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Saturday 20 October 2007

Jews who hate Reform Jews

Yom Kippur 2007: Jews who hate Reform Jews
By Bradley Burston

The Scene: A spinning class at a smartly appointed gym at a kibbutz in
the Judean Hills, a few days before Yom Kippur. The instructor has yet
to arrive. "We have a minyan, we can begin anyway," says one member of
the class.

"Wait," says another, astride his exercise bike. "Women aren't counted
in a minyan."

"Reform Jews do count women in the minyan," says a woman in the class.
The man on the bike is unmoved. "The Reformim aren't Jews," he says.

There are those among us Jewish Israelis, whether we define ourselves as
traditionalist or secular-as-Stalin, who cannot abide Reform Judaism and
those who choose to practice it.

"I have to admit that the pseudo-spiritualism that the Reform Jewish
synagogue manufactures is foreign to me," wrote Gafi Amir in an opinion
column in Yedioth Ahronoth this week

Taking a shot at the "neo-secular, particularly those who congratulate
themselves for being enlightened and pluralistic," Amir decided that
their level of religious observance will not include the commandments of
fasting and searching one's soul.

"On Yom Kippur they will skip over these two clauses when they visit the
Reform synagogue. Afterward, they will wear out their less enlightened
and secular friends, like me, with the purifying experience they
underwent there."

There's a certain glee in the tone of these words. Part of it is because
the words break new ground, going well beyond the timeworn observation
that "The synagogue that I do not attend is Orthodox."

In particular, the words identify and castigate a new foreign body, yet
another enemy in our midst. The words address the "Reformim" with the
same dismissive contempt once reserved for Arabs, or for Jews who came
from the other side of the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide.

The words treat the Reform as some form of quaint, deluded,
would-be-Jewish tribe, like the map that Yedioth splashed across its
front page the day before, pinpointing what it suggested were Jews who
aren't really Jews in a dozen countries from Brazil to China.

Deep down, we all know what the glee is really about. It is the blissful
assurance that the collective "We" silently agrees with Gafi Amir, that
it scorns and even pities these pathetic self-styled people of faith.

But even that will not suffice. Borrowing another image from the Yedioth
front page of the day before, Amir tells us exactly how far these
Reformim are from being a part of Us.

With a nod to the photo spreads on the celebrity participants in last
week's Kabbala conference in Tel Aviv - among them non-Jewish stars
Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek ("Dawson"), and
Rosie O'Donnell - Amir delivered her coup de grace to the Reform and
other neo-secularists who, she says, selectively perform only
"mannerisms of Judaism":

"Many of them will joke around at the expense of Madonna/Esther and the
delegation of Hollywood stars that landed in Tel Aviv. I haven't
succeeded in seeing the difference between them."

Inherent in the hatred of Reform is the assumption that even the most
pork-stuffed of the secular know authentic Judaism when they see it, and
a fraud when they do not. They can somehow divine lack of commitment and
observance in Reform, even when they themselves do not study, do not
practice, do not believe.

Fundamentally, the ridicule of Reform ignores the fact that all over
Israel, Jews raised in Orthodox homes have become active members of
Reform and Conservative congregations because they believe both in
religious Judaism and in equality for women within Jewish observance.

I suspect that much of the scorn directed toward Reform Judaism reflects
a certain frustration over the inability of many Israelis to feel a part
of any congregation, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. For many, the
gulf between secular Israeli culture and the available forms of
organized religion has yet to be bridged by liturgy and customs that
speak to the non-religious.

Oddly, the anti-Reform venom in us seems to seep out most strikingly at
this time of the year, those 10 days beginning on Rosh Hashanah, during
which the Gates of Repentance are briefly open, and secular Jews the
world over, decide how - and if - they want to walk through.

Abroad, the decision may have to do with such factors as, Can my career
stand taking off work for Yom Kippur? Do I really want to spend hundreds
of dollars, pounds, or euros on synagogue seats for the family? Can the
kids bear the services? Can my spouse? Can I?

Here in Israel, of course, the questions are radically different, if
they are asked at all. In this place, socialism-bred kibbutzniks may
know infinitely more Hebrew - and even more of the Hebrew Bible - than
many formally Orthodox Jews abroad.

But as Amir and others stress, powerful efforts by the kibbutz movement
to replace Orthodox practice with a new religion based on values of
agriculture, Jewish history, the Bible as literature, and modern Israeli
culture have been sidelined as the kibbutz movement itself has imploded.

Israeli Jews are searching for a synthesis that will speak to them.
Judaism evolved over thousands of years. We would be well advised to
allow people of good faith to carry out their trials, without laughing
like bullies at their errors.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to lay anger aside. It is time, as the
prayers of both Orthodoxy and Reform specify, to shelve slander, scorn,
ridicule and baseless hatred.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to let Jews be Jews. It is time to
recognize that Judaism itself is changing - even Orthodox Judaism. It is
time to let individuals be alone with their God, and, at least this one
day of the year, to accord that relationship the respect it deserves.


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