Reform's deafening silence
by Jonathan Rosenblum
June 14, 2002
Anat Hoffman and I turn out to have a lot in common: We are both outraged by stupid, vulgar comments made about Reform leaders. Two weeks ago in the haredi weekly HaMishpacha, I devoted my regular column to a condemnation of the cartoon in Yated Neeman mentioned by Hoffman. What could that cartoon possibly teach anyone? I wondered.
The difference between us, however, is that my outrage is pure; hers is mixed with a good deal of delight at the fundraising and publicity bonanza to be reaped from the anonymous statements she quotes. Fanning every piece of graffiti or vulgarity by who-knows-who, in who-knows-what venue, into a "fundamentalist, haredi bonfire" that will soon consume us all has long been the bread and butter of Reform fundraising.
Eric Simon describes a 1996 address by Uri Regev, the newly appointed head of the worldwide Reform movement, to American Reform lay leaders: "[Regev] convinced me that the Chief Rabbi of Israel had called for the murder of Reform Jews, and that there were daily death threats and violence by Orthodox yeshiva students against Reform institutions in Israel. . . . [The speech] left me -- a peace-loving, liberal-minded child of the ‘60s -- ready to attack the first Orthodox Jew I met."
Today Simon wonders how he never thought to ask: If there is so much incitement against the Reform movement by violence-prone haredim, how come there are so few incidents of attacks on Reform institutions?
Reform fundraisers require precious little evidence to tar the haredim. Hoffman provides no proof that those who defaced her door were haredim, unless anyone who would do such a thing is by definition haredi. Critics of the haredi community typically describe haredim as spending all their days in yeshiva studying Torah. Does Hoffman really think that the unknown person who painted the swastika on her office door has spent years in yeshiva?
Five years ago, the Reform movement based a major fund-raising campaign in America around a Reform kindergarten that was torched in Mevasseret Zion, allegedly by -- you guessed it -- haredim. Yet not one bit of evidence linking haredim to the crime was ever found. The arson was likely the result of long simmering ethnic tensions in Mevasseret Zion.
Uri Regev in the June 12 Ha’aretz attributes a couple of decisions that did not go his way in the Israeli Supreme Court to haredi death threats against the justices. How, then, does he explain the dozens of decisions in his favor? Reform death threats against the justices?
Crass statements about Reform leaders are not only good for Reform fundraisers, they help the Reform movement by detracting from the real issue: In what way can Reform meaningfully be described as Judaism? Admittedly, that too is not a pleasant question, but it is one about which arguments can be brought and proofs adduced. To avoid facing that question of whether Reform is Judaism, Reform leaders have tirelessly peddled for years the blatantly false canard that Orthodox Jews do not consider Reform Jews to be Jews.
When it comes to incitement against religion and Orthodox Jews, Reform leaders grow strangely silent. There’s no money to be made in broadcasting information about assaults on Orthodox Jews and institutions. Visitors to the Israel Religious Action Center website would never learn, for instance, that Orthodox institutions are far more likely to be attacked, and with far greater damage, than Reform institutions. I do not believe for a moment that Ms. Hoffman condones attacks on Orthodox Jews and institutions, but there are no IRAC press releases decrying attacks on Orthodox institutions or the media venom that legitimizes hatred of haredim.
And we are not talking about a swastika on the door either. Last November, a synagogue and holy books were burned at Kibbutz Sde Boker, and a very expensive sefer Torah stolen. Two weeks earlier a caravan housing a religious kindergarten was burned to the ground in Petah Tikva and a synagogue near Tiberias torched. In the year 1997-98, there were 32 incidents of Orthodox synagogues set on fire and/or holy books torn, burned, or smeared with excrement, and 39 physical attacks on religious Jews.
These incidents are not accidental. The Sde Boker arsonist admitted he was influenced by anti-haredi videos. Hebrew University professor, Moshe Zimmerman, who cannot be suspected of any excess love for haredim, admits that the images of haredim regularly employed by the mainstream media echo Nazi propaganda against Jews.
Perhaps the deafening silence of Hoffman and other Reform leaders about anti-Orthodox attacks should not be held against them. Maybe they never heard about them since they are almost never reported in the mainstream press, and one never reads editorials linking the desecration of Orthodox institutions to anti-Orthodox incitement.
If I were a member of Meretz, like Ms. Hoffman, I too might believe that the mainstream press prints "all the news [and viewpoints] fit to print." (She probably also thinks the New York Times coverage of Israel is completely balanced.)
Far from haredim having easy access to the media, as Hoffman seems to think, I became the only haredi Jew with a weekly column in the mainstream media, when I started writing for the Post five years ago. My presence in these pages surely owed to the Post’s quaint Anglo-Saxon notion of "the free market place of ideas." Still, outraged readers reacted as if the Post had suddenly decided to publish a Klansman.
Rather than decrying inflammatory rhetoric wherever it is to be found, Reform leaders have made their own contributions to the abuse of public discourse. True, they write better and sound more sophisticated than some of their opponents, but as Woody Guthrie used to sing, "Some will rob you with a six-gun/ some with a fountain pen." The Reform incitement against Orthodox Jews is no less vicious than what appears in haredi advertising rags, just more effective.
In a 1998 article for New York’s Jewish Week, American Reform leader Eric Yoffie described haredi insularity as "nothing less than a betrayal of America." And Simeon Maslin, past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbbis (Reform), accuses ultra-Orthodox Jews "who pray rapidly in sing-song Hebrew, pore over the Talmud in segregated yeshivot, and buy from glatt kosher butchers" of having forfeited the right to be called "authentic Jews."
Topping the hit parade, however, was Uri Regev’s linkage of haredim and September 11 suicide bombers. Reporter Ellen Harris of the Cleveland Jewish News followed Regev around for four days last September, speaking to him in private and listening to his speeches. She described his central message as: "the chilling link between Islamic and Israeli religious extremists." The lesson he drew from September 11 was the need to fight religious fundamentalism on both the Palestinian and Israeli side.
From Haim Hefer to Uri Regev to Jonathan Rosenblum, there is no doubt room for an increase in the level of civility and reasoned discourse in Israel, but those who protest the lack thereof would be well-advised to first get out of their glass houses.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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