Will thee or won't thee, it's all the same
by Jonathan Rosenblum
May 26, 2000
What a pity that the word Judaism has not been copyrighted. Had it been,
the Reform movement... would never have been able to call itself Reform
Judaism... Our movement simply is not, and should not be called, Judaism."
Made by an Orthodox Jew, that statement would hardly raise an
eyebrow. But in this case the author is Robert Lappin, a Boston-area
Jewish philanthropist and "long-time member and supporter" of the Reform
Lappin was responding to the Reform movement's decision on
patrilineal descent and its sanctioning of Reform clergy to officiate at
intermarriages and same-sex ceremonies.
Lappin is certainly right that it would be hard to imagine a
sharper break with Jewish law than sanctification of same-sex unions. Here
the traditional excuse - "It's all a matter of rabbinic interpretation" -
cannot be trotted out. The Torah explicitly prohibits sexual relations
between two males. A Jew is required to give up his life rather that
engage in such relations, even under compulsion. The only other sins
viewed with comparable severity are murder and idolatry.
Even more to the point, the Midrash attributes the decree of
destruction on the generation of the Flood to their writing out marriage
contracts between same-sex partners.
In one sense, the resolution of the Central Conference of
American Rabbis did little more than confirm existing Reform practice,
which grants each clergyman almost unfettered autonomy. Many Reform rabbis
already officiated at such ceremonies. In Baltimore last year, the senior
clergyman of a Reform temple "sanctified" the relationship of the junior
rabbi and his male partner.
Reform clergy in Israel also officiate at such ceremonies,
though the local Reform movement attempts to play that down. In fact, the
most vociferously voiced argument against the CCAR resolution was that it
would hurt the credibility of the Reform movement in Israel. Hardly a
profound statement of religious belief.
The real question raised by the Reform decision on same-sex
relationships is not whether Reform can be called Judaism, but in what
sense can it be described as a religion. The very same resolution that
affirmed that "holiness may be present in committed same-gender
relationships" also supported the decision of those rabbis who will not
officiate at same-gender ceremonies.
Will thee or won't thee, it's all the same as far as the
movement is concerned.
A religion which treats as equally valid the decision to ignore
an explicit biblical verse and the opposite decision to heed the verse
lacks both content and intellectual coherence. The Torah's overriding
message, as well as that of all serious monotheistic faiths - is that God
created the world with a specific purpose. To treat mutually exclusive
actions as equally valid makes mockery of the idea that God demands
anything of man.
By elevating individual autonomy to its supreme value, Reform
has left every man as the creator of his own religion. Sincerity is the
measure of all things; as long as we are sincere, God is happy with us.
Antinomianism permeates the Reform movement on every issue.
Thus, the co-chairman of the Reform movement's committee on brit mila had
this to say about the first commandment given to Abraham and his
descendants: "There are people who find [brit mila] a profoundly
meaningful way of connecting with the Jewish people and there are those
who don't... People have to fulfill their inner sense."
AS A consequence of its treatment of all views as equally valid,
Reform is congenitally incapable of formulating standards. A recent Reform
responsa, for instance, deals with conversions performed by "rabbis of
The fundamental belief of Humanistic Judaism is that there is no
God. (A Humanistic clergywoman was defrocked not so long ago by the
movement for daring to express her belief in God.) Yet the author of the
responsa accepts the Humanistic converts on the grounds that "we have no
reason to doubt the Jewishness or the Judaic sincerity of those who
practice [Humanistic Judaism]." Once again, sincerity trumps all.
Yossi Beilin's call for secular conversion, whereby anyone can
become a Jew by expressing his identification with the Jewish people, is
thus largely besides the point. The difference between waking up and
proclaiming, "Hallelujah, I'm a Jew," and finding three bearers of
certificates stamped "rabbi" to make the same proclamation, is not great.
Today anyone in need of a conversion, for whatever reason, can
find a rabbi to provide the requisite certificate; often by doing nothing
more than looking in the phone book for those hawking their conversion
Standardless conversions based on the whim of individual
clergymen help destroy the last remaining basis of Jewish unity by
rendering us unable to even agree about who is a Jew.
But even that blow pales by comparison to Reform's decision to
redefine the Jewishness of the offspring of mixed marriages. That decision
not only expanded the definition of Jew to include millions not recognized
as such by Halacha because their mother is not Jewish, but also
potentially excluded from the Jewish people millions of other children
whose mothers are Jewish but who don't participate in appropriate
The Reform movement will never agree to Lappin's description of
all those who are halachicly Jewish as one people with two religions. If
it did so, Reform could no longer lay claim to Jewish religious authority
and the Supreme Court would no longer be able to use it as its agent for
redefining Judaism and Jewishness.
Related Topics: Pluralism
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