an individual's personal freedom to follow a religious lifestyle.

The court ordered the chairman of the Jerusalem Religious Council, Rabbi Yitzchok Ralbag, to call a meeting of the council including Reform and Conservative members in spite of the fact that the Chief Rabbis ruled that this is halachically prohibited and that he was in a legal position that did not allow him to resign.

Until now the Rabbinate was allowed to make all decisions with regard to conversions and other questions of personal status. Previous decisions of the court, as serious as they may be, affected only official government offices, mainly the Ministry of the Interior. They ordered government agencies to recognize Reform and Conservative acts as valid for government purposes, such as the population registry, the identity card and Israeli citizenship.

However, in its latest act the High Court is attempting to force a G-d fearing Jew to act against his conscience and against halacha.

Both of the Israeli Chief Rabbis signed a long letter to the president of the High Court of Justice expressing their clear opinion that the decision of the court in this case was a mistake.

The following section of their 6 page letter clearly describes the latest stage in the ongoing battle against the Reform and Conservative.

"Until now when the court ruled for example to recognize Reform conversions, it was only a general matter. There was no obligation upon anyone to convert in that manner. And so it was with civil marriage: there is no ruling to obligate anyone to marry civilly, and the same with secular burial and opening business on Shabbos.

"In all these cases the High Court expressed its world view -- which is not accepted by religious Jewry who feel it damages the image of the Jewish state. However, all these stopped short of obligating any particular observant Jew to actively follow these decisions. Therefore we, the Chief Rabbis of Israel, felt that there was no need for us to turn to the president of the High Court. However, this latest decision personally obligates a religious Jew to act in defiance of the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate, against his hashkofo and outlook."

It is interesting to quote from an article which appears in the February '99 issue of Commentary written by Jack Wertheimer, a history professor at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. He writes:

"Out of the 5.5 million Jews in the United States, then, the total number of the Orthodox is in the range of 400,000. Yet their actual impact is far greater than that number suggests, and for a simple reason: they show very high rates of participation in organized Jewish life. There once was a category of "residual Orthodox" -- i.e., Jews who would pray only in an Orthodox synagogue but in fact would rarely attend; today, virtually all Orthodox males can be counted on to worship in synagogues at least once a week, and virtually all Orthodox Jews observe many if not most of the central precepts of traditional Judaism. They are vital to the maintenance of the community's religious infrastructure, including ritual baths and kosher butcher stores, bakeries and restaurants. Orthodox Jews also constitute a significant proportion of those who give to Jewish philanthropies or volunteer their time for Jewish causes, and are vastly overrepresented in the ranks of professionals staffing Jewish social, educational, and religious institutions in local communities and national agencies."

Regardless of whether the actual numbers given are correct, it is clear, even in the eyes of this Conservative writer, that only the Orthodox really care about their Jewishness and that is what makes us involved in every phase of Jewish life. The Reform and Conservative consider their religion as something secondary. Other things are far more important to them than practicing and being actively involved in Judaism. That is why the situation is that the Reform and Conservative have only a few well financed activists who are trying to change the makeup of the Jewish state -- against the will of the masses who really care. In spite of this, so far they have been quite successful in making progress in their goal of recognition in Israel.

I would like to conclude with some refreshing news. Last week, as reported in Yated, the Knesset passed a law obligating all members of the religious councils to declare that the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinate have the final decision in all matters pertaining to the religious council. This law was designed to obligate the heretic members of religious councils to commit themselves to Orthodox halacha when acting as religious council members.

This decision in itself is a small victory in the ongoing battle against recognition of the Reform and Conservative. The decision has much declarative value as it publicly obligates the Reform and Conservative council members to publicly agree that only the Orthodox Rabbinate is authoritative in matters pertaining to the religious councils.

Still, even if the Reform and Conservative sign the declaration -- which seems to be what will happen -- this will not allow us to freely sit with them on the religious councils nor in any other forum. I personally heard from maranan verabonon that this is only the first step in our uncompromising demand that the Reform and Conservative should have no recognition in Israel. We are not allowed to sit with them in any way and kol shekein that they are not allowed to take part in any type of religious function in Israel.

The key point is that their ideology is not part of Judaism. The people are Jews but the ideology they subscribe to is not Judaism. Judaism implies acceptance of the Torah, and they all reject the Torah.

We must work further to ensure that Reform and Conservative are pushed out of the religious councils. There are proposals to reduce the number of members of these councils that could effectively bar them from being elected in most places.

The key to success is our continued battle, under the direction of maranan verabonon, without any compromise. We must learn from the bitter Jewish experience in Western society that it is our tolerance of heresy and our compromise with the heretic movements that have allowed them to continue their destructive ways. If we stand firm against them, they will wither away.

It is a difficult struggle, but it is for the future of the Jewish People.

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